Saturday, 10 November 2018

Playwork Campference 2019: Introducing Ali Wood

By Morgan

Ali Wood is a subtle but powerful force within the UK playwork scene, on par with magnets or the tides. In a field worryingly packed with macho posturing, she reminds everyone again and again to reflect, to listen with compassion, to think radically about what it means to be 'on the child's side'. As people in the field, and as Pop-Up Adventure Play, we are proud to call her both an inspiration, and a friend! We're really excited that Ali will be joining us as one of two keynotes at the Playwork Campference 2019.

Pop-Up Adventure Play: How did you get into playwork?
Ali Wood: I left school determined to not go to university because everyone else was and both my school and my mum were pressurising me to go. Working at Birmingham Children’s Hospital convinced me that I wanted to work with people. I started doing voluntary work in youth clubs, art projects and community centres locally to gain experience, then to Birmingham University to do what was then a certificate in youth and community work. It wasn’t until the early 90’s when I met other ‘proper’ playworkers and realised that this was what I had been doing (of sorts) for a long time. I was hooked. Youth work was changing and getting more structured and funding for community work was dying; playwork felt like my spiritual home and the field where it felt work was still human and anything was possible.

I’ve been in playwork ever since – campaigning for children’s rights, arguing for children’s freedom and independence with anyone who would listen, pushing for reflective practice, writing stories and anecdotes along the way, doing action research and working mainly in schools or adventure playgrounds.

PUAP: What do you love about it most?
AW: I love playwork because it is both incredibly simple and hugely complex; because it draws in a wide range of adults who can be both wonderful and challenging; because it never stops making me think or prompting new questions. It’s also helped me make sense of my own childhood and why I felt most alive when I was playing. But mostly I love it because it treats children and young people as equal human beings who are capable and competent in themselves. It advocates for play and I feel privileged to be part of the movement.

PUAP: How do you play, for yourself?
AW: My own playing is a little tamer physically and less wild than it used to be, but I still love roaming and exploring new places on foot –especially if it involves hills and sea – and make a point of going each year to places I’ve never been. I am passionate about animals and their welfare and so seeing them in the wild is really exciting. I’ve recently taken up knitting and am very proud of my finished pieces of handiwork! I can get obsessed with word and/or number puzzles.

I’m at the adventure playground a lot and love being a part of its general chaos and laughter. And I love spending time with my grandchildren and trying to see the world through their eyes…

PUAP: What are you most excited about for Campference?
AW: Meeting and listening to new people who are equally hungry to learn! Being part of an experience where everyone is going to be enriched and fed and inspiring and inspired - that’s the best!

You can hang out with Ali at the second ever Playwork Campference that will be taking place in Houston TX in February 2019. Register here, or if you have any questions, email

Monday, 29 October 2018

Giving Tuesday 2018: Playworker Travelling Fund

By Zan

On 27th November 2018, as part of Giving Tuesday, Pop-Up Adventure Play will be raising money to fuel our newly launched Playworker Travelling Fund. This is an opportunity for us to gather the funds that will help playworkers travel to different communities and share their wisdom with other playful folk.

We hope, this Giving Tuesday, to be able to raise £500 (roughly $640 USD) so that cover the return expenses of one playworker, travelling to the country we work in the most: the USA. This is the same amount of money that each of team Pop-Ups is allowed to spend on their travel every time we go out on an excursion, so we know it is a number that works, and we hope that it is a number that we can raise to help a fellow playworker.

If we raise £500 on Giving Tuesday, we - Pop-Ups Morgan and Zan - each promise to dress up for an entire day as a robot. 

Yes, to thank you for your support on this particular fund-raising adventure, we will each be making our own robot outfits and wearing them for a whole day while going about our day. I, Pop-Ups Zan, am also taking requests on what should be included on my robot costume and what daily task I might need to tackle as a robot.

As a small disclaimer here - each member of the team can choose which date their Robot Day will be. They will each be solely responsible for their outfit, but can seek help from others if required e.g. during construction or assembly. Outfits will more than likely be made of cardboard and other loose parts as this fits in perfectly with the ethos of the organisation. Each Robot Day will be a minimum of 8 hours and will involve photos of each of us doing various things to evidence that we did in fact dress up like a robot for a day. I think that I - Pop-Ups Zan - am also willing to do short videos of my day if folks are willing to donate even more.

