Friday, 29 September 2017

Pop-Ups On Tour 2017 - Our Final Stop at IPA Calgary

By Morgan

9 weeks.
10,000 miles.
18 stops.

The Pop-Up Adventure Play team has met and played with literally thousands of people, from coast to coast, in big cities and small towns, on mountains and in prairies, in parks and schools and lecture halls, with new friends and people we’ve spoken with online for years.  “You’ll have seen more of Canada than most Canadians,” at least fifty people told us and while we didn't want to agree the scale of our trip did feel astonishing.

Here’s a reel of some highlights from 16 pop-up adventure playgrounds we helped to host, put together by the illustrious Suzanna Law.

After such an exhilarating run, it seemed right to have our last pop-up at the International Play Association Conference in Calgary, 13th-16th September .

Calgary’s Mobile Adventure Playground unit helped with materials and staffing - we were so pleased to meet members of their team!  Together we set out materials in a corner of Olympic Plaza and watched as two classes of school children arrived.  It was cold and rainy but they didn’t seem to care.  Instead they ran in and found rolls of crepe paper, long poles and plastic tubes. Teachers and conference participants stood in a line along the curved pavement path to watch, their arms crossed against the cold, until I went along and nudged them out of formation with rolls of tape and a little light teasing.

One material was the star of this show.  Of course, children played a million and eight different ways but every so often one kind of play will shape or carry the session in a particular way.  This time, it was in the combination of a metal framed canopy and dozens of rolls of tape.  Masking tape.  Duct tape.  String, crepe paper.  Packing tape.  MORE TAPE, was the cry from all corners at once.  Children wrapped tape around the structure’s legs, putting themselves on the inside of a sticky fortress.  One child wrapped a tree in tape, while others ran from tree to canopy leg to adult’s leg and back again.  Tape went around the legs of adults, and was used in tugs of war that dragged across the site.  The world was wrapped in tape.  Then people got the idea to break it.

Children used sticks and cardboard tubes.  They shouted things at the tape, and tried to karate chop it with their hands until the whole thing bounced, all four legs bound together and skidding on the flagstones.  One side shuddered down, as tape pushed in the button holding its extension.  We rushed over, Andy and Suzanna and Ricky and myself, to each hold a leg.  We put one foot on the small metal plate and held the pole at about hip height.  When one side crashed, we lifted it up again.  When children smashed at the tape by us, we solemnly nodded encouragement.  Mostly, we watched the whole scene around us unfold and then made eye contact, smiling.

"Well, I guess we've worked out what the minimum number of people on a playwork team should be", Suzanna said.  I asked her to take a picture of this moment, for when we next wanted to illustrate supporting a play frame. 

Eventually, the tape was smashed.  The children went home.  We cut the rest with scissors and box knives, then rolled tires and cable reels back into the van, and picked a thousand white beans out of the grass. Suzanna made an enormous tape ball, we said our goodbyes and promised to reconnect with other conference attendees back in the warm.

A couple of days later at the conference center, we shared stories and images from the past two months.  Looking out across the audience we saw so many familiar faces, including Diane Kashin - one of our hosts from earlier on in the tour and Queenie Tan - our biggest sponsor for the tour!  People wanted to see the evidence of what we’d done together, to hear what other folks were currently doing to support free play in Canada, and to meet others who were passionate about the same. It was humbling to see them all attend our workshop, but we knew ultimately that they were putting in the hard work.

After travelling all those miles and meeting almost 3000 people, Suzanna was a little stumped for right words to conclude our last workshop with. She wanted to express gratitude to each host for their generosity, to share the humility she felt for every participant. Above all else she wanted to explain how important every person was that we had met, and their role in Canada's future of play.  Even if these things are hard to say, we hoped they got the message anyway.

Our tour is complete! To hear about how we got on, check out our dedicated website. For daily thoughts from us, please visit our facebook or twitter!

Monday, 18 September 2017

Pop-Ups On Tour 2017 - Forty Mile Region, AB

By Andy

For our 17th stop we were invited to the small towns of Foremost and Bow Island in the Forty Mile Region. This stop was brought together by Terri-Lynn and Corinna from FCSS who had been following our Canadian tour and asked us to bring our Pop-Up Adventure Playground model to them.

We arrived at a large open school field to our usual homing signal of loose parts and we set to work. We had the typical boxes and tyres combined with pans and utensils. Fabric and duct tape mixed up with dried beans and pool noodles. Terri-Lynn soon arrived towing a horse box carrying additional supplies, coffee and cheesy snacks – the full complement of playwork necessities!

