Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Pop-Up Play Shop: #PlayNoMatterWhat

By Zan

My phone pinged and a message came through with some news that made me sigh. The Pop-Up Play Shop is based in Radcliffe, and small town on the outskirts of Manchester, UK - an area that lost a lot of the mill-town glory it once had, and is tumbling still. In early September of this year, a child was thrown off a bridge by his father, news that shook the locals who adorned the bridge with flowers for weeks. The message I had just received was news that a life-lost adult who had been sleeping on the streets had died in a doorway from health complications.

Both of these incidents happened within a 100 foot radius from the Pop-Up Play Shop.

Stepping out of the shop and turning to the right, and you will see a bridge. It takes you over the river that floods the basement of the Shop from time to time and is a busy road through Radcliffe. If you turn to the left, out of the Shop, you will see a gray nondescript doorway that is currently home to 5 bunches of flowers.

I'm reflecting on these incidents and am wondering how I feel. I do not think I am filled with fear for my own safety, though I will admit to being more vigilant with our Pop-Up Adventure Play policies of never playworking alone and always risk assessing where ever we go. I do however fear for the Pop-Up Play Shop. From experience, I know that if people don't feel safe, they don't play. And if the Pop-Up Play Shop has literally been surrounded with such sadness and death, will people still come? Thanks to an amazing relationship I've formed with The Met in Bury, I've managed to secure the premises to continue being a place for play, but will people still want it, given all this bad news?

Wandering around Radcliffe the day after the doorway incident, I tried to gauge how this community was feeling: how my community was feeling. I didn't see fear, and I didn't see much change - people were still going about their own business as they would normally, but specifically avoiding walking through a suspiciously bleach smelling puddle around The Doorway. As a resident of Radcliffe, I get it. Life goes on: you just turn up your collar to the chilling news and hope it doesn't happen to you.

This has made me more determined than ever to make sure that the Pop-Up Play Shop is a success. The pilot over the Summer went down a treat, but what I have now is a new dynamic. I am in the thick of it, and I want to do it right. My mind takes me to the hashtag I sometimes use in Pop-Up's social media: #PlayNoMatterWhat. Play may seem like an insignificant thing when deep dark happenings are literally surrounding us, but it is oh so important. For Shakespeare, it was light relief in tragedy. In "Rise of the Guardians" it was the quality that the team was missing when they were protecting the children of the world from the scary Pitch Black. To us playworkers, play is the answer to many things including therapy in times of trauma, refuge in times of unrest. I want the Pop-Up Play Shop to be a safe space for children and adults to make sense of the world, to find themselves, and to know that no matter what happens in Radcliffe, we will be there, and everyone is welcome. We need to play, no matter what.

So #PlayNoMatterWhat may serve as an unofficial mantra for me during this project. It's going to be a new sign in the window, and hopefully serve as encouragement to everyone who comes in contact with the Pop-Up Play Shop in Radcliffe.


Pop-Ups Zan will be hosting a Fundraising Fair at The Shop on 1st December to raise funds to reopen later on this year. We're super excited that she has this opportunity, and hope that you will all be able to support her through this project. 

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Playwork and Libraries - Guest Writer

We are pleased to invite our wonderful friend Jill - director of Adventure Play at The Parish School in Houston, Texas to guest write on our blog. Her fascinating experiences comes from an unusual pairing, but one that really works - thank you so much for sharing with us!

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By Jill Wood

Next weekend, I get to make a presentation about playwork and child-directed play to a room full of librarians and early childhood educators. For a number of reasons, I’m really excited about this.

First, this room of people will bridge my two professional worlds, which is not something I commonly get to experience. I run a site-based adventure playground at a school in Houston, Texas. I identify as a playworker, someone who is trained in the UK-based professional model that supports child-directed play, often on adventure playgrounds, but also in hospitals, after school clubs, at recess, and in the forest.

I am also a school librarian, at the same school, and have the privilege of working with children, ages 5-12 for 45 minutes weekly, as they explore the shelves, build a relationship to literature, and seek answers to their bazillions of amazing and excellent questions.

