Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Campference 2017 - Introducing Jill Wood

By Morgan

Jill Wood is one of our favorite people.  We first met her on the 2014 tour - she hugged us tight when we left, and has been a tremendous Friend to Pop-Ups ever since.  Most recently, she put me up in her spare room for months while we worked together at the AP she founded and still runs.

Here is Jill with myself and Zan when we visited in 2014.

In addition to the Parish AP, Jill also started Bayou City Play - a program that brings loose parts play to all sorts of public events around Houston.  This winter, Jill and I  had plenty of evenings to talk and scheme, but never seemed to run out of things to discuss - we bet you'll feel the same when you meet her at the Campference.

I mean, read this short interview with her and tell me there aren’t at least a hundred more things that you want to hear more about?

Pop-Up Adventure Play: What was your first thought when you heard about adventure playgrounds?
Jill Wood: I first heard about adventure playgrounds when I was asked to open one at our school. In 2008 our Head of School at the time, Margaret Noecker, gave me a notebook titled Playleaders Manual, compiled by the Houston Adventure Play Association in the 1990s, and asked me to start an after school program on three acres of marsh behind the school.

The notebook had information on basic child development, tool safety, the value of play and some suggested games and building projects, but it was missing the ‘What is a Playleader?’ section listed in the table of contents…oh and the section on ‘What is Adventure Play?’ which cracks me up now.

It’s hard to imagine, but in 2008 there was almost nothing online about adventure playgrounds. The manual referred to Jack Lambert’s book, so I ordered a copy and it took three months to get to me from the UK!  So for three months we were seriously winging it. It was more like, let’s play in the marsh with the school librarian (me), an ex Air Force Readiness Officer (my friend Kelly), some tires, and a table with three legs.

But when Jack Lambert’s book arrived, there were photos of kids in bellbottoms and turtlenecks, making fires, playing in tree forts, and jumping from high places. My favorite was this picture of a girl anchoring a piece of lumber with her foot while sawing it in half with a crosscut saw. I thought, “this is like a hybrid of my actual 1970s childhood (with all of it’s free-range-iness and pants that got caught in bicycle spokes), and the childhood of my dreams (with a common space to be around neighborhood kids, real tools, and grownups who are around to help, but aren’t bossy).”



PUAP: How long have you been running AP, and what is your advice for people who want to start one too?
JW: We just finished up our eighth year, but I didn’t find playwork until year two. My advice is to find playwork at the outset so you have a good, solid set of tools to protect the space when the challenges come.

That first reaction I had when I saw the photos in Jack Lambert’s book? That affectionate/thrilled feeling I had when I saw a capable, confident child holding a saw? If you want to start an AP, you probably have that reaction too. But the adults who decide whether your space will be full or empty of playing children may not feel the same way. And you’ll need the language, empathy, and research to explain why free play is important to parents, teachers, and other adults who make decisions on a child’s behalf.

Just to clarify, saws aren’t a requirement for adventurous play!  But there are constant, sometimes subtle challenges to children’s free play. Over our 8 years we’ve discovered that many adults perceive our site as messy and accuse us playworkers of being irresponsible for not teaching the children to clean. Playwork provides some solid reasoning for leaving the site alone, related to the children’s sense of ownership, and a child’s sense of organization, which is very different from an adult’s. Let’s just say, when a child needs a piece of ribbon on our site, they always seem to know that it’s in the pile next to the fort, underneath the fence wood, behind the computer keyboard, but under the flat basketball. And if they don’t, they’ll find another child who does. Playwork explains that phenomenon with research and language that is neutral.  It even provides an explanation for why a tattered, mud-coated piece of blue ribbon has been in circulation on the playground for five years. And why it’s more coveted than the brand new rope donation I got for the kids this year.

PUAP: You've also spent some time studying playwork on an AP in London, and visited a few sites there.  What did you see, and what would you like to share with the the US-based advocacy scene?
JW: In 2010 I took a course on an adventure playground in North London. Playworkers from all over the city attended because it was a required course for a particular level of playwork certification. On the first day we talked about table saw safety and I thought, “Whoa, they let 6 year olds use table saws over here? Um, that’s something we’ll need to work up to…like very gradually…if ever…”

Then we started building structures for the children and it was a newish adventure playground, so I thought, “hmmm, they must be making structures that kids can build onto like at the Huntington Beach AP in California.”

Then we started building the walls, adding decorations, finishing touches and I thought, “What the…”  We adults were building the playground and there were no plans to add materials for the kids to manipulate, build or destroy.

This is a roundabout way of saying there are a wide spectrum of adventure playgrounds in London. Some, like the one I visited after class, Somerford Grove Adventure Playground, are excellent. It has climbing platforms, crashing opportunities with mats, a giant swing, and tons of hidey-holes for thinking, chatting, or just escaping, and piles of non-precious stuff for kids to stack, lean, throw, or smash. It can be difficult for adults to make out the particulars, because the entire playground is splashed with random color, like confetti, or a giant game of pick up sticks. It’s beautiful and filled with children who live nearby and come and go as they please.

