Is it the halfway point already?
When we set off in our little yellow car exactly a month ago, we had a list of scheduled stops and the fervent belief that this trip might accomplish a set of very exciting things. By visiting people who'd contacted us, we were going to see the exciting projects currently supporting children's play in locations around the country. By leading workshops, we were going to share what we'd learned from playwork and help people find ways of applying those ideas in their settings, in their neighborhoods. By hosting events, we were going to open this whole process to the public and welcome everyone to play. Our special guests would share their experience and wisdom, broadening the conversations and demonstrating that it's not just Pop-Ups talking about the importance of play.
Big hopes, without a doubt, but this trip has so far exceeded them all.
We began at the Berkshire Museum, participating in their second annual Ten Days of Play. We were together at the first stop – Anna, Suzanna and Morgan – just as we will be at the last stop in Cambridge this April.
Then on to Ithaca, where we collected Grant Lambie (Free Play Designs) and toured the Anarchy Zone, collecting images to prove to future stops that you can let children in the US have hammers, nails and fires after all.
After that, we drove straight to Louisville, KY to speak and play at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest. This is a gorgeous and extensive site (15,000 acres!), where Claude Stephens is leading the way with his Children at Play Initiative, which brings together nature and play agendas to host a great time for all.
We were getting into the rhythm of things at this point, pushing on to Houston, TX – site of an actual, living breathing adventure playground! Five years old and on the grounds of a school for children with developmental differences, this site and its dedicated lead Jill Wood push the envelope every single day.
Then, on through the desert to the great coast of CA! We stopped first in Santa Clarita where we had two days of play with the folks over at the Santa Clarita Valley Adventure Play team. There is some amazing things happening in this area, so everyone should keep their eyes out for adventurous play to come!
Sadly this is where we said goodbye to Grant, returning him to his regular life. Suzanna and I stopped first at Manhattan Beach, where we'd invited by Director Mark Leyman to lead an in-house training for a very playful team of parks and recreation staff. They were so excited about free play that they started putting their training into practice that very evening, telling us all about their experiences over coffee the next morning!
After that we headed south, to San Diego aka the land of my own childhood. It was strangely poignant for me to be bringing these ideas home. I was so impressed by the dedication of Ilisa Goldman of the Civic Innovation Lab, and by her talents in gathering our most diverse audience yet. Architects, landscape architects, playground designers, educators and more! All talking about the barriers and opportunities they saw in their locations, and findings ways to collaborate for change.
I type this now from the back of our little yellow car, hurtling north through the night towards Seattle. Tomorrow we'll be hosting a pop-up/workshop and you'll hear all about it, next time.
So far, I would say that the state of play in America is far stronger than many people might believe. When I first started traveling to talk about these ideas a few years, all I heard was “we could never do that in this country”. Now people want to know “how? How can we do this here?” By showing them pictures of sites already thriving, sharing stories of triumph over fears, and connecting them with other organizers navigating similar situations, we can help them find their own answers to that all-important question.
And that's all the difference in the world.