We are excited that we have this opportunity to raise funds to help our fellow play friends. It has been a struggle for us to fund our adventures over the past 10 years so we know first hand how hard it is to expand our own play knowledge and support others without the financial means to get there. We hope that our wonderful following of Pop-Ups Supporters will be able to help us to raise some funds so that the practical and theoretical knowledge of playwork can be spread to all corners of the world, starting with just one plane ticket.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Pop-Up Adventure Play community, on 27th November 2018, please help us to help people like you. #LetsSupportPlay #GivingTuesday

You can use this paypal link here to donate on 27th November. If you donate 10 GBP or more, Paypal will match fund your donation! Hoorah! If you have any questions, please feel free to email Suzanna on, or contact us by Facebook, Twitter, or using our website

Monday, 15 October 2018

Press Release: Second Playwork Campference brings international experts on children's play to discuss unconventional approaches to risk and inclusion


HOUSTON, TX: On a three acre site in West Houston, children ages 6 to 13, many with learning differences and communication delays, have constructed a three-acre homemade playground of their dreams. This past year marked a decade of growth and change for the site, which was founded in 2008 and was recently filmed by Alliance for Childhood for their exemplary practices. “Even people who already know about adventure playgrounds often don't know that Houston has one of the very best in the world,” says Morgan Leichter-Saxby of Pop-Up Adventure Play, a non-for-profit which provides training in Playwork practice. “We couldn't be happier to be partnering with Jill Wood and The Parish School to deliver this totally unique event.”

Since WW2, thousands of adventure playgrounds have provided opportunities for children’s self-directed play in the United Kingdom, Japan and Europe, providing children with space and tools such as hammers and nails.  Many sites include fire.  Until recently very few existed in North America, but this model has recently become popular with sites springing up in New York City, Los Angeles, and Houston. However, public reporting has frequently missed the question of Playwork, or the professional work of staffing these sites safely.

“Playwork is special” says Jill Wood, one of the two keynote speakers. “It's what makes adventure playgrounds function even more safely than other kinds of playgrounds”. Playwork, which can be studied at the University level in the UK, is an explicitly non-educational approach which emphasizes risk-benefit assessment and low-interventionist support methods. Studies have evidenced its strong therapeutic potential. However, no formal Playwork professional training programs currently exist in North America.

Pop-Up Adventure Play has been stepping into that gap, providing online training and the first Playwork Campference in 2017, which attracted 90 play advocates from 7 different countries. Participant feedback stated that "...campference was a completely unforgettable experience. Unlike other conferences where it is just info after info I felt able to really think and reflect and resonate on what I was learning." The first event was so well received that preparations for the second Playwork Campference are well underway, to happen on 15th-18th February 2019.

“Playwork is in the limelight right now,” says Suzanna Law of Pop-Up Adventure Play. “People in schools and parks and hospitals... we want to bring everyone together to talk about making a real change…. this is the only place to get it right now.” Ali Wood, playwork expert from the UK and co-author of Reflective Playwork: For All Who Work with Children, will be providing a final keynote on 18th February. A gathering on Saturday, 16th February, will be open to the public who are also welcome to tour the event’s art exhibition, entitled Reflections.

Campference participants will be camping on the adventure playground at The Parish School for the 4-day, 3 night event, a space that consists of three acres of grassland covered by child-made structures. They'll have full access to the site along with bonfires, Texas bbq, and lively discussions around children’s play.

The full press release is available here.

Registration Information and Contact Information
To register to please use this link here. Early bird rate of $395 USD (for a camping spot) and $325 USD (for a non-camping spot) will be ending on 31st October 2018. To discuss financial assistance options or if you have any further questions, please contact

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Playwork Campference 2019 - Frequently Whispered Nightmares

As part of Playwork Campference 2019, we would like to invite folks to tell us about their own projects, their communities, and their playwork perspective, so we put out a Call for Presentations. Since then have heard some whispers that we'd like to gently address - hopefully this blogpost written by Campference organiser and speaker, Pop-Ups very own Morgan, will help to soothe some nervous playful people out there.