Then there are APs that are built because the government has allotted a certain amount of money that needs to be spent quickly in a particular neighborhood. Something gets thrown up without community participation, or even child participation, but refers to the aesthetic of an adventure playground – raw wood, rope, unexpected angles.

It’s easy to be dismissive of the latter, but there are stories behind both. Some adventure playgrounds thrive, while others are fraught with compromise to the point of being cool-looking fixed equipment playgrounds. We should learn from both, be certain that compromise is certain, and decide beforehand where we’ll budge and what is non-negotiable.  I’m sure Somerford Grove made compromises, but they did it in a way that maintained a wide variety of play opportunities, and protected the children’s ability to manipulate the space.

We have an incredible opportunity in the U.S. right now. I hear a shift happening among parents, teachers and others who advocate for children - growing numbers of adults who are tired of seeing children’s worlds shrink. This is so exciting!  I just want us to know history as we move forward. And to accept a wide range of adventure playgrounds and adventurous play, knowing that there will be differences between all of them, and that the children’s ownership of the space is the non-negotiable.

PUAP: How do you play, for yourself?
JW: I love to ride my bike - not competitively, wearing special clothes or anything - just a leisurely ride along the bayou. Reading fiction with my feet up is nice. And organizing my collection of tiny things in small acrylic boxes on my custom built tiny shelves is where I completely loose awareness of space and time.

To be the first to hear more info on our Playwork Campference, please register your interest here. To read more about Pop-Up Adventure Play and our work with folks from all over the world, please check out our facebook page and our website www.popupadventureplay.org

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Campference 2017: Introducing Erin Davis, Director of The Land

By Morgan

In 2013, Erin Davis arrived at The Land with a film crew. Suzanna drove over for a visit, and put Erin and I on the phone to say hello. We didn't get long to talk though, as Erin had to go suddenly as the children were "launching the boat".

And here is the boat that they launched. Check out Pop-Up Zan's blogpost here about that particular visit to The Land.

The documentary short Erin's team made comes closer than anything we’ve seen to capturing the living spirit of a good adventure playground. There are moments that are hard for some adults to watch, involving fire, swearing and young bravado. There are some moments that are baffling, where a child is deeply engaged in something that we cannot understand. There are moments of humor, caution, celebration, and short interviews with staff about the decisions they make as professionals. Each of these scenes is treated with a rare compassion. Every shot of The Land is suffused with love.

We’re so pleased to announce a screening of The Land as part of our 2017 Playwork Campference. We’ll follow it with a panel of people who understand adventure playgrounds from the inside out, and who can help people put elements of these ideas into practice elsewhere.

Most excitingly, you’ll get to meet Erin Davis herself, and ask her all the ‘behind the scene’ questions you can think of! We are excited to have her at the Campference with us.


Here is a little interview we did with Erin amidst the excitement of the Campference planning:

Pop-Up Adventure Play: What were your original intentions with The Land?
ED: First, I just wanted to learn. What is playwork? How is it possible to not lose your mind with anxiety when you have fire and water and hammers and nails and trees and mannequins laying around?  I was lucky in that I was able to stay at The Land and immerse myself in the play and playwork culture long enough, I think, to really see the ecosystem functioning.

PUAP: What has the reception been like so far?  (any idea how many public screenings there have been/what are your thoughts on the movement/etc)
ED: We've had dozens of public screenings. many I'm present for and many I'm not. Audiences are really self selecting so in my experience the credits roll and viewers are saying, "Yes How can we do more of this?"  The Land cues permission to the kids who play there, and to adult viewers as well. It shows that the limits of what is possible are beyond what we thought. It breaks open the "box". It's a great tool for advocacy and discussion. But it's not the whole story. It needs the context of a playful discussion

PUAP: What are you hoping to experience at Campference?
ED: Oh man, I want to feel the SCVAP space in these early moments. I believe in Erica and Jeremiah and what they are doing, and it really feels exciting to be able to support the work they do now.  I know it is going to grow and really matter.

PUAP: How do you play, for yourself?
ED: Oh wow. I knit, I go for walks. I eat cookie batter instead of cookies. But also I have a five month old baby so whenever I can try and be present with him and interpret his language and respond and engage with him. It's a puzzle and sometimes he doesn't need me, but when we are doing new things together, man it is a joy. And I guess I'd say it's play because we are just being together, present in the moment jiving. Not watching the clock or checking email or planning for college. Just growing together, and being close. it's cool.

To find out more about Erin and her documentary, please visit her website. To keep up-to-date with all Pop-Up Adventure Play related awesomeness, come and join our Facebook page. To register your interest in our Playwork Campference, fill in our form here.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Campference 2017 - A Short Interview with Professor Fraser Brown

By Zan

Although we are both British, Fraser and I actually met in Atlanta, Georgia at the IPA/TASP conference in 2010. I presented about playrangers and he was one of the people who joined my audience. Soon after, I enrolled at Leeds Beckett University to study Playwork as a Bachelors degree where I graduated with honours before transitioning to doing a PhD under the newly appointed Professor Fraser Brown. He is the Director of Studies for both Morgan and I for our part time PhDs.

