Project Play

June 26, 2010 But now, children age 8 to 18 spend more than 7.5 hours a day watching television, playing video games, or surfing the Internet.

Author and play expert Marlene Byrne is on a mission to reintroduce classic backyard games to kids. She has written a series of books that teach children how to create their own fun.

Byrne visits ABC7 Chicago with more on the books and the movement she founded, called "Project Play."

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A Fun Way to Get Kids Active and Playing Backyard Games Again

Did you know?

Since 1980, the childhood obesity rate has more than doubled for children ages 2 - 5 and more than tripled for children ages 6 - 11.

Between 1981 and 1997, free playtime among 6 to 8 year olds dropped 25 percent and homework more than doubled.

Since 2005, the amount of time children and teens ages 8 -18 spend watching TV, playing video games, or surfing the internet increased from 1 hour, 15 minutes per day to more than 7 and a half hours per day. (That's more than 53 hours a week and more than most adults spend on their full-time job!)

An increased focus on standardized testing has resulted in the reduction or elimination of recess in about 40% of American elementary schools, and in some districts, schools are being built without playgrounds.

What's a parent, health professional, child to do?

Marlene Byrne, an award-winning children's author and advocate of unstructured playtime, has come to the rescue with PROJECT PLAY--a movement to get kids away from their televisions and into the backyard for exercise, creativity and old-fashioned fun.

With more than 20 years of experience as an advertising agency owner, spokesperson, and writer, Byrne is using her creative talent to inspire today's overscheduled, electronic-focused, and dangerously overweight generation of children to get active. Through children's books, community activities, and school curriculum, Byrne is bringing back the nostalgic memories of her youth and teaching children backyard games like pick up baseball, kick the can, and ghost in the graveyard.

A unique approach

As the founder and author of Project Play (, Byrne is not the first to call for more unstructured playtime among children. But while there are countless initiatives to increase children's activity levels, few of them aim directly at the children.

Instead of lecturing families about the benefits of unstructured playtime, Project Play shows kids firsthand how much fun backyard games are through the power of action-packed fiction and fun community activities, including storytelling, treasure hunts, and the "Great Moments in Backyard Play" contest. Project Play also offers writing clinics to schools to get kids writing their own stories about their favorite backyard games.

By tapping into the playful nature of children and their innate desire for more independence, Project Play is an effective way to get kids off the couch and active again. Kids love the idea of creating their own games, negotiating their own rules, and entertaining one another in backyard play--none of which can be found by watching television, surfing the internet, or playing video games.

Project Play's series of fictional children's books teaches children how to create their own fun through colorful stories about the Edgebrook gang. Instead of letting parents, coaches, and teachers tell them what and when to do everything, kids are inspired by the books to take charge of their free time.

By following the lead of the characters and storming into the backyard to create their own games and rules, readers are getting the exercise they need while developing important social skills like creativity and negotiation. And all while learning classic, backyard games, fun playing strategies, and unique game rules through the adventures of "Play It Again Sam" and his Edgebrook friends!

"It is as equally important to be creative as it is to be smart."

Byrne, a mother of two young kids herself, considers Project Play an extension of her work as a Chicago ad agency owner. Driven by her belief that "it is as equally important to be creative as it is to be smart," and that "creativity begins developing during childhood playtime," Byrne founded Project Play as a new way to spark creativity on a daily basis. She wants to help families feel good, not guilty, about their kids just playing in the backyard.

In a letter published on, Byrne wrote, "Our kids need time to round up their peers, play 'kick the can,' even scrape their knees. Our job as parents is to make backyard playtime a priority--and be there to supply the band-aid afterwards."

For inspiration and tips on staying healthy, active, and playful yearround, parents, children, and educators can visit

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