Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Pop-Ups on Tour 2015 - A Workshop in Queensland

By Morgan

I am writing on another place, from seat 26F gazing out on the rust-red earth far below. We are somewhere in the air between Brisbane and Perth – Justine, Suzanna and myself all in a row.

Our last workshop and pop-up was in a town called Robina. Whispering Gully Childcare had invited us in, only a week after they'd had Marc Armitage in to talk about the play cycle and low-interventionist styles. In playwork and on tour, we build on human relationships and work together to make changes that are larger than ourselves. We are always standing on the shoulders of giants, but in Robina we were lucky also to be in the footsteps of friends.

“We loved hearing Marc speak,” one said. “And I've been intervening less, but it's hard! Sometimes I hear myself start to say these things I said for years and then...” She slapped her hand across her mouth, and friends on either side giggled in recognition. The site is shifting from a more traditional educator-child approach to one explicitly playwork-inspired, and the teachers who'd worked there for years have been suddenly faced with a lot of new ideas. How to balance these big questions of freedom, responsibility, opportunity and trust? How to explain all this to the parents?

“Yes,” Suzanna said. “It is hard, especially at first. Good playwork is never easy, but that's where reflection comes in.” The teachers nodded, and told us how strange it was to feel less needed than before, and how inspiring it was to see what children came up with, what they were all capable of. They shared stories of children's prowess, achievements, and humor. Then, we thought there'd been enough talking and that it was time to do some playing instead.



We'd put cardboard boxes, tape and string in the children's playground and clapped our hands at them, saying “get up, go on! Get outside already. Go play!” They looked a little horrified at first (as most are, to find that a Sunday morning workshop contains audience participation) but quickly got into it. When we called 'five minutes left!' we heard a chorus of 'no's' echo around the site, full of plaintive Australian diphthong.


“I'd only just got into it!” one participant said as she carried her box back inside. We explained that bellowing at them was deliberate.

“I felt a bit of pressure there, to be honest” a woman in the reflection afterwards. “Like you expected something of me and I wasn't sure what.”

“Same,” said another. “And it was really interrupting, when you shouted at the end!”

“Yes,” Suzanna and I said. “That's why we do it with you, so you can see what it feels like for children.”

“Oh,” said the first. “Horrible,” agreed the second.

Learning about playwork involves a lot of deep thinking, a lot of acknowledging feelings and talking about them. All this is inspiring, but is also hard, and that's why I was so glad to spot the staff not only playing at the community pop-up afterwards – but playing with their new vocabulary.

One colleague opened her plastic water bottle for a sip, looked at it for a moment and then splashed a little on her friend, who looked startled.

“Ooooh,” her friend said. “Was that a play cue?” The splasher laughed. “I'll cue you!”

The splasher laughed again, then dropped her water bottle in favor of a bucket.

“Yeah?” she said, “Well, I'll annihilate you,” and soaked her friend head-to-foot.

To read more from Morgan, visit personal blog here. To see more from our tour around the world, visit our facebook page or follow #PopUpsWorldTour2015.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Pop-Ups On Tour 2015 - L.A., Our Lost Day, and the Most Livable City in the World

By Morgan

After Costa Rica, we headed north again for a short flying visit with Erica, Jeremiah and their son Dallas. We visited them on the US tour in 2014, and saw them present 10 days ago in Ithaca on developments since. They’ve been fighting hard against a proposed landfill expansion, and still finding time to prioritize play. After a night and a day with them, Suzanna and I left Andy in their capable hands for an extra few days of beach frolicking, and hopped on a plane to Melbourne.

It will surprise no one that the flight is long (loooooong, in fact) but both of us were startled to discover that we left on the 13th and arrived on the 15th. Somewhere, in the endless night of a tin can hurtling through the air, Wednesday happened for the rest of the world but not for us.

In window seats, one behind the other, Suzanna and myself watched dawn break around the plane’s wing and knew we were getting close.