By Morgan

FWN: “I thought I wanted to speak at Campference, but the Call for Presentations has me all alarmed!”
So, you’re nervous about presenting. Of course you are! It’s a scary thing, public speaking. Everyone is afraid of at least one aspect, so here (instead of Frequently Asked Questions) are some Frequently Whispered Nightmares (FWN).

FWN: “I don’t know enough!”
Yes. Only experts are allowed at the front, and you’re not an expert! Right? Except that you’re probably the person in your neighborhood who knows the most about playwork, and at Campference you are the person who knows the most about your neighborhood. We want to hear your stories, and you’re definitely an expert on those.

FWN: “I haven’t been doing playwork long enough!”
Playwork has its roots in post-WW2 adventure playgrounds. That means there have been generations of people doing this work, learning and developing and talking about what it means to do playwork, to be playworkers. In the USA, we are in a remarkable time of perhaps the greatest number of playworkers and playwork students ever.

That means that, however long you have been in this field, you are part of something extraordinary. Your thoughts and experiences are vitally important. You don't have to be an expert but we want you in this conversation. What are you curious about right now?

FWN: “I haven’t even finished the PDC!”
Haha, we know. That’s okay. I mean, obviously, we encourage you to return and are here whenever you’re ready, but we also know firsthand how life - including the overwhelming responsibilities of starting and staffing play projects - can make distance learning even harder.

Are you trying to do the best playwork possible, as you understand it? Are you using language from playwork, such as cues and frames and adulteration? Are you trying to learn more every day, from texts and from the children themselves?

Then we want to hear how it’s been going so far.

FWN: “I haven’t presented before!  Talking to adults is terrifying!”
Very true. On the other hand, we would like to gently suggest that Campference may offer the most sympathetic and genuinely curious audience you’ll ever find.

We would also love to help people put together sessions that go beyond the tired “one person at the front with Powerpoint” model. Are you good with knots? Know a great way to build platforms fast? Do you have another practice in your life, like tango or Feldenkrais, that you think might have interesting things in common with playwork theory? Have you and a friend recently been discussing an aspect of playwork that other people might have opinions on?

We get it. Truly. Suzanna and Morgan never meant to spend so much time speaking in front of audiences, either. Morgan literally threw up before her first playwork conference presentation (a story she’ll share if you ask nicely), and Suzanna feels usually wants to cry before a presentation (and has done so three times and counting). In spite of these humble beginnings, they have come to see that presenting can even (gasp) be fun.

Get in touch. We’ll talk it through, and help you get there.

If you want to find out more about the Call to Presentations, here is the link to the blogpost. To find out more about the Campference, check out this website here, and consider registering here.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Playwork Campference 2019 - Pre-Campference Leadership Intensive

By Morgan

Since 2010, we’ve had the pleasure of being a part of the US Playwork and Adventure Play scene and helping it to grow.  New projects have opened coast-to-coast in North America, and around the world, led by passionate and dedicated people we are proud to consider colleagues and friends.

At the same time, we know firsthand the struggles in starting projects and in keeping them going.

This coming February, we’re offering a totally unique Pre-Campference Leadership Intensive that is designed specifically to support Project Leaders on those issues and any others they face. It will be an event that's happening in addition to the Playwork Campference 2019 (and will start 24 hours before the Campference itself) and there are only a limited number of spots available. We’ll talk about:

  • finding the right adventure play/playwork model for your community
  • outreach and marketing
  • finding (and keeping!) great staff
  • partnering with other organizations 
  • financial sustainability

And last but not least, personal sustainability! 

We’ll also spend time talking about the movement as a whole, sharing ideas and strategizing about how we can best support one another in pushing this work forward to larger audiences, while still retaining what makes this approach so unique.

Participants can be anywhere in the process of Project Leadership, but we are prioritizing applicants who are already underway (at least one or two pop-up adventure playgrounds in).

If you’ve ever felt “all this rests on me” - come on down! 

We don't have all the answers, but we have dialogue, experience and chocolate.

The one pager can be found here.

The application form can be found here.