Monday, 13 November 2017

Pop-Ups On Tour - Board Member Summary - Guest Writer

By Ricky Tsang, Board Member of Pop-Up Adventure Play

It was a warm evening in Vancouver and I had just been picked up in the little yellow tour car (with a surprising amount of leg room) and I was heading into the little known space of playwork. This was an adventure that I never thought that I'd have the chance to do, but as one of Pop-Up Adventure Play's Board Members, I was here and it was great!

For the first few nights, Pop-Ups contacts Zeke and his wife Erica had graciously put me up to help me get over my jet lag and ease me into tour life. He also drove us around to see the amazing sights in and around Vancouver while eating oysters, learning about inukshuks and admiring the natural beauty; it didn't feel like 8 years since the last time we spoke! I will definitely be back!

But between the sightseeing tours in Vancouver, I wholeheartedly threw myself into playwork and it was super fun. My first pop-up adventure playground was in Richmond with a Chinese-based community. It was great to see the children explore their play with cardboard boxes and a ton of forts, some built by the children and others with some help from me and the playworkers; I made my first "window" which was part of a fort designed by a kid who even built a shoe rack.

Our next stop was in Coquitlam, where the Pop-Up Adventure Play team sat on a panel alongside renowned Professors Dr. Mariana Brussoni and Helen Little following a screening of The Land and Project Wild Thing. The short movies were well received by the audience and I gained an insight into the mindset of the education community in adopting a playwork framework in BC. Fascinating stuff! I also got first hand experience in seeing how the team hold their own in situations where they are considered experts in the field (even though they won't admit it). And they nailed it.

Next, we ventured into Surrey to support a pop-up adventure playground for children around the age of 5 years. It was great to experience how children of younger ages play in their own way; they may not be able to build forts but, boy, can they play. We also had a runner! But he knew where the fun was and promptly returned. In the evening the same guys hosted a workshop where Zan, Morgan and Andy delivered an interactive workshop in playwork and also another showing of The Land. The participants were receptive of the playwork ideals and we had some good discussions, especially regarding some of the local barriers that they have experienced to date.

That was our last stop of business in BC before we moved on towards Calgary, Alberta. Along the way we stopped off at Hope, Salmon Arm and Golden, some of the most literal place names I have ever come across! We eventually arrived in Banff National Park where it was cold and wet but that didn't stop us from exploring the village and Lake Louise, among some of the most incredible views I have seen.

After settling into Calgary, we had an early start as the team were invited to speak at a workshop hosted by Calgary Child's Play along with Kirsty Wilson from Scrapstore PlayPods and Robyn Monro-Miller from the IPA. This workshop featured different approaches to child-directed play and had the participants thinking about how they can support play in their own communities including the use of Playpods and understanding how we can promote the children’s right to play.

We then ventured into 40 Mile county to the villages of Foremost and Bow Island (after a brief trip to see the incredible valleys at the Dinosaur Provincial Park). This was a very different experience to Vancouver and Calgary, to see the vast open prairies and experience life away from the urban developments. Despite these lifestyle differences, the children played all the same. Forts and castles and streamers everywhere! One particular moment that stood out for me was at first, there was a natural boy/girl divide with their own castles and their own rules. But after negotiations and bit of back and forth, they merged their castles to create one huge castle with multiple rooms! It was pretty awesome. Another moment that caught my attention was when a young boy who was very attached to his mother eventually discovered his instinct for play - the proud look in his mother's eyes was priceless. This situation came about because of how Morgan handled the situation, from engaging with the child and allowing him to discover his instinct for play - I'm pretty sure tears were *almost* shed! Finally, Andy was also threw himself into play - by becoming the children’s mannequin, draped in a sparkly shawl and feathery scarf - I’m pretty sure he was enjoying himself!

Overall, this Canadian tour was an incredible experience for me and with everyone that I met along the way, I could tell that this was also a great experience for them.  We are grateful for every host that invited us into the community, and every workshop participant who came along to hear the team speak on play - such a fundamental need in life. To be able to provide children with the space and materials to play their own way was clearly something that everyone valued. The hope is that our presence was enough to continue the conversation of play in Canada and provide the tools to ensure that children have that freedom to play their own way, everyday.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Launching - The Playful Schools: Online Course

By Morgan

"When you begin to imagine and act as if you live in the world you want to live in, you will have company."  ~ Berenice Johnson Reagon

Children spend a majority of their time awake in school, and that's not including any extra tutoring or wraparound care. This wouldn't matter so much if children were leaving school to spend their afternoons roaming the neighborhood, enjoying pick-up games and building forts in abandoned lots. But they're not.

Increasingly, school is most children's best chance to test boundaries away from their parents and build strong peer relationships – in short, to play.

But what do we give them? Twenty minute slots, if that, in a fenced tarmac square. Adults walk the periphery like prison guards, on the look-out for fights. Those fights become more likely when play opportunities are reduced, and everyone scrambles for a little of what they need. In many schools recess has become a hotly contested corner of the day that no one particularly wants to staff, and several schools have scrapped recess entirely.