Fraser has been in the field for 40 years now, and is responsible for some excellent publications. The most recent of these is Play and Playwork: 101 Stories of Children Playing, which is filled with great stories - both Morgan and I have pieces in there too!

We are pleased to announce that the only Professor of Playwork in the world, Professor Fraser Brown will be speaking at the first ever Playwork Campference in 2017.

To get your excited about our Campference (and to encourage you to register your interest) here's a little interview we did with Fraser. He's one person you would like to talk to about play, in person!

Pop-Up Adventure Play: What to you is the essence of playwork?
Professor Fraser Brown: In the book Play and Playwork: 101 Stories of Children Playing I suggested playwork is essentially concerned with:
~ creating play opportunities that enable children to pursue their own play agendas
~ enriching the child’s world by providing opportunities for experimentation and exploration
~ creating environments that address the negative effects of play deprivation and play bias
~ developing appropriate responses for individual children’s play cues
~ facilitating opportunities for children to develop a sense of self
~ introducing flexibility and adaptability into play environments in order to enhance the prospects of children achieving their full potential

PUAP: What advice can you give to those who are new to play advocacy?
FB: Don't be disheartened by cynical people.  They've either forgotten what it meant to play as a child, or even worse they didn't actually get to play!  Try to be a 'good enough' advocate.  You don't have to change the World - just a few people will do.  If everyone managed to get five or six people interested, we'd soon change things.  It's a good idea to have a couple of easy to remember sentences that sum up what you think is important.  Most people won't dismiss you, if you're making sense, and every now and then you'll meet someone whose interest is sparked, and then you can get into a proper discussion.

PUAP: Finally, on a day to day basis, how do you play?
FB: I try to find fun in everything I do.

Here is Fraser, promoting another one of his books Rethinking Children's Play.

If you want to be first to hear about Playwork Campference news, register your interest here. To hear more about Santa Clarita Valley Adventure Play, visit our blogpost on them, or check out their website

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Popping Up in Kansas - Guest Writer

By Beverly Baumgartner

Beverly signed up for our resource pack before reaching out to us for help. The idea of a pop-up adventure playground is exciting enough but most organisers are nervous for their first but we are here to support everyone. Beverly reflects here on how the process went for her.

A Rabindranath Tagore quote embellishes the swingset at a playground close to my favorite coffee shop. “The spirit of work in creation is there to carry and help the spirit of play.” As the mom of two children and someone whose paid and unpaid work for the last dozen years has involved lots of play, I love those words.

Work exists to carry and help the cause of play. They go hand-in-hand, just as parents and young children clasp hands to cross the street. A casual observer of children in just about any setting will note how quickly most kids hone in on what is detachable, climbable, nice to touch, interesting to look at, or wide-open enough to support tumbling or dancing. Possibilities for play are everywhere when you're a child. The time to make sure it happens, though, doesn't always feel abundant. For adults who are also busy paying bills, keeping food on the table and taking kids to school, lessons and sports practice, the kind of messy hands-on free play that offers children so many opportunities for social, intellectual and emotional development can seem hard to come by.


For that reason it was my pleasure to round up the family, pack supplies in our van, and head to our church's back yard in Wichita, Kansas, for our first-ever Pop-Up Adventure Playground on May 21, 2016. Many folks had donated cardboard boxes to our cause, so we had lots of those, along with packing tape, duct tape, old sheets, candle holders, hammer, nails, boards, ropes, clothes pins, ribbons, measuring cups, markers, crayons, an old printer to scavenge parts from, and plenty of enthusiasm for an afternoon of open-ended play. 


About twenty children and fifteen adults stopped by during our four-hour afternoon of play. Wings, robot suits and shelters were created. Mulberries were harvested and pebbles were scooped. Kids asked to be pushed on swings, for help in cutting cardboard, and ideas for how to get things to come together in the desired way. 


After emailing and Skyping with Suzanna Law of Pop-Up Adventure Play, I was clear that it was important for me to enjoy myself as a play advocate—to be able to stand back, watch and relax as well as get involved. A bit of a compulsive helper, I noticed how difficult it was for me to watch kids solve their own problems. When cardboard walls kept tumbling down, my inclination was to go “fix it” right away, even though the discoveries that were happening through the repeated shoring-up of walls were, I'd guess, integral to the whole adventure play process. 

I was pleased by the children's expressions of surprise and delight when I could answer questions like: “Are these for us to use?” and “Can I have this?” with “Yes. Yes.” The afternoon felt full and good. A volunteer told me she was leaving the playground with a greater sense of calm and groundedness. I could only agree. The time of play, engagement, watching, listening, wondering and enjoying the beautiful green May afternoon left me feeling calmer and more grounded, too. It was a great first adventure playground experience, and I look forward to more!


To host your own pop-up adventure playground just like Beverly, sign up for our resource pack here. To find out more about what we do, check out our facebook page or visit our website www.popupadventureplay.org.