By Louise Wark
When we met Louise in Singapore on our World Tour, we were a little humbled to be meeting such a wonderfully connected and passionate advocate who was looking to us for advice. Louise has been working towards a more playful life a long time now and we are delighted that she has taken some time out from her own blog Days of Play to guest write for us. Thanks Louise, you are awesome!
I was recently asked to speak at an event for preschool teachers here in Singapore. As I usually do before an event like this, I researched for days. I fell down the rabbit-holes of the internet, chasing ideas and trying to find ways to neatly package up big concepts about numeracy and play.
The entire experience made me incredibly contemplative. It has been more than twelve months since I left the classroom, after all.
I left classroom teaching because I had no play in my life, and was wanting more. While I loved what I did, there was very little playfulness in the way I approached any aspect of life. I was also beginning to see that this wasn’t just me - even the children in my care, and, most importantly, my own son, were having play squeezed into increasingly-smaller pockets of their days. Play was on the periphery, and I was ready to make it centre-stage.
Pop-Up Adventure Play came into my view after being mentioned at a play conference that I had managed to attend in school holiday time. On my laptop that was never shut down, I had their blog consistently open in a tab. It was there to remind me, in the wee hours of student report writing and lesson planning, of an idea that wouldn’t shake loose.
So when I finished full-time teaching, I took a deep breath and emailed. Suzanna’s response back was warm and encouraging and made me do a little happy-dance - they would be in Singapore soon on their World Tour, and maybe I would like to help?
The excitement I felt at being part of Pop-Up Adventure Play’s visit to Singapore was hard to match. Helping to source materials for numerous pop-up adventure playgrounds, having the opportunity to discuss play with educators and other stakeholders here in Singapore, seeing child-led play in action and adults reactions to this, was a huge privilege. It moved my ideas about play from intuitive, abstract feelings to concrete ideas that I could use actual words to describe.
Since that time, I have started my own blog about self-directed play here in Singapore, writing about my experiences as a parent ensuring that my son’s time in child-led play, especially in the outdoors, is protected. That his rights as a child, to play, are front and foremost in his childhood.
But this has not been the only change since Pop-Up Adventure Play’s World Tour. Spending time with Suzanna and Morgan in November 2015, and Suzanna again in June 2016 on her subsequent visit to Singapore, has helped me realise just how important play is in all of our lives. That the way we adults respond to events, environments and circumstances can be playful, too! Time away from the classroom, focusing on play, has shown me that conversations are playful opportunities to throw ideas around, not just to determine action and tick things off a to-do list. That the world is there for us to interact with, not just to learn about.
When it finally came time to put together my own Pop-Up Adventure Playground here in Singapore, I felt ready. Having seen Suzanna and Morgan run these events had made me realise that they are truly a celebration of play - and how can you ever script how play is going to go? It was not about me, or the materials I could find, or the things I wanted to see happen. The event was solely to give children a chance to lead their own play. My best preparation was to be playful.
I couldn’t have imagined a more blissful time at our first pop-up adventure playground. The environment offered itself to the children, who took up every playful opportunity. Hills were rolled down, precious creations were made and torn down, alliances were formed and abandoned, spaces were protected and invitations made. The adults were amazed, most reporting how much they loved being with other families whose agendas were the same as theirs - to give their children time for play their own way.
Once the last box had been flattened and the last fluttering ribbon returned to the car, I turned, rather exhausted from the tropical midday heat, to my husband. He was buzzing, his eyes bright and his head full of stories of play. “I get it now,” he said. “I just saw everything you have been talking about for the past year come alive in a few hours.” His exhilaration at seeing something so precious, yet so simple, was infectious.
Because seeing children at play shows you how capable they are, and how they are not “learning” how to be human; they already are. That our children have the right to play, and by polluting their play with terms like ‘learning through play’, or placing our own perceptions of the world and what play should be, takes that away from them.
Which makes Pop-Up Adventure Play’s work all the more important. It’s easy to fall into talking about the benefits of play, and the reasons that it is important for children, and the great things that happen for children who play. And they do. But what these incredible playworkers have taught me, especially through the Playworker Development Course, is that supporting the play comes first. That to see the benefits, to see the great things that happen in play, we first have to provide time, space and permission for play.