Saturday, 24 March 2018

Your Favourite Open-Ended Object For Play

By Morgan

We have a slow but steady trickle of requests coming in from other organizations. They want to use Suzanna's photographs of children at play, get a quote or opinion.  It's very rarely promoting something specific, and usually about creating shared content we all need to feed the ever-hungry great beast called Internet. Most recently, Playground Ideas asked for our list of the “10 Best Loose Parts”. They were asking several different folks and non-profits, and all would be gathered together into a bouquet of enthusiasm. 

Now, we know that these lists are problematic. They can be simplistic and reductive, suggesting a 1:1 relationship of Thing and Play that dovetails with forces of commercialization and capitalism in ways that genuinely harm children. They also divorce object from context, ignoring the way an adult's involvement around a loose part can prevent it from being loose in the first place. This contributes to the idea that adults managing a play environment in any way (for example, by using the playwork approach) have an absurdly easy time.  All their skill and nuance of material selection and deployment, all of the complex ways in which good sites evolve in compensatory response to its larger context... all this is missing from that conversation.

When this email came in, though, we were feeling a little silly.  It was a lot more fun than most other requests, and we have had wonderful conversations with folks new to the field of play which began by reminiscing over favorite objects.  We've also pushed back our chairs to laugh, in conversation with colleagues over the years, when recalling particularly good dumpster dive or donation, those weeks that followed of spectacular richness through an abundance of house bricks, pine cones, odd plastic shapes, gold cloth, catering dish sets. 

This list was never intended to be prescriptive, only an invitation to remember those moments for yourself.  What stick did you find, and walk with tall through a muddy field?  What berries did you forage, what twine did you collect into a careful little ball, which buttons have you turned into currency?

What loose parts, in short, have you held in your hand and thought “this thing is the best.”

For more from us, check out our Facebook, Twitter and website

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Press Release: Study Finds Playground With Hammers and Nails 'More Than Four Times' Safer Than Playground with Swings and Slides

By Zan

I am really excited to be writing this blogpost. It is in celebration of a publication written by my friends and fellow playworkers Jill Wood and Morgan Leichter-Saxby. I am biased when I say that I am always proud of everything that Morgan does (she is my work-wife after all!) but seriously, this is really exciting data. I'm pleased that I get to tell the world about how awesome they are and how amazing it is!

Comparing Injury Rates on a Fixed Equipment Playground and an Adventure Playground

We've known Jill for a long time now. She was one of the people we visited on our USA tour in 2014. Jill started an adventure playground about 10 years ago and it is wonderful. I have only been to visit for a couple of days, but Morgan has actually worked there for a period of time. We both love this space: from the child-build structures to the Great Beyond, it is a place of true possibility and one that really prioritises children.

It was during one of Morgan's visits to Adventure Play at Parish School that they got their heads together to produce this piece of research. With both a fixed playground and an adventure playground, the Parish school is uniquely placed for a comparitive study. This publication is the culmination of 5 years of data, carefully brought together by Jill and Morgan.

Here are some highlights from our press release:
“Programs like this offer children an invaluable chance to be free in an environment where they can do anything they can imagine” said Morgan Leichter-Saxby of Pop-Up Adventure Play, and co-author of the study.   “It’s so easy for adults to make play opportunities more restrictive, to create new rules instead of trusting children to learn how to manage their own risks incrementally.”  Nonetheless, staff at the Parish School are often asked whether if the adventure playground is as dangerous as it appears.  The same question is not asked of the school’s conventional fixed equipment playground used at recess.  Jill Wood, who founded Adventure Play at the Parish School in 2008, says that this offered a unique opportunity to compare the same children’s actual rates of injury at both sites over five years."
"Adventure Play at Parish is one of the oldest sites of its kind in the USA, and highly respected in the field for its quality of provision.  This study defined ‘injury’ as anything requiring off-site medical attention, such as X-rays or stitches.  One hour’s play per child on the recess playground was found to carry a 0.00336% likelihood of injury.  At the adventure playground the risk was 0.00078%, meaning that a child was found to be 4.3 times safer there than on the conventional equipment site.  This is in spite of recess having a higher adult:child ratio than Adventure Play.  The authors emphasize that injury rates at both sites were comparable in safety to golf and ping-pong, and significantly safer than most adult-led sports.  Injuries also were found elsewhere in the school day, as children tripped and fell into the corners of desks, received a kickball to the face during PE class or trapped their fingers in the bathroom door."
One of the biggest questions that we get asked at Pop-Up Adventure Play is whether adventure playgrounds are safe. Well, this small scale study says that it's safer than you'd expect - check it out here and find out how safe!