There are alternatives, and schools have been experimenting with longer recess timesfewer rules, and the range of materials offered. The potential impact this has on children's days and lives, is extraordinary.

Whether you're an educator, administrator or parent, we want to help you and your school offer children rich, responsive and inspiring places for play.

But what about risk?
Change is scary, and anyone promoting loose parts at recess is going to be asked what happens if children get hurt. Our module "Advocacy, Bureaucracy and Risk" is designed to walk you through the risk-benefit process, and show folks that loose parts actually reduces children's injury rates in the short and long-term.

Isn't it enough to just buy some stuff?
We love junk too, but knowing what to choose and how to introduce it is crucial. Storage, maintenance and staging are all key to a project's success. We share case studies from schools that have implemented loose parts recess in the US, UK and Australia, so you can see what has worked (or not) in situations like your own.

What about staffing?
This course is grounded in Playwork beliefs and practices, but translated to a school context. That means we look at key vocabulary terms, specifics of play support and advocacy. This way, you'll be prepared to support children's play when you're with them, and ready to advocate for it more effectively with parents and colleagues.

How do I get parents on board?
Speaking of those parents and colleagues, are you still looking for the best resources to engage and persuade?  We look at strategies to help you keep the school community informed and invested in these changes.

Where do I start?

> Click here < - We honestly believe that this is one of our best resources ever. Every school is different, but we can learn so much from one another. These 7 modules are designed to help you build your own path, choose your battles, and feel supported throughout.

Why now?
If we wait for the 'perfect' day to arrive, these children will be collecting retirement!  

Since 2010, it's been our honor to provide training and mentorship to folks who support children's play. These are passionate, dedicated people who care deeply about children's right and freedom to express themselves, to follow their own inclinations, satisfy their own curiosities, to enjoy their childhood. As they progress, learning more and putting those lessons into practice, we see community build around them and the astonishing beauty of play.  These are people just like you, learning from those who have gone before and then finding their own way.

What will you do next?

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Popping up in Belgium - Guest Writer

By Sara Pillen

Sara signed up as an independent organizer in April, and hosted her first pop-up adventure playground as part of an event called Diggiefest.  She shares some information and images from that event here.

On 25 and 26 august 2017, in Belgium, a tiny country in Europe, the unique project Diggie organised its annual festival.

Diggie is an organisation that brings together people by working and playing together on the farm. We organise holidays for children in the summers, schools come visiting and we have a lot of volunteers who come work with us.

Every year we organise a big festival to celebrate the anniversary of our project with the aid of 100 volunteers. On the program two bands, a delicious BBQ, three summer movies... And of course a children's village, inspired by pop-up adventure playground, where children could build forts, dress up as princes, farmers, knights... but also bake salt dough cookies, cuddle with the goats, build sandcastles or transform into a real circus artist.

The kids had so much fun that you could see some parents joining in. We'll already looking forward to more adventure play next year. More information about Diggie can be found at or

To host your own pop-up adventure playground, register here for a free resource pack. To follow the adventures of other independent organisers, check out our facebook page and our website

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Reflections from the PDC: "Kids play wherever they are with whatever they have" - Guest writer

By Erica Quigley

Erica is one of our Playworker Development Course students and has been working steadily through the 12 modules. She has been reflecting recently on her practice, and, with her permission, we've decided to share some of her thoughts on our blog. She has written for our blog before, and we're excited to have her back again!

I started taking play seriously about ten years ago. Watching children – in the woods, on post-and-platform playgrounds, and in parking lots – got me familiar with different kinds of play and how the environment and its norms can expand or limit opportunities. In each place and time, I asked, What’s on the play menu? (Bear with me through an extended food metaphor.)

Most kids seemed to subsist on the play equivalent of fast food; the ubiquitous spaces that landscape architect Helen Woolley cleverly dubbed “KFC” or kit-fence-carpet playgrounds. My research into adventure playgrounds led me to the conclusion that adults need to provide children with what I thought were the “highest forms” of play, which I saw as den-building and getting dirty and taking big risks with sharp tools. Could we take a page out of the local food movement and feed kids organic chicken and sautéed vegetables?

In my role as an environmental educator, I began providing loose parts in play areas and noticing how children used the objects in unexpected ways. I also came up against reluctant staff and safety fears. I didn’t make this connection at the time, but there’s an analogy here: community gardens are to factory farms what adventure playgrounds are to KFC playgrounds. Do-it-yourself spaces have lower material costs and are more responsive to local needs. However, they’re unpredictable and require specialized skills to manage. Frustration with the status quo can slide into extreme viewpoints; both the food and play movements sometimes hold up unrealistic ideals. All of your tomatoes can’t be organic heirloom varieties grown less than a mile from your house, and all children won’t have access to a playworker-staffed wonderland of kid-built forts.