A lot of people think these two worlds can’t be bridged because of the way the two spaces look.

Libraries with rows of neatly shelved books, categorized by fiction and nonfiction, by author’s last name, by Dewey Decimals. And adventure playgrounds, where children make their own decisions about how to spend their time and where to put things.

In a library you can get on a computer and often find out exactly where a book is located using an OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog). On an adventure playground you have to find the kid who last used a hammer and hope they’re willing to give you directions to where they dropped it.

But libraries are only designed the way they are because the categories and order make books accessible. And adventure playgrounds are designed and organized by children because that is what makes them accessible.  The two spaces are connected by something deeper than their appearance or system of organization. They are both environments that support freedom and exploration as defined by the individual, in the moment. They both meet people where they need to be met.

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Second, many of my favorite childhood play memories happened in the library, so I have a lot to say about the topic. Starting around Kindergarten, my mom would take my brother and I to our neighborhood public library, set up shop at a table, give us a kiss on the forehead and expect to see us a couple of hours later.

I remember starting in the picture books, usually with Bill Peet, Bread and Jam for Francis, stuff I could find in my classroom at school, then wandering into the nonfiction section.

I would pull a book about stars and planets off the shelf, look at the pictures, want to learn more, and right next to the space book there were other space books! Oh, but nearby was the animal section and that area was the biggest in the nonfiction area. Marsupials aren’t just kangaroos, there are wombats and koalas, and there’s even one that flies with a baby in its pouch called a sugar glider. Why are there so many animals with baby pockets in Australia? Better go find a book about Australia.

Sometimes I would pretend to read books my older brother read, The Great Brain series or A Swiftly Tilting Planet. I could just hold them up to my face and people thought I was reading them. And then there was the adult section. So much naughty stuff, right there without supervision. The Robert Mapplethorpe book in the art section was a thing of legend, its location passed from child to child.

I would collect up piles of books and curl up on the cushion at the base of the bubble window in the children’s area. Sometimes I saw friends from school, and often I had conversations with adults – a college student wanting a break, a homeless person needing to tell a story, a welcoming librarian named Judy, who had very straight hair she wore in a bob. Just like a playworker, when Judy saw me in the adult section looking at anatomy texts, she kept walking past without a glance or a judgment. And when I told her the things I discovered about Australia or space, she always listened as if I were telling her the most interesting thing she’d heard all day.

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Finally, there should be more child-directed play opportunities in libraries, because libraries are community centers and communities need play. Playworkers and librarians have quite a lot in common:
    • Both are service professions
    • Both provide tools for accessibility
    • Both trust individuals to self-determine and self-direct their activities and because of this, both provide environments for identity to be explored and found
    • Both protect individuals from censorship, even when it's difficult or uncomfortable
    • Both are ethically bound to protect human rights (right to play, right to intellectual freedom and privacy)
    • Both have to balance all of the above against the same rights of others, within a shared space
    • Both respond to challenges by providing more options and changing the environment, rather than restricting access
    • Both are guided by a series of principles, but catered to the needs of a particular community, making every library or play space unique.

And both librarians and playworkers are adept at defending all of the above, because pleasure reading and play are suspect in a culture that values activities with predetermined purpose and measurable goals. The internal journeys we take on the playground and through the pages of books define who we are, and who we would like to become, but they are the first to go when cuts are made to funding or time is short in a day. So we librarians do studies to show that intrinsic motivation is an essential component of literacy, and we playworkers lean on compound flexibility to justify the child-made nature of our adventure playgrounds, but we both know that our goal is to create spaces where people can experience what they are driven to experience, when they are driven to experience it.

"It’s funny that we think of libraries as quiet demure places where we are shushed by dusty, bun-balancing, bespectacled women. The truth is libraries are raucous clubhouses for free speech, controversy and community. Librarians have stood up to the Patriot Act, sat down with noisy toddlers and reached out to illiterate adults. Libraries can never be shushed.” – Paula Poundstone, "United for Libraries Forms National Partnership with Paula Poundstone", American Library Association, July 2, 2009. http://www.ala.org/united/about/news/poundstone (Accessed November 3, 2019)

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Pop-Ups Tour 2019: Morgan Edition

Pop-Up Adventure Play is pleased to announce the Pop-Ups Tour 2019: Morgan Edition. 