The session in Foremost was delivered in conjunction with Foremost School which had an impressive catchment radius of around 50 miles! Some of the children in attendance embark on a daily commute of over an hour each way to get to school, some coming as far as the US border, near the state of Montana!

The recess bell rang, the children arrived and they played hard. Echoes of “This is AWESOME!” could be heard as loose parts were negotiated, squirreling and hoarded between groups. Some joined forces to build forts, others made complex vehicles whilst others sought what they needed in a simple pile of beans.

As the bell rang to declare the end of recess, children swarmed asking “Can we keep this?” “How about this?!” “Even this?!” – At the same time the skies quickly started to change from a bright blue to a deep red as the smoke from neighbouring wildfires moved in. The wind picked up too sending ribbon and crepe paper streaming across the fields

We quickly scrambled and packed up the site. We each handed piles of loose parts to Suzanna who was occupying the back of the horse-box. She stacked and meticulously organised the space, ensuring that everything could fit and would be easily accessible for our second event later that day. After a short stop for lunch and being gifted a home-grown cantaloupe from a curious local, we headed back on the dusty roads to the second stop, Bow Island.

We arrived at Centennial Park where children were already playing with the loose parts as they were being taken out of the back of the horse-box. Some local parents were keen to help with the set up and others brought a table of a snacks, drinks and hot-dogs!

The session proceeded naturally, forts were built from cardboard, towers from milk crates and the beans reappeared with second wind of neophiliac quality. During the session I was incorporated into a couple of different play frames. At one point I was the “tester” horse for a prototype carriage made from a wooden reel, rope and pool noodles and later I was draped in a glittery shawl and paraded as a princess, to which I was very quickly abandoned in full attire.

Local parents were keen to learn more, many asking great questions about intervention and risk. We discussed how by providing recycled and everyday materials made it much easier to say yes. Some adults just needed their own playtime. I heard two of the mums hysterically laughing as they pranced around in a bra made of duct tape. No purpose or goal. Just for fun. Just because they could.

As the sun started to settle and the children emerged from their play, there was an overwhelming, tranquil feeling of success. Parents, organisers and children alike left carrying their careful creations, full of enthusiasm for when the next event would be held.

Thank you for inviting us FCSS, we had a great day, we met some amazing people and felt welcomed in your community. Keep going.

This was stop number 17 of our 18 stop tour - if you want to find out more about how it went, check out our dedicated tour page. For more from us check out our facebook, twitter and website

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Pop-Ups On Tour 2017 - Calgary Play Symposium

By Andy

Crawling down back roads looking out for house numbers and community centres has become somewhat the norm for us, especially now as we start the descent towards the end of our grand Canadian tour after 7 weeks on the road.

Today we were heading for the Play Symposium courtesy of  Calgary Child’s Play and thankfully finding them was simple. A pile of cardboard boxes, tubes and fabric scattered outside was the give-away, in addition to the little yellow car's paparazzi welcome, the obvious real star of the show.

The Play Symposium was organised in the run-up to the IPA World Triennial Conference for early arriving delegates and local play enthusiasts. They were interested in hearing about playwork, playpods and an overview of the play scene in Calgary both now and moving forward.

Impressively, by 10am on this Sunday morning the hall was packed out with enthusiastic play discussion echoing around the room from accents the world-wide. We were up first, coffee-fueled and energetic. The audience listened intently to our message, frequently stopping us to ask questions to clarify terminology and to learn more, laughing at our jokes and finding similarities in their own practices. We were excited to see familiar faces of people we had met during our tour, smiling and waving from the back row, as well as several students from our online Playworker Development Course.

Kirsty Wilson from Bristol Scrapstore talked about playwork and playpods and also hinted about some exciting projects which are in the pipeline in Calgary. It was great to present alongside fellow Playworkers from the UK, each with a slightly different style and delivery, but a passion and enthusiasm that is comforting and familiar.

The concluding address was from Robyn Monroe Miller, the vice-president of the IPA who shared her experiences of play from Australia, the passion that drives her work and her admiration for the work of Stuart Lester and Wendy Russell. It was great to hear playwork terminology referenced, and very reassuring to learn that Robyn will start her IPA presidency with an interest and understanding of supporting play, for play’s sake.