Since then, we’ve had a weekend of puttering around Melbourne and appreciating its wonders. We walked miles each day, exploring alleyways of interesting shops and nibbling our way through Chinatown. Climbing to the balcony of the public library, we saw a cartwheel shape of Melburnians reading and typing beneath a grand cathedral ceiling. We met Marcus of Playground Ideas for coffee and, on the University campus benches, even did some work!


Tomorrow, our Australian adventures begin. Together with Malarkey, we’ll be heading to New South Wales to present on 20th October and then Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia! Stay tuned, for further pop-up adventures, and wherever you are - keep playing!

To read more from Morgan, please visit her personal blog. To find out more about our world tour by visiting our special tour page or follow us with #PopUpsWorldTour2015.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Pop-Ups On Tour 2015 - Costa Rica

By Morgan

Hasta Luego, Costa Rica!

I am typing this on our flight from Panama City to LA, in between stops 3 and 4 of our grand World Tour.

We three couldn’t have been more excited about this stop, because it allowed us to visit Carolina and tour Bellelli Educación.  Carolina has been a friend of Pop-Ups since the very beginning, but so far our relationship has been mostly online.

Back in 2010, we had an idea that playwork could be applied in a way that would benefit and rebuild the social networks that allow children to play out. Our first pop-up adventure playground was in Central Park NYC as part of the Ultimate Block Party, and the response was amazing!  Visitors built houses out of cardboard boxes, shared stories with us from their own childhoods and kept on asking, when is the next one?  That was gratifying enough, but then a surprise - an email from someone all the way in Costa Rica who had seen those photos on Facebook.  She had a question of her own, one that prefigured many more to come: how can I do one of these myself?

A busy, playful community at play!

Carolina became our first independent organizer, and is probably still the most prolific.  On Sunday, we were thrilled to attend Bellelli’s 27th pop-up adventure playground!  An estimated 400 people came to the public park of Escazú, drawn by event listings on Facebook.  Many more streamed out of the church at 11am, when the children’s service was over.  They built rocket ships and cardboard armor, shared snacks laid out on huge sheets of paper and made some new memories of their own. Suzanna, Andy and myself wandered the site, chatting with those we knew and eating shaved ice with syrup and condensed milk from a man who’s been making them for seventy years.

There were many amazing creations!

We knew many of the adults there because the day before Carolina had invited us to deliver a 7-hour workshop on playwork approaches for local teachers and parents. Erin Davis also gave us permission to screen The Land, which brought up all sorts of fascinating conversations around risk, freedom, memory and truth.  Participants asked in-depth questions about playwork practice, ways to build rich material environments, tips on supporting open-ended play, and responding delicately to cues.  Many of the teachers are from Reggio-inspired schools such as Bellelli, and probed at the subtle but key distinctions between that approach and playwork. The Pop-Ups team also shared some experiences doing playwork in extremely diverse settings, and some personal reflections on our own processes of constant learning.  Together, we all discussed the importance of trusting children, and ways to make that trust real.

The participants at our day long workshop on Saturday.

So many of those participants came to the pop-up, bringing their children and friends.  Carolina brought her adorable niece, who was hilariously disinterested in meeting her aunt’s amiga Morgan. We held babies and distributed tape, and were hugged by people who had the loveliest things to tell us.

"I’ve thought play was important for so long", one said.  "But I thought I was alone…"
"You’ve given me the words to talk about play now", said another.  "I work with disabled children and they need this so badly.  Where can I learn more?"

The best feedback, however, was from the 9 3/4 year old son of Krista (a kind member of the extended Bellelli family who had hosted Andy in her home).  At the post-pop-up BBQ, he told Suzanna:

“That was amazing."
“Yeah?” she asked.  “Which was your favorite bit?”
“All of it,” he said.  “I’ll remember it for the rest of my life”.

This is a robot outfit, created to avoid wearing suncream.

Carolina told us of some of the conversations she’d had with lots of visitors who had said that they would love to be involved in creating more events or in bringing these ideas into their own organization’s setting.  "When", they kept on asking her, "when is the next one happening?"