Morgan Leichter-Saxby will be touring across Illinois, Indiana and Missouri during her tour this Fall, and will be setting off on 23rd October. The trip starts in Chicago IL, then onwards to Indianapolis IN. There will be a brief stop in St Louis MO before returning to Illinois to speak in Champaign-Urbana before finishing up in Chicago again on 11th November.

This 20-day tour has been made possible by 5 different host organisations and individuals who have invited one half of Pop-Up Adventure Play - a small international charity - into their communities. The tour will focus on the importance of play, and how it is vital to support one another by creating a community of children's play advocates. An emphasis on connection and relationship-building will be demonstrated by physically visiting communities who are seeking to prioritise children and their play.

There are still places available to be part of this exciting adventure, specifically for the following locations:
  • 2nd November, St Louis, MO - "The Nature of Play" hosted by Play-MO. Info found here.
  • 6th November, Champaign, IL - "Yoga for All" co-hosted with Kelsey Langley. Info found here.
  • 7th November, Champaign, IL - "Play for Grown Ups!" hosted by KOOP Adventure Play Info found here.


Pop-Up Adventure Play would like to wish Morgan a successful tour and look forward to sharing her On-The-Road stories soon! For more information about the tour, please contact tour organiser suzanna@popupadventureplay.org.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Pop-Up Play Shop in Radcliffe

By Pop-Ups Zan

Sitting at a tiny desk in the middle of a swelteringly hot day in Hong Kong, I stared at an email that had just popped through. I am working in Asia, and my brain is discombobulated from many layers of bilingual conversation, so upon reading this email, I wasn't sure I was understanding what I was seeing even though all the necessary words were in there. This included dates, the word "tenancy" and "storage", and something about the council, all signed off by the words "hope this all sounds okay".

Quite honestly, it wasn't 100% clear, but then reading in between the lines, it suddenly dawned on me: David from The Met was asking me if I would take over a local empty shop for specific dates in the Summer. I'm pretty sure I stopped breathing for a second.

Working in my own community started when I received funding from the Co-op Local Community Fund at the tail end of 2017. My 2018 was a blur of pop-up adventure playgrounds, joyfully attended and supported by the local community who clearly wanted more. As the funding ran out in December 2018, I wondered what would become of all that work, all that networking, and all the connections I had made with the children of North Manchester. Would it end up just fizzling out? Would this be it?

My training and experience in the playwork field gives me a little shake every so often. "Trust in the process", it whispers as I steady myself again. A Pop-Up Play Shop isn't something brand new to us - we opened our first one in Cardiff and then wrote a toolkit. We know that working with the community from the ground up is hard - we've done it before and will keep doing it everywhere we go, even if it is difficult. We know that play is important, for the individual and the community - it says so in the Playwork Principles!

From the moment I stepped off the plane from HK, to the moment I opened the Pop-Up Play Shop doors for the first time was 9 days. During that time, I had acquired the keys, hoovered up what can only be estimated as a few different species of spider, swept away maybe the equivalent of 100 people's worth of hair, been gifted some furniture, had the windows cleaned pro bono and moved my quirky collection of loose parts into this old hair salon. I was jet-lagged, but delighted: this is now a community space for play.


There were 4 sessions in the shop - the lease on the building was a short 2 months and due to the last minute nature of the whole venture, I could only commit to 4 dates. But what glorious 4 sessions they were!

There was a smoothie shop, a castle, a rocket, and several different robots. There was dancing, and singing, and laughing and negotiating. Babies sat in boxes, toddlers made homes in boxes, at one point an entire adult tried to get into a box and couldn't, much to the amusement of their kid. Adults told us stories about how they used to play, of how they used to freely explore materials and roam. At one point, two of the adults made their own game and were cheered on by a few of the children! Children told us stories, and took us on adventures, and served us drinks, and gave us presents, and wrote us love notes. Babies threw plastic balls at things and then collected them all back again only to throw them out once again. Teenagers also skulked in, and pretended not to play, but stayed for a lot longer than they intended to. Children weaved in and out of the space, making it their own and taking full ownership of it. This was their shop, and it filled me with delight that they thought so.