The Play Symposium was a great opportunity for play enthusiasts to get together, make connections and head into the week with an introduction into playwork. Hopefully this has sparked an interest to learn more with some of the exciting playwork presentations scheduled throughout the IPA conference and beyond.

Thank you for bringing us together Calgary Child’s Play and being the 16th stop on our tour. We look forward to watching your work blossom in play!

To learn more about our Canadian adventure, please check out our dedicated tour page. To hear more from us on a daily basis, check out our facebook and twitter, and don't forget our website

Monday, 11 September 2017

Pop-Ups On Tour 2017 - Surrey, BC

By Morgan

Well, we’re on the final stretch of our Grand Canadian Tour! Our last stop in BC was Surrey and included both a pop-up adventure playground and a screening of The Land.  These two events were hosted by Child Care Options and gave us the chance to meet folks in quite different ways. We were able to connect with lots of local Childcare providers, some of whom knew us from our social media presence, others through Options directly, and a few more found the pop-up purely by walking past.

We also want to give a small shout-out to Gisele, who was instrumental in organizing our stop in Surrey but couldn’t be there on the day.  Sharlene and the rest of the team were enthusiastic too, and we knew for certain when they told us they’d been hoarding materials for weeks, and unloading them since 6:30am that morning!

While we were getting ready, Ricky asked what it would be like at a pop-up adventure playground primarily for under-5s.

“It’ll be super chill,” I said.

This held pretty true.  The 100 little ones toddled in and out of cardboard boxes, wobbled across wooden pallets and stared at bafflingly sticky balls of tape.  It felt pretty relaxed for us, but it was still adventurous - just on a smaller, slower scale.

Andy said that he gave pieces of tape to one boy.  The first time it was too long for him to handle, and he cried when it got tangled, so Andy handed him a series of tiny tape pieces that slowly got bigger. Eventually, he could manage the length of tape he’d wanted in the first place.

Meanwhile, I was watching two slightly older boys smashing a cardboard box apart.  Unsure how this would be received by the rest of the crowd, I stood at the edge of their play frame to show that this was okay here.  They were laughing and practicing the language of anger, shouting “I… hate you! You stupid… box!”  This talk grew until one of them knelt down and bit the cardboard hard, then jumped up and shouted “I’ll bite you!  I’ll bite you right in the toilet!”  I turned my face away so they wouldn’t see me smile, charmed by this being the worst thing he could think to say.  About twenty feet away, Suzanna was with the boys’ mums, explaining why I was standing near the kids but not intervening.  She asked if they were comfortable with what they saw.

“If you’re cool, we’re cool, as long as they’re in sight!”  She asked if they ever felt judged in their parenting styles, and they said no - that they knew their boys were rather gentle and so felt very comfortable being more free in their boundaries.

We know that it’s been hard times in British Columbia in terms of legislation around children’s freedom to roam, but that doesn’t match what we’ve been seeing on the ground.  While there are many more conversations to have around children’s rights to play, self-determination and risk, there’s also extraordinary work going on right now, to improve children’s lives across Canada.

To hear more about our Canadian adventure, check out our dedicated tour page. To see more from us, check out our facebook and twitter, and as always, come check out our website

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Pop-Ups On Tour 2017 - Coquitlam, BC

By Morgan

Play has a way of bringing great people together. On 2nd September we welcomed Ricky to the tour and yellow car. He’s been a member of our Board since 2013, and was curious to see what we were up to in Canada firsthand. On his third day, we participated in Integrate Play Solutions double screening and panel. The evening would consist of Project Wild Thing, followed by The Land, and finally a Q&A with Pop-Ups and Pop-Ups Heroes Dr. Mariana Brussoni and Dr. Helen Little.

We were a little starstruck, or I was at least.

One thing that’s always interesting about screening The Land is noticing when people laugh. Sometimes a room will be united in their reactions, roaring together or gasping in unison. Other times you’ll hear a bark of laughter from the shadows. Andy found himself anticipating their reactions, knowing what they’d be seeing happen next. Suzanna sat at the back with Mariana and Helen, watching them watch the film. She said that they enjoyed The Land, which neither had seen before.

“They were wide-eyed too,” she said.  “They felt wonder about the same stuff we do.”

It was amazing being on a panel with these two extraordinary researchers and writers, and a testament to the organizing abilities of Kirsten from Integrate Play Solutions. What was more incredible was the feeling of coming together from different disciplines, hearing our answers to questions about risk, freedom and children’s right to self-determination in play backed up by these two experts!  It felt affirming, encouraging, and we agreed afterwards that it was so nice to be on a panel with other folks from a different field who really got it.

