“The Genius of Play” – My Interview with the TIA’s Ken Seiter

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KENSEITER (2)Ken Seiter is Vice President of Marketing Communications, for the Toy Industry Association, responsible for the development, implementation and oversight of the Association’s communications strategies, key messaging and brand integrity programs such as the Genius of Play.  He is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Bridgeport.

Previously, Ken served as Chief Marketing Officer for the Specialty Food Association (SFA)  He was also responsible for the Association’s annual sofi™ Awards program, which honors the best in specialty foods at the Summer Fancy Food Show.  He has 25 years of advertising experience, having worked for a number of agencies on high-profile food accounts.

Ken holds a master’s degree in educational psychology from the University of Minnesota and a Bachelor of Arts degree in marketing / English literature from Baruch College and the City College of New York. He lives in Stamford, CT with his wife and is the father of two children. 

Richard:

The Genius of Play is such a great name for this program.  What is its genesis?

Ken: 

As we were studying all of the activity in a child’s life, we saw very clearly the incredible benefits that play provides: it supports children’s cognitive, emotional, social and physical development, boosts creativity, reduces stress and nurtures family bonds. It became apparent that today’s society isn’t fully aware of the true “genius” of what play — and toys, as the tools of play — provide the world.  The Genius of Play is the perfect platform to really define what play can do for all of us.

Richard:

You state that children have less time to play; can you elaborate?

Ken:

Play has taken somewhat of a back seat in light of all the other demands that are placed on kids today. We live in a highly programmed world where children have overly structured schedules that often leave little time for free play. With such a strong emphasis being placed on academic rigor, schools across the country have cut back on recess (which in fact studies show has a negative impact on students’ behavior as well as academic performance).  Under so many pressures, playtime is unfortunately shrinking on both the home and school front.

Richard: 

What are the key components of the Genius of Play program?

Ken:

Built on a foundation of ongoing research that includes third party information as well discussions with experts from a variety of disciplines the program includes:

  • Video vignettes that showcase play activities for different age groups pointing out various benefits
  •  Our web site – www.thegeniusofplay.org  which is full of information about play benefits, as well as hands-on ideas and tips to help families get the most out of playtime. We are also asking  parents to  take the Play Pledge – our call to action and a promise to give the child in your life the opportunity to play.
  • Social media is another key component. According to the research we just completed, social media is one of the top sources today’s parents use to find play ideas and activities. It is also an opportunity for us to engage with parents and grandparents on a daily basis, ask them questions and get their feedback in real time
  • Influencer outreach: the Genius of Play team is working with dozens of influencers, from play experts and academics to mommy bloggers. Influencers provide third-party endorsement to our claims and extend the Genius of Play messaging to their following.

Richard:

Your research shows that play is undervalued by parents.  Why do you think that is and what can be done about it?

Ken:

We recently conducted a survey to understand parents’ attitudes toward play. The results show that while moms and dads think play is “essential,” when it comes to actual parenting priorities play is not at the top of the list. Teaching their kids a set of values ranked #1, followed by helping with homework. Only 12% of parents thought of playtime as the key aspect of child-rearing. What they don’t realize is that play is in fact one of the best ways that kids learn, whether it’s academic subjects or abstract concepts like values. We need to help families better understand that play has immense educational value and can help moms and dads achieve their parenting goals.      

Richard:

Why is play so valuable and what are the negative results of being deprived of sufficient playtime?

Ken:

Research shows that beyond pleasure and enjoyment, play provides stimulation for proper perceptual, motor, neural, social and emotional development.  Play improves readiness for classroom learning and enhances problem solving.  Play helps relieve stress and teaches children to be able to cope with their surroundings. Play prepares children to succeed in the 21st Century, enhancing creative problem solving, critical thinking and the ability to collaborate.

Lack of play contributes to childhood obesity, diminished cognitive development (decision making, creativity, imagination), hampered social development and increases in depression and anxiety

Richard:

How can the toy industry get involved?

Ken:

The Genius of Play is an industry-wide initiative, so it’s imperative that members of the toy industry get involved! The best way to do that? Spread the word about the Genius of Play movement by sharing our tips and videos on social media, and encourage your fans to take the Play Pledge — a promise to support the kids in their life by giving them opportunities to play.  

Richard:

Did you get sufficient playtime when you were a kid – and how about now?

Ken:

I was fortunate to grow up in a relatively safe/loving environment and was afforded the opportunity to participate in all forms of play both structured and free.  One of my goals for 2015 and beyond to increase my leisure/playtime. 

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