Full Risk Study Press Release available here.

Adventure Play at the Parish School
Jill Wood:

Pop-Up Adventure Play
Morgan Leichter-Saxby:
Suzanna Law:

Psst... The eagle-eyed amongst you wonderful people will have also noticed a little announcement we tagged onto the end of our press release. If you want to find out more about that special 2019 gathering, send us a quick email.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Popping Up in the Community 2018: Zan Part 1

This is part 1 of what will hopefully be a multi-part blog series about the pop-up adventure playgrounds we create in our own communities throughout the year. This is an example of how our pop-up adventure playgrounds work, and us using our namesake model and our own resources to work within our own communities.

By Zan

I stepped into the large downstairs hall and looked around. This is a hall that I am very familiar with, that has regular sessions with different groups, and is the community hub with multiple users. Very briefly I felt daft doing a visual risk assessment of the space, but when I realised that someone was watching me, I made it more intentional. Doing a risk assessment is, of course, an important part of the role of a playworker.

Inspection over, I brought in my loose parts. I had been carefully packing all of this stuff over the last couple of days to meet the needs of the younger audience that I was told to expect. My open-ended play items included:
  • a barrel of big cardboard tubes, selected instead of the thick plastic ones because they were lighter for little arms to move around.
  • a bright red wicker handbag, with me because of it's familiarity as a bag, but novel value as a material
  • a rotary phone that was donated to me because it was slightly broken. We fixed it using some duct tape and now it serves as a familiar looking object that provided some play cues
  • a pile of larger cardboard boxes - mostly for making dens and building. Big enough for a child to get into but not big enough for adults.
  • a pile of smaller interestingly shaped cardboard boxes - because cutting and sticking are always popular
  • a shower head - because no one generally gets to play with one of those.
My volunteers at this Co-operative Local Community Fund sponsored event included Mildred - a friend from church, David - Pop-Up Adventure Play's PDC tutor and good friend of mine, my dad - who happened not to be busy that day, and Mildred's friend. Many of my worlds had been brought together for this event.

Some of the children arrived early but we invited them in to play anyway. "Set up" at a pop-up is a term used loosely here - as long as risk assessments are complete, all the loose parts are available, and adults have been briefed in basic playwork ideas, then the session can start. On this occasion, children had gathered hesitantly by the door, and the parents seemed expectant.

"Hello everyone" I said cheerfully "I have lots of things in the room next door for you to have a look at and play with. You can do whatever you want with all of the stuff in there, and your adults are only here to help you. So whenever you are ready, please come through and take a peek".

Some children raced through, others decided belatedly to take their coat off and dump them on their adult. Most looked excited when they saw the stuff. I could hear some parents say out loud "wow, what would you like to make?" and "Ooh, shall we build a house". I would very quietly and firmly say "they can do whatever they want".

After the initial buzz of activity, where the parents didn't know what to do with themselves and the children really tried to wriggle free from apprehensive adults, I realised that the space felt suddenly free. The parents had discovered that tea and coffee were a possibility and had sat themselves down on the chairs surrounding the loose parts, chatting. Some responded to kids when asked. Others just sat and observed their child, doing a running commentary under their breath. Generally I saw smiles. I had a moment to go over and say hello, and asked the adults how they were feeling about everything:

"I am just getting ready to move house and they just want to empty my boxes all the time, but now I understand why - they want to play with my boxes! I guess I know what I'll do with them all after we've moved - no need to worry about throwing them away now!"

"I used to do this with her older siblings but I haven't done it for about 3 years because she's the youngest and I didn't think it was interesting. But I guess she needs it because... well, look!"

Working my way around the children as they play, I watched on the periphery what they were doing. There were dens, and cat trees, and dog beds and some general running around for no reason. One little girl, who was barely 3 years old was so pleased to be there. "I'm going on holiday" she says to me, as she packs the red wicker handbag. She visits the dens that belonged to the other children, moving in and out as she pleased. The older children didn't mind - they almost knew that it was a temporary crossing of play frames and just played around her. Another little girl explained to me that she had made a big bad wolf. It was naughty and the biggest and baddest wolf ever. That's until her brother made a wolf too, who was a nice wolf that put people in prison. The other wolf also became nice too - "The nicest bad wolf". The children were having a great time.

The little holiday goer.

My dad with the Big Bad Wolf.

My pop-up adventure playground.

About half way through, my little friends Hannah and Nina arrived with their mum and a friend of mine. A few minutes later, my local council representative - who happened to be my high school music teacher - also arrived to check out the event. Together with my church friends, my playwork friends and my dad in the room, this combination of people almost made my brain explode. The sheer fact that so many people who directly formed my immediate community came together because of my one pop-up made my heart sing. Every area of my life was represented here, and while my brain was having a little trouble computing this, this is exactly what a pop-up adventure playground is for: bringing people together because of play.

