Monday, 28 December 2015

A 60,000 Mile Year

By Zan

Our 2015 was a big Pop-Up year. Even before the year draws to a close, the action doesn't stop! I am sitting at my desk having just recovered from a 36-hour power outage as a result of local floods. That alone seems to set the tone for our year of adventure! What else happened again? Oh yes...

We published a book - Our adventures from 2014 yielded us a book - The New Adventure Playground Movement: How Communities across the USA are Returning Risk and Freedom to Childhood - to be exact! We are really proud to have put this out still can't quite believe it has happened. Grab yourself a copy of it from us directly if you'd like one that's signed!

We went to Australia - (23,000 miles) For the first time ever, Morgan and I set foot in Australia and were greeted by the wonderful team at Malarkey. It was a great multi-stop adventure were we saw seemingly mythical creatures (kangaroos) and met play advocates who were keen to instill the importance of play in this giant hot country. It was an amazing journey in a beautiful country - we were so excited to be invited back again!

We went around the world -  (37,000 miles) We didn't think it would be possible, but 6 countries on and 37,000miles later, we have traversed the earth in a big loopy loop. Our adventures took us from the UK to USA, Costa Rica, Australia, Singapore and China before going back to the UK. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, done in two months - a feat which is normally pretty difficult for even the most savvy traveler. We can't believe that we took 16 flights, none of which were delayed and all of which flew us directly into the hands of wonderful hosts with passion for play. This was an amazing journey. Absolutely amazing.

Our Playworker Development Course continues to grow - Our course now has 150 students, and we have recruited some new tutors to help with the workload. We continue to evolve the course based on the needs of the students and are getting great feedback.

We worked locally - I was able to do some small pieces of work locally with a workshop and training in Blackpool and in Bradford. Though they were not big events, they kept me grounded, and reminded me of how important it is to always put theory into practice.

We made loads of new friends - So many new people have signed up to be Pop-Up Adventure Playground independent organisers. There are loads of guest blogposts available for you to read here and if you want to host your own, here's why you should register!

We were written about a few times - Some of the key pieces that other people wrote includes a piece on Atlas Obscura about playwork and adventure playgrounds, one by Bernie DeKoven about our book, and a niece mention in this NPR article. Mr Playgroundology wrote a nice piece about us too!

We were published a few times too - Morgan wrote a piece for the Community Design Collaborative and Team Pop-Ups was published in Play and Playgrounds Magazine, Winter 2015 edition! There's more of these to come soon!

So there you have it - that was our Pop-Up year. We have met and talked to so many people from all over the world and are excited to see the start of something awesome happening in play on a global scale. Thank you all for your continued support for our little organisation. We wouldn't be able to do any of this without you - keep on fighting the good fight for play!

To read more from Pop-Ups Zan, please visit her personal blog. For more information about our work, please visit

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Pop-Ups On Tour 2015: Guest Writer at our Hong Kong Stop

By Louise Bensen

When Pop-Ups friend Louise found out that we were going to Hong Kong as part of our #PopUpsWorldTour2015, she got in touch immediately to ask us where we would be. She came to have lunch with us before our Saturday Pop-Up and stuck around to see all the action. Here is a lovely piece that she's kindly guest written for us.

I had the pleasure of attending the Pop-Up Adventure Playground event in Hong Kong during the World Tour. I am a School Psychologist who suddenly and unexpectedly had the opportunity to teach English in Mainland China for a few years. In the spirit of adventure play, I said, “Why not.”

The Pop-Up event was a delight and a success. As the kids began to trickle in they tentatively explored and initially used the materials to recreate familiar games of turn taking and competition – how I see kids in China play most often. They took turns throwing lids in a box, set up a game (I think parent initiated) of bowling with bottles and cans, and tried re-creating other well-known games. But as the freedom of the place, the skill of Suzanna and Morgan, and the relaxation of parents took hold, their play became more creative, exploratory, and cooperative. The competitive games waned and materials were continually being transformed from one thing to another.

It was a perfect venue for observing the developmental differences of play (take note teachers of child development!). The toddlers explored materials and the phenomenon of in, out, putting together and taking apart. They also watched the older kids intently, and then tried to mimic what they saw. Preschooler play incorporated more pretend – the box that became a vehicle, pretend food and cooking – but also included coloring on surfaces they have never before colored on like a big mattress, pieces of Styrofoam, boxes, and the ground. The school age kids organized each other into more focused pretend play such as kitchen/restaurant, and created new games of turn taking and competition with the materials.

The parents and other adults (aunts and uncles) were also a joy to watch. It was like someone unlocked a long dormant child within. Many got better at watching the cues from their kids (and Suzanna and Morgan) and found unobtrusive ways to support the play. My favorites were the adults that got so involved in their own creations they seemed to forget that anyone else was around.

Then there were the skills of Morgan and Suzanna. They gave just the right set up task to adults who weren’t quite sure what this “adventure play stuff” was all about. By the time the kids arrived, those adults were already hooked. Suzanna and Morgan skillfully redirected aggressive play, expanded the play of younger kids, and modeled to adults.