It’s now only a few days to the IPA conference at Calgary, where we’re excited to meet up with so many Friends of Pop-Ups, and to see both Mariana and Helen again!

To read more about us and our adventure across Canada, check out our dedicated tour page. To see more from us, check out our FacebookTwitter  and our website

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Pop-Ups on Tour 2017 - Richmond, BC

By Andy

Midway through our tour we received an email from Jade from a local Chinese Immigrant family group based in Richmond, on the outskirts of Vancouver. This confirmed our fourth stop in Vancouver, which would be sandwiched between a first time community Pop-Up at Slocan Park in East Vancouver and a screening of The Land and Project Wild Thing a couple of days later.

We arrived at the Burkeville Park to find a pile of loose parts, with a sign that read “Pop-Up Adventure Playground – Do not throw away”. We started to unpack the materials while a handful of children honed in from the outskirts to find out what was going on. “Can we play?"

“Of course!” we replied “You can do whatever you like with all the things we have,” Suzanna informed them. Before she had finished her sentence the children were instinctively gathering their supplies ready to commence in their play.

Soon after, more and more families began to arrive. Some brought boxes, others set up camp with picnics while others hovered on the outskirts waiting for instruction. “What do we do?” one of the parents hesitantly asked “You can use all the materials in whatever way you please” I said. The parent looked somewhat baffled but headed off back to her waiting child to relay the instruction.

I started to build up a box, taping the bottom. A child quickly approached me “What are you doing?” he said. “Ermmm, I’m not really sure, I’m a little tired, maybe it could be a bed”. So that’s what I did, I climbed into the box and closed the lid, which I quickly regretted in the 30 degree sun. Instantly I was swarmed upon by several children, some tapping the box, others holding the lid closed whilst another made use of a gap and made the inside of my chamber smell particularly interesting!

After the initial ‘pile on’ I quickly left the scene, but left behind a box that had been injected with life, a narrative, which continued, changed and transformed before its final resting place became the foundations of a majestic looking fort.

Throughout the session families were heavily involved in their children’s play, but for some, this was the first time they, as adults, had played for as long as they could recall. Some of the children proceeded in their play without hesitation while some hovered and repeatedly asked for permission and thanked us each and every time. A few conversations took place that started “Some of these kids don’t know how to play” but they quickly found that this wasn’t the case. Players need practice.

As always, the play blossomed in so many beautiful directions. ‘Under Construction’ signs were made and then passed between children once jobs were complete. Forts were built with varying sizes and styles of architecture. Acorns and pebbles were counted out into cupcake molds and a mass smashing and trashing session was enjoyed by many during clear up.

Families left reluctantly. Deserting their structures with lingering regret. Some children forced their parents to take home their inventions while others asked when the next one would be.

This was a fantastic first Pop-Up and the start of many more to come.

To read more from our Canadian Tour, check out our dedicated page. To read more about our daily adventures, check out Twitter and Facebook, and as always, check out our website

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Pop-Ups On Tour 2017 - East Vancouver, BC

By Morgan

At pop-up adventure playgrounds, we get to meet children in public space.  Nowadays, that means meeting them within the circle of their parents and caregivers.

When we’re supporting play, we sometimes get a peek into a child’s world, or the world of their family. And when we’re talking about play with those family adults, we often speak about other things as well - freedom, time, community, memory, hope.  This can be frustrating sometimes, beautiful at others.  Little moments stick in the mind.

In East Vancouver, we held a pop-up in partnership with our new friend Keeping.  He seemed a bit anxious at first, wanting to check whether he’d got enough stuff, the right materials.

“Is this how they normally look?” He asked.  We assured him that each one is different and yes, this one is going well.  The children will make it work.  He began to relax into the process, and together we watched people use the wonderful loose parts he had gathered - an enormous collection of fridge boxes, ribbon in curls that caught the breeze, tires painted silver and gold.

I later found out that Keeping had initially created a registration and waiver system, and had been able to abandon the notion because it seemed as though everything was going fine and no one seemed concerned about risk or injury.  He seemed surprised and pleased.

When I walked the site, I visited different family play frames.  In one corner, a tall grandfather ran up and asked me to “come and cut a door for us”.  I pulled the box cutter out of my pocket and followed him, down the slope away from the trees.

