Graduate students at Washington State University are promoting simple activities that help families with children build life skills through a new program called Play Home, Play Healthy.

“We don’t need fancy technology for development to happen,” said Sammy Perone, assistant professor in WSU’s Department of Human Development, who had one of his classes develop the program as part of their coursework. “Development is about relationships, learning through play, and working to build the different skills that we all need.”

When social distancing measures were announced this spring, requiring students to complete coursework from home, Perone said his class seized the moment.

“Play Home, Play Healthy is very timely, because families are all at home together,” he said. “The students’ vision was to help families bond through learning.”

Play Home, Play Healthy activities are free, available for anyone to use, and can be as simple as discussing the food you’re eating at the table, or going for a walk and identifying new things in the environment.

Perone is a faculty fellow of the Center for Civic Engagement, and was inspired by the idea that classes can build reciprocal relationships with the community.

“It’s civic science,” Perone said. “We’re bringing what we know from research about childhood development to meet the needs of families and our communities.”

Community Partnerships

Perone and his class partnered with an informal group of Pullman-based childcare directors.

Play Home, Play Healthy social media posts “have been a really good resource for the parents,” said Beverly Wolff, director of the Montessori School of Pullman. “Families have been building on these ideas,” and sharing their experiences through the school’s Facebook group.

Heather Mac Dermott-Havey, director of the WSU Children’s Center, appreciated the simplicity of the project, as well as its handy links to additional resources.

“It really captured the idea that everyday moments can inspire thought and processing for children at any age,” she said. “It’s definitely something that will impact a lot of families.”

Children’s Center staff are sharing materials with parents and providing resources through the Graduate and Professional Student Association’s evening care program.

Student Faith Price said she was excited to see the research being used by community members in ways that improved their lives.

“It required us to put research into language that everyday people can understand,” she said.

“I really like that we had different ways to disseminate this information,” said April Davis, clinical assistant professor in WSU’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine’s Department of Nutrition & Exercise Physiology and a student in the course. “I appreciate it as a parent.”

Inspired by the project, Davis incorporated a service-learning project into her nutrition students’ upcoming summer dietetics course.

“I’m passing this service-learning idea forward,” she said.