As I visited more play spaces and worked on a graduate degree in landscape architecture, I came to understand the need for balance. Children need a balanced diet; a play buffet where they can pick and choose what suits them in that moment. Most kids play near home and school most of the time, and those environments are likely offer a mix of KFC and loose parts play, even if the loose parts are limited to the twigs and sand that have collected on the edge of the asphalt. I’m enchanted by the idea that a neighborhood could have as many opportunities for play as it now does for food: grocery store, takeout, street vendor, or vending machine. My goal as a designer is to create opportunities for different kinds of play within the existing context, while nudging adults to broaden their idea of what can happen there.

I’ve nearly completed the Playworker Development Course and have rethought the whole idea of adults “providing” play. Kids play wherever they are with whatever they have. Great design can expand opportunities in time and space, but we can also nurture a child’s ability to meet their play needs in impoverished settings. A pop-up adventure playground or a romp in the woods develops a child’s ability to think flexibly and adapt their environment. These experiences are like cooking classes; kids learn they can combine elements to create something altogether different. As I continue to ponder play and design, I’ll look for ways to help children be able to prepare their own play menu, and even grow the ingredients themselves.

If you want to hear more about our course and from the students that have been part of it, check out our website here. We look forward to hearing from you!

Friday, 29 September 2017

Pop-Ups On Tour 2017 - Our Final Stop at IPA Calgary

By Morgan

9 weeks.
10,000 miles.
18 stops.

The Pop-Up Adventure Play team has met and played with literally thousands of people, from coast to coast, in big cities and small towns, on mountains and in prairies, in parks and schools and lecture halls, with new friends and people we’ve spoken with online for years.  “You’ll have seen more of Canada than most Canadians,” at least fifty people told us and while we didn't want to agree the scale of our trip did feel astonishing.

Here’s a reel of some highlights from 16 pop-up adventure playgrounds we helped to host, put together by the illustrious Suzanna Law.

After such an exhilarating run, it seemed right to have our last pop-up at the International Play Association Conference in Calgary, 13th-16th September .

Calgary’s Mobile Adventure Playground unit helped with materials and staffing - we were so pleased to meet members of their team!  Together we set out materials in a corner of Olympic Plaza and watched as two classes of school children arrived.  It was cold and rainy but they didn’t seem to care.  Instead they ran in and found rolls of crepe paper, long poles and plastic tubes. Teachers and conference participants stood in a line along the curved pavement path to watch, their arms crossed against the cold, until I went along and nudged them out of formation with rolls of tape and a little light teasing.

One material was the star of this show.  Of course, children played a million and eight different ways but every so often one kind of play will shape or carry the session in a particular way.  This time, it was in the combination of a metal framed canopy and dozens of rolls of tape.  Masking tape.  Duct tape.  String, crepe paper.  Packing tape.  MORE TAPE, was the cry from all corners at once.  Children wrapped tape around the structure’s legs, putting themselves on the inside of a sticky fortress.  One child wrapped a tree in tape, while others ran from tree to canopy leg to adult’s leg and back again.  Tape went around the legs of adults, and was used in tugs of war that dragged across the site.  The world was wrapped in tape.  Then people got the idea to break it.

Children used sticks and cardboard tubes.  They shouted things at the tape, and tried to karate chop it with their hands until the whole thing bounced, all four legs bound together and skidding on the flagstones.  One side shuddered down, as tape pushed in the button holding its extension.  We rushed over, Andy and Suzanna and Ricky and myself, to each hold a leg.  We put one foot on the small metal plate and held the pole at about hip height.  When one side crashed, we lifted it up again.  When children smashed at the tape by us, we solemnly nodded encouragement.  Mostly, we watched the whole scene around us unfold and then made eye contact, smiling.

"Well, I guess we've worked out what the minimum number of people on a playwork team should be", Suzanna said.  I asked her to take a picture of this moment, for when we next wanted to illustrate supporting a play frame. 

Eventually, the tape was smashed.  The children went home.  We cut the rest with scissors and box knives, then rolled tires and cable reels back into the van, and picked a thousand white beans out of the grass. Suzanna made an enormous tape ball, we said our goodbyes and promised to reconnect with other conference attendees back in the warm.

A couple of days later at the conference center, we shared stories and images from the past two months.  Looking out across the audience we saw so many familiar faces, including Diane Kashin - one of our hosts from earlier on in the tour and Queenie Tan - our biggest sponsor for the tour!  People wanted to see the evidence of what we’d done together, to hear what other folks were currently doing to support free play in Canada, and to meet others who were passionate about the same. It was humbling to see them all attend our workshop, but we knew ultimately that they were putting in the hard work.

After travelling all those miles and meeting almost 3000 people, Suzanna was a little stumped for right words to conclude our last workshop with. She wanted to express gratitude to each host for their generosity, to share the humility she felt for every participant. Above all else she wanted to explain how important every person was that we had met, and their role in Canada's future of play.  Even if these things are hard to say, we hoped they got the message anyway.

Our tour is complete! To hear about how we got on, check out our dedicated website. For daily thoughts from us, please visit our facebook or twitter!