I think that this pop-up was super successful and I am looking forward to organising the next one in my own community.

Find out more about Pop-Ups Zan on her personal blog here. If you want to host your own pop-up, check out our free resource pack here. Want to find out more about Pop-Up Adventure Play? Check out our facebook, twitter and website

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Press Release: Prioritizing Play Conference in Urbana-Champaign, IL


Prioritizing Play Conference gathers international experts in child-directed play and welcomes local settings to learn essentials of play and Playwork practice 

Urbana-Champaign, IL - Non-profit group KOOP Adventure Play has been delivering public events and summer camp programs since 2015, and are launching a new Conference with the theme of ‘Prioritizing Play’.  The three-day event will focus on translating best practices in creating and staffing play environments for professionals across education, librarianship and public service.  This comes less than a week after the Centers for Disease Control released new guidelines for recess provision in schools, and amidst rising concerns about Illinois children’s rates of obesity and poor mental health which are both significantly higher than the national average.

“We believe play is a priority for children's well-being so we are adamant about creating a reality where children get to truly indulge and experience their childhood, allowing them to play freely, discover and explore,” says Naomi Sukenik, co-founder of KOOP.  Studies conducted from within education, public health and psychology have repeatedly demonstrated that opportunities to play help students pay attention in class, reduce bullying and improve social and emotional well-being.  This Conference is the first of its kind to be held in Illinois, where recess is not yet mandated at the elementary school level.

“The time children today have dedicated to self-directed play is far less than any previous generation due to increased academic pressure at early ages, cutting recess times, more screen time and more extra- curricular activities. Play must be prioritized right now for this generation suffering from a play deficit” says Kelsey Langley, co- founder & executive director of KOOP. A Keynote address will be given by Dr. Peter Gray, best-selling author of Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life.  His work focuses on the role of play in human evolution and how children educate themselves, through play and exploration, when they are free to do so.  A second Keynote is provided by Morgan Leichter-Saxby, author of The New Adventure Playground Movement: How Communities across the USA are Returning Risk and Freedom to Childhood.  She is also co-founder of Pop-Up Adventure Play, a not-for-profit which provides training and support to play advocates around the world.

“We’re so happy to be a part of this event,” Morgan Leichter-Saxby said.  “The workshops are all about helping participants rethink assumptions about children’s abilities and improve provision.”  Topics covered during the conference include: Loose parts and play environments, risk-benefit assessments, rough and tumble play, building strong relationships with parents, and advocacy work.  Conference organizers are also promising a ‘hands-on’ approach.  “Everyone needs more chances to play,” said Morgan.  “That includes parents, professionals, and conference delegates!  It’s a great way to help us reconnect with those childhood instincts, and improve the environments and opportunities we offer children today.”

The Prioritizing Play Conference will be held in the Illini Union on 3rd-5th May.  Participants are particularly welcomed from early years and elementary education, as well as after-school care, parks and recreation, museums and early intervention programs.  Financial aid is available.

Register by following this link or by emailing  Early bird rate is $350 until 2/28/18 at which point full registration costs $450 for this 3 day conference featuring world- class speakers and professionals.  More information on the website link.

Kelsey Langley

Full press release PDF available here.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Popping Up in 2018

By Morgan

Where will we be this year?

As I write this, Suzanna and myself are both close to home. I'm teaching in Middlebury and she's keeping our social media a fire where others can warm up. I'm planning the first pop-up adventure playground in my own community for several years, and Suzanna will be running a series of play events courtesy of the Co-op Local Community Fund.

If you're not in Vermont or Manchester, however, there will still be chances to see us in person.

Morgan's Dates
End of March - MA and CT
Early April - Upstate NY

Suzanna's Dates
2nd June - 7th June - Hong Kong
8th June - 13th June - Singapore
14th June - 21st June - Malaysia

If you're in the above places and want to talk about a workshop or event, get in touch!  This is a great time of year to be planning training for summer staff, or outreach programs like screening of The Land.

Perhaps you're working in education, or a member of the PTA desperate to get more play into the school day?  Our new course is still open for registration, and provides a solid outline and case studies for anyone to implement loose parts play provision at recess or after-school.

Where ever you are in the world this year, keep on working hard to advocate for play. We'd be excited to meet up with you if we can but if not, get in touch - we're always happy to chat! We look forward to hearing from you soon!

Check out Morgan's personal blog here. More on us can be found on facebooktwitterinstagram and our good ol' website