This four-day trip gave us a brief but amazing time in Costa Rica, with a visit to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, and lots of delicious food.  Costa Ricans seem to eat every 8 minutes, and we were not complaining!  It was also a chance to see firsthand the dedication and passion which drives Carolina and her team to such extraordinary accomplishments.  Bellelli’s work, whether in the school grounds or off, displays an enormous sense of love for communities wherever they may be built or found.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens.

We were so grateful to have had the chance to see Carolina and her team in their community, and to seal this friendship with hugs - in person! See you again soon, Costa Rica!

This is Carolina - thank you for having us!

To find out more about Bellelli Educación visit their website or their facebook page. To follow our progress as we travel the world, check out our facebook page or follow #PopUpsWorldTour2015

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Pop-Ups On Tour 2015 - Ithaca, NY, USA

By Morgan

This post took a few days to write – partly because we're officially on tour now (next stop, Costa Rica!) and partly because our last stop was a little overwhelming. Suzanna and I spent 6 hours in a rental car afterwards, discussing detail and processing.

The Ithaca Play Symposium brought together advocates of adventure play from coast to coast, and Canada too. Erica and Jeremiah, of Santa Clarita Valley Adventure Play, kicked off the festivities with updates on their site's development. Starting with pop-ups, they've found a site they love, battled a proposed landfill expansion in their neighborhood, and put together grant applications for a permanent adventure playground. Tricia O'Connor shared the personal aspects of her pop-ups journey at Lake Erie Adventure Play with United Way's help, including pictures from our visit to her home and a theme song crooned by her own husband.

They were not the only participants who have had a busy year, or who have persisted despite setbacks. The conference served as a way for organizers to come together, learn a little more about playwork and encourage one another to continue. It was a powerful experience for us, particularly during the afternoon's dive into larger, harder discussions about the movement itself, its strategy and gaps. Despite our post-conference conversations, those two days in Ithaca survive in my memory as a series of sparkling moments. Here are a few of them for you:

  • Jill Wood sharing a long-distance pecha kucha, of pictures from Parish AP with voiceovers from the children who know and love it best
  • Reilly Wilson, a PhD student at CUNY examining the much-neglected US history of adventure playgrounds, saying that real change will require public investment in play
  • An audience member at Erin Davis's screening of The Land saying, “I don't have children and I'm not a teacher, so I wondered at first why I came to this movie. But having seen it, now I know. When children don't play out, we all lose”
  • Joan Almon reminding us all to speak to one another with both honesty and kindness
  • Conference participants running around the Hands-On-Nature Anarchy Zone in a light Ithaca drizzle, pushing tires down slopes and laughing in small circles around the mud pit

The amount of passion in the room was astonishing, and we were deeply moved to hear so many people reference 'pop-ups'. As far as we know, we were the first to use that phrase and were humbled to have contributed a phrase that clearly resonates. We met 12 students on our Playworker Development Course, a new record. After 5 years advocating for adventure playgrounds and playwork in the US, we were deeply moved by the response to our work, by the crowd's curiosity and gratitude. Having sent out so many cues, their return was humbling.

Here are 12 students and 2 tutors, all from our Playworker Development Course!

Children on the outskirts of the Ithaca Children's Garden, playing away from all the adults.

A screening of The Land at the local cinema.

This is a powerful moment in US adventure playground history – one we truly believe is part of a newly rising wave of interest and dedication. All around us, in the plastic chairs and by the coffee machine, people who have emailed for months met for the first time and hugged in celebration.

We couldn't be more pleased to be a part of this moment, this marvelous movement. It is a time of blooming possibilities, with new sites and organizers springing up everywhere. Whether in the US, UK or on tour, we're happy to keep on watering.

To read more from Morgan, visit her lovely personal blog. To see more about our tour around the world follow #PopUpsWorldTour2015 or visit our special tour page. For more on Pop-Up Adventure Play visit www.popupadventureplay.org.