Go outside and play!

Does that sound familiar?  As the nice weather approaches, those are four words to which I will be saying a lot to my own children.

An award-winning children’s author, advertising agency owner, and mother of two from Chicago, Marlene Byrne is passionate about the healthy development of children. With more than 20 years of experience in advertising, she contributes her success to education (she received a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), great mentors and the creativity of her youth. In 2008, driven by her belief that it is as equally important to be creative as it is to be smart, Byrne founded Project Play (www.ProjectPlayBooks.com)—a movement that inspires kids to get back outdoors for imaginative backyard games. Since that time, Byrne has written and published five children’s books, led countless treasure hunts and storytelling events, been featured in national print and broadcast media, and developed classroom curricula—all designed to encourage writing, reading and creative playtime in children.

In 2009, Project Play was named among the best in family-friendly media, products and services by Mom’s Choice Awards.

What is PROJECT PLAY and how does it change the way children today spend their free time?

PROJECT PLAY is a national movement inspiring children to play games that demand imagination and creativity so that they can channel those skills into their adult lives. Through a lively and colorful series of children’s books, school events, and fun-filled community activities, we encourage kids to move away from their televisions and video games and out in the backyard for traditional games like kick the can and ghost in the graveyard! By educating today’s electronic-focused generation about the importance of unstructured playtime, PROJECT PLAY motivates kids to interact with others, enjoy the freedom of their youth, develop creative skills, and remain healthy.

And it works! We’ve received rave reviews from parents, educators, and health professionals about how the books have helped change the way children today are spending their free time. By making backyard games “cool” again through fun stories about the Edgebrook Gang, we’re inspiring young readers to follow the lead of the characters by starting similar adventures of their own. Since we debuted in 2008, PROJECT PLAY has received extensive national media coverage and even offers comprehensive educational materials to help teachers get kids writing and thinking about backyard games in the classroom.

Why do you think PROJECT PLAY and your corresponding book series are so effective at getting kids outdoors for classic, backyard games?

First, because they’re so much fun! The Edgebrook characters each have colorful personality traits and strengths that children can really relate to. But I think there’s another reason the books appeal to kids, and it has to do with their desire to feel more independent. Children today are growing up in a generation in which parents, teachers, and coaches tell them how, where, and when to do everything. Add electronic games into the mix and you’ve got children who play by the rules and use repetition to achieve the next level. But when kids read the PROJECT PLAY stories and see the Edgebrook Gang negotiate their own set of rules and playing strategies, it triggers a desire within them to do the same. There’s something very appealing about playing freely in the backyard with your friends, but kids don’t realize it because opportunities for that type of play are diminishing. PROJECT PLAY opens their eyes to the joy and freedom of backyard games, and it’s great because it’s healthy for them! We need to help parents feel good, not guilty, about their kids just playing out in the backyard.

What inspired you to start PROJECT PLAY and write books about backyard games?

After starting an ad agency, I was not afraid to try a new venture. I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin playing backyard games like kick the can and ghost in the graveyard. After pondering the fading popularity of backyard games and realizing that today, scheduled activities, electronic games, and organized sports have replaced the carefree days of playing in the backyard, I decided to write books to help teach children these nostalgic games.

How has your career in advertising influenced PROJECT PLAY?

I have worked in a creative environment for more than 20 years—owning and operating an advertising agency. I believe the creativity we use in our adult life begins as children. We need to create, play and especially negotiate rules with our peers and carry those skills into adulthood. These skills are as important as the academic ones we learn in school, and some of the most creative problem solvers I have worked with credit their ability to think outside the box with their childhood experiences.

For me, PROJECT PLAY was a natural fit for helping families understand the importance of unstructured playtime and the need to prioritize it.

Who is “Play it Again, Sam” and what does he stand for?

Sam is the narrator of the PROJECT PLAY books. Where Sam wanders, the Edgebrook gang will follow, and I like to consider him the ambassador of play. He spends endless afternoons and weekends with his neighborhood pals and has the biggest house and yard on the block. When children read the books, I hope they are influenced by Sam—who is always ready to learn new games or modify existing ones!

To learn more about Project Play or Marlene Byrne, visit www.projectplaybooks.com