“It goes here,” he said, tracing his finger in a square around the front flap.  He pulled it open to show that there was an internal divider to the box that could open and close, and decided that needed a window.  The window he wanted was specific though, and he got frustrated trying to explain.

“Oh, I’ll just show you,” he said and slipped inside the box and around its corner, quick as a fish.  I was surprised, and made eye contact with his two grown daughters.  They were clearly charmed by him, and we all made that facial expression of eyebrows raised, shared smile of isn’t that lovely.  The face that is normally made above the heads of children.

“Right here,” he said from inside the box.

“He’s been talking about this event for weeks,” one of his adult daughters said.
“The kids aren’t even here yet,” said the other.

A few feet away, a child was inside a tall and slender cardboard box and demanding small pieces of tape from his mother.

“How’s it going?” I asked her.  She smiled, rolled her eyes.

“He’s making an outhouse,” she said.  “Crescent window and everything.  But the door opens down, so it feels like a castle, he says.”  She peered in the little window to where he’d placed a smaller box inside with a hole cut out the middle.

“Remember this is just pretend,” she said.

Under the trees, a group of small girls were making a castle.  I passed them a purple marker and said that if they drew a window I’d be happy to cut it.  One thought for awhile, and then drew several small round shapes like polka dots on all sides.  Her mother started to object on my behalf, saying “I’m sure they could be square” but I knuckled down and cut around each of them carefully, following the wobbly lines.  The girl nodded solemnly when I was finished, and I moved along.

Sometimes we find ourselves invited further in.  One father approached with a loop of string in his hands, asking me to cut them for a handle.  He brought me over to the box where his son was busy going in and out the little door.

“Do you think this will work?” He asked.  I nodded and he looked relieved.  He began to tell me about his own father, and the experience of their building together.  “I tried to help him but it was difficult.  I was small and could not do the things correctly.  He would tell me so.”  We stood for awhile in the face of this memory.  I’ve heard many fond memories from parents of cardboard boxes, their regrets and fears that their children might not have those memories of their own.  I had not yet heard from someone for whom this was their specific trauma, reformed.  He spoke again.

“I do not want to be like my father, so…”. He looked over at his own son, absorbed in moving small strips of tape from one hand to the next.  “I am careful.  I try to remember that this is his own.”

 And he took the tape from me, and he smiled.

To find out more about the Canada tour, check out our dedicated tour page. If you want to find out more about our daily work, connect with us on Facebook and Twitter, or visit our website

Friday, 1 September 2017

Pop-Ups On Tour 2017 - Edmonton AB

By Andy

The second part of our Edmonton stop was a combined workshop and Pop-Up Adventure Playground spread across two days. The workshop was held at the University of Alberta and was brought together by the great people of Play Around the World with a helping hand from Child Friendly Edmonton.

There were a few technical hiccups and some last minute room shuffling for our workshop, but we quickly got back on track after some entertaining improvisation and crowd participation (Thanks Anthony!). The room was filled with parents, students and professionals from a variety of backgrounds. We had people from recreation, city planning, childcare and occupational therapist, amongst others.

An interesting part of the workshop was in response to our question "Who here has heard of playwork?" Hands flew up in the air, more yes than no, which was a first on our Canadian tour so far! During a conversation in the break, a participant stopped me in my flow. "Fraser Brown?!", "Yes", I replied. "Oh, I know Fraser. He visited here about ten years ago. He is fantastic and inspired some of the work that we do". What a small world I thought. But then on second thought, it was a stark reminder just how small the playwork field was on a global scale.

People on route of this Canadian tour have referred to us as the Evangelicals of playwork, and to some extent that is true, spreading the message about playwork as far and wide as possible, but through sparking right conversations and reopening up dialogue about play and playwork we have uncovered that people have been here before us, and traces of a Canadian adventure play movement keep on being uncovered.

The following day we set up for a Pop-Up at Edmonton Zoo. We were nestled between the beavers and the Takin and had our loose parts delivered by safari jeep (aka golf buggy). The weather was hot and the numbers were small, but the play that proceeded was as beautiful and unpredictable as always. Slides and skirts were made. Adults reminisced and the foundations were laid for further work.

There is some great things happening in Edmonton: a recent masters graduate from Leeds Beckett University specialising in play and playwork and a whole host of projects built upon the embers of a previous playwork movement. Keep going Edmonton - we look forward to hearing about your playful adventures.

To hear more about our tour, please visit our dedicated tour page. To find out more about our daily adventures, check out our facebook and twitter. Don't forget to also check out our website