The whole event remained busy and flowing with activity. No tears until the end and clean up had started. It confirmed to me yet again what we know about kids and play: 1. All kids play no matter where they are from, 2.  There are developmental stages to play, 3. Given the opportunity kids find creative, cooperative and intricate ways to play, 4. Kids learn best by doing, exploring and experimenting, 5. It is difficult for parents to back off from “teaching” mode, but they can.

Well-done Pop-Up Adventure Play ladies!!!

To read more about our adventure around the world, please visit our special tour page. To see more up-to-date information about our day to day adventures, join us on our facebook page. To be part of our next big adventure, please email

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Pop-Ups On Tour 2015 - Highlights from our Adventures

By Zan

Since arriving back in the UK, things have been go go go. Morgan and I are both working towards a PhD in Playwork, but sadly being on the road does not often lend itself to the most ideal study environment. So we've been studying hard in the last couple of weeks, and whenever we have had a few moments of free time, we have reflected on our adventure around the world.

Highlights are plentiful, from meeting friends in person for the first time, to being reunited with friends we haven't seen for a long while. In my travel journal, there is a vast collection phrases and moments that capture playful moments for us as we traveled literally around the world. I have entitled these "Amazing Moments" which include: the epic pool noodle battle, when the tug-of-war rope snapped, the red fabric swing, the purple tree swing, when the tyres kept on rolling, when the small boys all ganged up on the big boy, dressing as a robot to avoid wearing sunscreen, the big tarp parachute.... the list goes on! There are so many amazing moments of play that we have encountered on our journey, and we are grateful to have been part of every single moment.

We are so thankful to have been able to go on this trip. Morgan and I would have never dreamt of doing this, and it wouldn't have been possible without our amazing hosts from all 6 countries that we visited - thank you so much! We have learned so much from every community that invited us in, and hope that their play advocacy will continue to thrive. There are so many more reflections and stories to share so look out for more from us soon!

In celebration of a fantastic tour, here is a video created by us featuring the Pop-Ups Sound too. Yes, we had a lot of fun making this video - we hope you enjoy it too!

For more from Pop-Ups Zan, please visit her personal blog. To read more about our adventures as part of #PopUpsWorldTour2015 please visit our special tour page. To see more regular updates from us, please join us on Facebook

Friday, 4 December 2015

Pop-Ups On Tour 2015: The End of The World Tour

By Morgan

We are standing in a circle, facing a fire in the perishing cold. My face is hot and dry while sleet seeps through ill-considered jeans and trickles into my shoes. On a hill, with a steel slide to one side and a view of brick houses and a huge, grey sky. With a belly full of tea and the smell of smoke clinging to my hair and clothes, I can only be at a UK adventure playground. After years away, a trip around the world, it felt a little like coming home.

Suzanna and I had been surprised, a couple of months before, when Yanina of Pitsmoor Adventure Playground got in touch with us. The work of Pop-Up Adventure Play is to bring playwork information and support to places left out in the cold - but the UK is where playwork was born! Surely, we said, there was someone more local to call?  But no, she said.  Local cuts had been deep and they were struggling with the same issues we heard all over - troubles in the neighborhood, fears over funding, isolation from other play advocates. In short, a kind of loneliness.

Yes, we said. We would be happy to come. We would be honored to finish the world tour here in the UK, where it all began. Great! They replied. We’ll call it the End of the World Tour, and we laughed at the apocalyptic sound. A good adventure playground, after all, isn’t only made of tea and bonfires, but also a certain bleak sense of humour.

Pitsmoor Adventure Playground is rebuilding itself, gathering up old contacts and new friends to establish a site under its own management. They’ve opened a play association. They’re considering a scrap store. They’re simultaneously putting down strong local roots, and stretching out as far as they can. Suzanna’s visited before but even in the one day I spent there it was obvious how beloved this site is - a sense of love permeates every bump of its hilly landscape.

To most British people our World Tour itinerary sounded faintly hilarious: Ithaca, NY! Costa Rica! Australia! Singapore! Hong Kong! Sheffield! But to playwork students around the world it sounded both appropriate and amazing.  They were impressed that we’d be finishing up at a real adventure playground. This is the kind of site that playworkers in other countries look to for information, inspiration. It’s the kind of site that had been neglected by its home country for far too long.

We did a presentation in the morning and stuck around for lunch and play time afterwards. It wasn’t our usual overview of basic principles and practices. They’d asked specifically to hear more about what was happening in the rest of the world, to have the widest possible context for their own practice.

So we showed pictures and told stories.  Playworkers are always telling stories, swapping new ideas and helping each other remember what’s been forgotten.  There’s a moment of humility there, of opening arms and saying “this is what I have seen.  What have you seen?  What can we learn about all of this together?”  It was an afternoon of playworker community, and felt like an exchange - our small way of saying ‘thank you’ for all we’d learned and taken with us on our travels.

To read more from Pop-Ups Morgan, visit her personal blog. To see more photos and stories from our adventures, please visit our facebook page, or follow #PopUpsWorldTour2015.