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K-8: Exploring Character Through Play
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Play is considered an extra, a nicety, but is one of the most complex layered forms of communication on the planet.

4/16/2018 to 4/17/2018
When: April 16-17, 2018
Monday, 5:30pm-8:30pm & Tuesday, 8:30am-3:30pm
Where: Ethical Culture Fieldston School
New York, New York  10023
United States

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Early Bird, CSEE members: $225 for first attendee, $175 for subsequent attendees from same school.

Early Bird, Non-members: $375

After April 9, registration will be $250 for members and $400 for non-members.



In our current era of high-stakes testing, market-driven school choice, awareness of learning differences, and increasing sense of competition for selective college admissions, it is easy to lose a sense of the importance of play. When compared to the importance of disciplined study, play may seem frivolous and worthy of a lower priority. Students are asked to sit for tests, to show grit and to accept failure, so play may also seem like a form of work avoidance, like a distraction from what should be the real business of education, namely, the mastery of hard facts and skills.

Despite these trends against play, recent research shows that play has the capacity to improve a young person's focus and their academic performance while also having an impact on character development by reducing bullying and by improving conflict resolution.

By coming together for a conference on "Play and Character Development," we hope to reinvigorate and reaffirm the importance of play in K-8 education (and beyond!) through looking at the following sub-topics:


  • Play as a catalyst for moral and character development
  • Philosophy and psychology of play
  • Recess play and the function of play in athletics
  • Play in the arts and sciences in the lower and middle school years, and across the disciplines
  • Interplay: drawing connections between play, grit and resilience; addressing connections that play can make within a curriculum (language play in a math problem, playing with gravity in science, etc.)
  • Replay:  bullying and other antisocial behaviors


The conference will conclude with a swap shop for participants to share ideas and successes towards an idea bank.


Lead Facilitator

Rabbi Judd Kruger Levingston, Ph.D., attended and has taught at a wide variety of independent schools, including Jewish, Episcopalian, non-secretarian, boarding, day, and single gender schools for boys and for girls. As the Director of Jewish studies at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, he teaches courses on ethics, classical Jewish texts, Jewish history and comparative religion; he convenes the school's Honor Council; he coordinates and serves as lead chaperone for the annual 8th grade trip to Israel; and he is closely involved with developing a program of meaningful daily prayer services. He has been a frequent contributor to CSEE Connections and he is the author of Sowing the Seeds of Character: The Moral Education of Adolescents in Public and Private Schools (Praeger, 2009). A believer in the importance of play in character development, he coaches his school's Ultimate Frisbee team, plays on an adult team in Philadelphia, plays piano when he can, and he is an avid year-round bicycle commuter.

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Paradoxes of Play: What We Think Play Is and Isn’t

The study of play is filled with contradictions. We celebrate children’s skill through play, and yet are often in the position of interfering. Play is considered an extra, a nicety, but is one of the most complex layered forms of communication on the planet. This talk will address key contradictions in the literature and invite us to see how we can support the complexity of children’s own creative expression. 


Anna Beresin, Ph.D., serves as Professor of Liberal Arts at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and co-directs NEUARTS, the university’s neighborhood engagement program. Her books include Recess Battles (University Press of Mississippi) and The Art of Play (Temple University Press.) Her new book on dance games will be published in a year through McFarland Press.  She is known for her particularly bad puns.





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The Psychology of Sports, Fitness & Recreation

There are more children, boys & girls, K-8 grade, playing organized sports than ever before. There are also more children dropping out of organized sports than ever before.  Sports, fitness, and recreation remain wonderful ways to teach life skills – goal setting, learning how to deal with frustration, teamwork, maintaining a fresh sense of play, etc. Just because you put a uniform on a child, however, doesn’t guarantee that he/she will learn these positive life skills. This presentation will identify ways to create a positive athletic environment in order to increase the chances that children will enjoy and take pleasure in sports, fitness, recreation, and other playful activities and incorporate them into a healthy lifestyle.



Dr. Joel Fish is a licensed psychologist and a nationally recognized expert in sport psychology who has worked in the field for over 30 years. He is currently the Director of The Center For Sport Psychology in Philadelphia, where he works with athletes of all ages and skill levels. He is also the author of a popular youth sports book, 101 Ways to Be a Terrific Sports Parent. Dr. Fish has worked extensively with athletes of all ages and skills levels, from youth sport through the Olympic and professional ranks. He has been a sport psychology consultant for the Philadelphia 76ers, Philadelphia Flyers, the Philadelphia Phillies Organization, the USA Women’s National Field Hockey Team, the USA Women’s National Soccer Team, and numerous universities. Dr. Fish is a visiting lecturer at the Wingate Institute and Zinman College in Netanya, Israel, where he teaches about sport psychology and elite athletes. He has spoken nationwide on sport psychology at over 300 universities and is a popular presenter at a variety of athletic functions. Dr. Fish has also worked with numerous businesses and organizations on the topics of leadership, peak performance, sustaining motivation, and teambuilding. Dr. Fish has been frequently quoted in the Philadelphia and national media, having been featured numerous times on ABC, CNN, ESPN, Fox, HBO, and NBC. In addition, he has been featured on television programs such as NBC’s Today, HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, ESPN's SportsCenter and Outside The Lines. Dr. Fish received his B.A. from Clark University, an M.A. from Temple University, and his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


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Monday, 16 April

5:30 PM - Welcome and Dinner

Plenary #1 (6:30-8:30 PM):

Speaker: Prof. Anna Beresin, “Psychology of play in brain development and socialization” (see description above)

Tuesday, 17 April

Plenary #2: (8:30-10:30 AM):

Speaker: Dr. Joel Fish, “The Psychology of Sports, Fitness & Recreation” (see description above)

Plenary #3 (11:00 AM -1:00 PM):

Speaker/Facilitator: Rabbi Judd Kruger Levingston, Ph.D., “The Moral Case for Play” (see description above)

Working Lunch (1:00-1:40 PM):

Swap shop for ideas, successes, self-assessments 

Plenary #4 (2:00-4:00):

Speaker/Facilitator: Rabbi Judd Kruger Levingston, Ph.D.,

"Play in the Arts" - It’s not about talent: it’s about making art and expressing one’s genuine self.

"Play in Other Areas of the Curriculum" - Diversity training, advisory, outdoor education.


Evaluation & Depart

Travel / Accommodations

Ethical Culture Fieldston School, Manhattan Campus, is located at 33 Central Park West. The school is located about 3 blocks from the 59th street Columbus Circle Station. The A, B, C, D and 1 trains all stop here. If you prefer bus, the M10 and M20 buses stop right in front of the school at the 63rd and Central Park West Bus Stop.

There are several hotels in the area and just south of the school in the Midtown Theater District. Empire Hotel, located just one block away, is on the more expensive side, but sometimes great rates can be found when booking with a coupon or via another site like Expedia or Priceline.  


Please see CSEE's Event Policy to learn more about cancellations and refunds.


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