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

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Prioritizing Play Conference 2018: Registration Now Open

By Zan

In partnership with KOOP Adventure Play, we are pleased to announce that registration for the first ever Prioritizing Play Conference in Urbana, Illinois on 3rd-5th May is officially open. We've been working with Kelsey and Naomi of KOOP for a few years now, helping train them in the basics of playwork theory through the Playworker Development Course, and talking with them about what that means in practice. We know that between our two organisations, we have created an exciting opportunity for folks to get together and talk about play and playwork with keynote speakers Peter Gray and Pop-Ups very own Morgan Leichter-Saxby.
"Play is a necessity for children and youth. Yet with each passing year, the time, space and freedom children have allocated to self- directed play is infringed upon.  This May, those who work with children or are interested in play in their communities will gather to review why play is important, hear about the current movement towards prioritizing play and to learn about how the field of playwork is crucial in today's world."
You can register here, and some information is below. We look forward to seeing you there!


Date: 3rd-5th May 2018 
Location: Illini Union Hotel, Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. 
Keynote Speakers: Peter Gray and Morgan Leichter-Saxby

Early Bird Rate: $350 USD
Full rate: $450 USD

Limited financial assistance is available. More information can be found here with more details to follow. If you have any questions please email

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

New Pop-Up Year: New Pop-Up Tagline

By Morgan

There's a small thing that's irked us for ages. It's probably a common feeling to folks in playwork, given how we struggle to explain this work to outsiders. As an organization that positions itself as a kind of 'welcome mat' for adventurous play, we always wanted a tagline that felt right and reflected who we are. Finally, we've got a phrase we love. 

Play at the heart of communities.

Those communities may be personal or professional, in person or online, temporary or lasting the rest of our lives. We help weave play through existing communities, or building new communities around play. Wherever we work, children's play remains our top priority, the beating heart of all we do.

There's another phrase we wanted to share, as part of our excitement about the upcoming year. If a tagline is 'what we do', this is 'how we do it'. It's our intention, which we're setting carefully and sharing with you now.

In 2018 and beyond, we want to be your online play association.

This means a lot to us, and likely not much to you just yet. Most of the people we work with around the world have never had a local play association. These groups exist to support other initiatives, the ones doing work on the ground. Many UK play associations are struggling or have closed, but we're still drawing upon a long tradition of regional support for local play initiatives. Here's what we think a good local play association ought to be:

  • responsive, tailoring both approach and content
  • supportive, providing access to targeted resources
  • collaborative, linking people together and sharing ideas
  • positive, welcoming new members to the field and encouraging those who have been here for awhile
  • inclusive, working with people in schools, hospitals, parks, families and everywhere that children can be found.

That's what we've always tried to do, but we wanted a phrase that made it a bit more 'official'. We know what it's like to struggle, to search for information that seems hard to find, to feel alone. We feel honored to be serving new and practicing playworkers. Whether it's through resources, social media, online courses, or simply answering questions over email, we want to help you do the very best job you can, of improving the world for children's play.

To find out more about our work, check out our facebook, our twitter and our website

Monday, 25 December 2017

End of Year Reflections - So Long, 2017

By Morgan

Since founding Pop-Up Adventure Play, we've worked in two main arenas - to share playwork ideas as widely as we can, and to help both new and dedicated playworkers connect with one another.  This year, those efforts felt at times more important than ever.

Perhaps you heard we held a Campference?  In February, nearly one hundred of us gathered to talk and play, share and plan. Of course, we were nearly washed away by the state-emergency level storm and flooding, but playworkers are resilient folk!

Maybe we met you in Canada?  This summer, the little yellow car made its triumphant return as it took three of us coast to coast!  One courageous board member visited in Calgary, where we caught up with international friends and fellow playworkers at the IPA Triennial Conference.  We drove 10,000 km to deliver training public workshops and screenings of The Land, visiting cities and rural communities where this information is needed most.

If you're a student on the Playworker Development Course, you might be interested to know we now have 236 students in 18 countries.  We're very proud to have students that represent or began some of the best playwork programming around.

Lastly, our latest online professional development opportunity is Playful Schools Online.  This is a new, online-only course designed for anyone supporting play at recess or in after-school provision.  This is a powerful opportunity to impact the lives of so many children, as well as a tricky situation to navigate.  Our course provides case studies of projects we've supported, and guidance around several common barriers.

As always, we've continued to offer a steady flow of articles and links to encourage and connect you to all that's out there!  This is an interesting time in play, without a doubt.  Since 2010 we've seen a dramatic rise in interest in adventure playgrounds and adventure play, and we're proud to have a role in locating playwork at the heart of that conversation.

All of this is for you, beloved Friend of Pop-Ups, and none of it would be possible without your curiosity, interest and hard work.  We support one another, to keep on supporting children's play.

In short, 2017 may not have always been easy, but it has been an honor.