In the final session, one of the children cut a hole in a cushion and the whole shop filled with a poof of white stuffing. I smirked as the entire floor was covered in white fluff, and the children started screaming "it's snowing!". It was one of the hottest days of the year and I was tired but also really quite sad that I couldn't tell the kids when the Pop-Up Play Shop would next be opening. I quietly left all the snow in the shop and put up my "CLOSED" sign, and wondered if I would be back.


Fast forward two months to October and I have received another email. "I think we are in a position to reopen as soon as you are ready to go", says David from The Met. For the second time this year, I stopped breathing for a moment: I can't quite believe that the Pop-Up Play Shop might stand a chance of becoming a fixture in Radcliffe, providing children with opportunities to play in their own way for a little while longer. Time to fund-raise and get that hoover back out: those spiders can't take over the shop because I am back.

To find out more about Pop-Ups Zan's local projects, join the Just Play MCR facebook group. For all of our other adventures, check out the main facebook page, and if you have time, pop in to our newly revamped website on www.popupadventureplay.org.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Reflections on Parenting and Playwork - Guest Writer

Our Playworker Development Course brings people together from all over the world to talk about playwork. Divya is from India. She joined the course in March 2019, with the intention of channelising her passion for play. We've invited her to reflect on her PDC journey so far.

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By Divya Badami Rao

As a parent, my primary setting is my family, my home. My children are almost always in a state of play. They play with their heart and soul, filling the house at times with silence, at others noise, with calm, with chaos, with camaraderie, and even belligerence. Playwork has deepened the appreciation I have for the way my children play, and helped me accept the messier, nosier and even destructive forms that their play often takes. I understand that my children need the whole house to play, that it cannot be restricted to their room. I practice playwork when I play with them, and when I don’t. I practice playwork when I think through possible interventions, before I actually intervene. I practice playwork when I sometimes don’t know what to do when a situation of conflict arises. I practice playwork when I add to their possessions in a manner that intensifies and expands their universe of play. I practice playwork when I plan our vacations. I practice playwork when I think of them even when they are not actually around.

Playwork is not perfect, and nor is there such a thing as the perfect playworker, I suspect, much like there is no such thing as the perfect parent and parenting style, or teacher and teaching style. Yet, the intentional, mindful and contemplative nature of playwork paves the way for democratic, trustful and respectful parenting. New parents generally learn the value of play incrementally. Watching my first born grow from an infant to a toddler and then pre-schooler was really about watching him play, watching how it evolved, how it changed and grew in complexity. One baby later, understanding and adapting Playwork Principles to child raising led me to  what has become an important insight in the way that I understand and practice playwork: the difference between child-led and being child-friendly.

It is common to come across the term “child-friendly” as a parent. Apart from being code for minimal risk, or risk-free, it is an approach to the way education is delivered, or a term used to describe a space, such as a child-friendly hotel or playground. However,  I don’t recall having encountered the use of the term child-friendly in Playwork materials. The emphasis, instead, is on the term child-led. The distinction has struck me as crucial in acknowledging two things: one, that the child is his or her own being, not simply the extension of the people and influences on his or her life; and two, a child’s actions (read: play) has intrinsic worth to the child, which should not be questioned, judged or re-directed, except in exceptional circumstances.

Armed with the finer points of playwork wisdom being instilled within me by the Playworker Development Course, I provide my children with as much playtime as possible, encourage and support their very particular play needs and play narratives. As I allow myself to be led into their world of amusing, crazy, intelligent, imaginative, exploratory, adventurous, and risky play, I watch the wonders of play unfold their beautiful personalities and abilities with much contentment. Parenting with playwork is a pleasure.


We run regular cohorts of the Playworker Development Course - if you want to know more information about the course itself, check out the course link here. If you want to join our next cohort, email suzanna@popupadventureplay.org.