More than 50,000 turn out for Ultimate Block Party in NYC
Actress Mariska Hargitay, her husband Peter Hermann and their son August, 4, read together at the first annual Ultimate Block Party. For a video of the event, see below.

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The Ultimate Block Party was held in New York's Central Park.
Children enjoyed all different play stations at the event, from construction to creative play.

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8:17 a.m., Oct. 8, 2010----Central Park in New York City turned into a playground on Sunday, Oct. 3, filled with innovative games and learning activities for children. With the cooperation of prominent artists, scientists and educators, the Ultimate Block Party featured more than 25 playful games and mini-classes that helped bring learning alive.

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The first-ever Ultimate Block Party event welcomed more than 50,000 people. Visitors had the opportunity to explore different stations around the Naumburg Bandshell that featured activities associated with construction, adventure, physical play, technology, music and dance, language, and make-believe play.

From building blocks and robotics to sidewalk games and sing-alongs, kids let their imaginations soar.

"People are starving for activities around play and playful learning for their kids," said Roberta Golinkoff, H. Rodney Sharp Professor in the School of Education at the University of Delaware and co-founder of the event. "The research is pretty clear. Children grow up to be successful in school and in the world if we give them opportunities to figure out who they are, and to engage in the kind of play that allows them to develop skills to negotiate with others. A false split has been set up between play versus learning. It's play and learning."

The national event was created around the idea that children are not playing enough in today's world. Playtime is increasing absent from children's schedules. Research shows that in the last two decades, children have lost an average of eight hours of free play a week. The American Academy of Pediatricians calls the decline of playtime "a national crisis."

In an attempt to reverse the trend, Play for Tomorrow, an organization dedicated to shedding light on the crucial role of play in children's development and education, designed the Ultimate Block Party.

"The workforce of 2040 is in our schools today and we must ensure that, as a nation, we are well equipped to thrive in our global economy," said Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, co-founder of the Ultimate Block Party and professor of psychology at Temple University. "Children need play and playful learning for the skills they will need for the 21st century."

Several well-known celebrities were involved in the event, such as Mariska Hargitay, Sarah Jessica Parker and Molly Shannon.

Beside games and activities, the Ultimate Block Party featured an "Author's Corner" where people could pick up children's and parenting books, as well as meet the authors of those books.

"For children, play is intuitive," said Alice Wilder, a member of the Education and Business Advisory Board for the event. "For parents, what we wanted them to think about was, when you were little, how did you play? How you played was what you became later in life."

Organizers plan to make the Ultimate Block Party an annual event in New York. There are already plans to launch the Ultimate Block Party in other U.S. cities and internationally.

Article and video by Cassandra Kramer
Photos by Cassandra Kramer and courtesy of Grand Communications


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