Thursday, 27 December 2018

End of Year Reflections: 2018

By Morgan

As I write this, it’s the little gap of time between Christmas and New Year, when the world seems cold and quiet. My notes say to talk about how Suzanna and I spent this year apart - no tours, no shared events, but instead focusing on home and local work. Then I looked at the notes of where we’ve both been, and remembered that our version of “quiet” is still pretty darn busy! 

Suzanna went to Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore to do some training, and to Portugal to do her first ever solo keynote in the beautiful town of Cascais. I stayed more local (relatively) by visiting the Heritage Museum (MA), The Yard and Brooklyn Wild (both in NY), Sunflower Creative Arts (Florida), and popping by the Prioritizing Play Conference held by our good friends KOOP in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. We’ve also brought 26 students onto our flagship Playworker Development Course, and continue providing an online opportunity for folks working in recess or after school programs, called Playful Schools Online.  Not least, we’ve started working with individuals in a new way, through online coaching for play advocates and project leaders. 

Clementi Park Pop-Up Adventure Playground with Chapter Zero Singapore

All this leads neatly into our Biggest Thing Right Now, which is the second ever Playwork Campference! Will you be there?

It’s been two years since the first Campference, and people keep telling us what it’s meant to them - how important and rare it felt to spend whole days with others who are passionate about play. Those of us who share this particular playwork perspective have a way of both needing and finding one another. That’s because (as proud as we are of our online courses) this is an approach that you need to learn in person, through practice and reflection, which is to say through community. We couldn’t be prouder to be helping this phenomenal movement grow. Every registration matters, every donation to our financial aid program and Playworker Traveling Fund helps us to enrich and diversify attendance. If you can make it, we’d love to see you. If you can’t, please consider supporting on the ground work around the world.

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned local projects. It’s been a funny little irony for us, spending so much of the past decade helping people far away do work in their own neighborhoods. Suzanna has been doing far more, which you can read about here, but I had a little attempt as well. In these stories, we accidentally show two paths that we’ve seen again and again for folks who reach out to us. Some will host dozens of pop-up adventure playgrounds, connecting with local businesses and building community. Others will host one, and suddenly realize (or remember!) how much work is involved. I’ve followed both of those paths at different times, but I guess I just wanted to give a little shout out to any readers who may be concerned that hosting a pop-up is an enormous amount of work, that they don’t have time to dedicate to it, that the timing isn’t quite right.

If that’s you, here’s my advice. You might be right. And it doesn’t matter at all.

If you want to host your first pop-up, keep it small. That helps it to feel possible, sustainable, so you can keep going. But if you decide that you just can’t right now, that you don’t have the resources or volunteers you need, that’s okay too. Sometimes, some years, we need to put our focus elsewhere.  Maybe it’s time to see where you can fill your own cup first, and create more opportunities for play in your own life. That’s okay. Forgive yourself, and start by supporting play in the most 'local' way of all. 

That, and stay in touch, because one thing we’ve seen is that when people prioritize play - in their own lives, their families or their communities - it has a way of growing. Winter is a good time of year to remember that, because while it seems like the world is quietly asleep things remain busy underground, working magic in the darkness. It’ll happen in its own time, and when it does you’ll be ready. 

If you want to read more from Pop-Ups Morgan, you can find her on her personal blog here. More from us and what we get up to day to day, you can check out our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Monday, 24 December 2018

Popping Up in the Community - Part 6 - Celebrating 2018

By Zan

It has been an amazing year for me at Pop-Up Adventure Play. Not only have I managed to travel to two new countries with this little charity, but I have also started embedding play into my own community. I've been in the field for over 10 years now but have never had the opportunity to work on my own doorstep, but thanks to the Co-op Local Community Fund, I had a little bit of cash, a network of people, and a desire to make a difference in my neighbourhood.

The year has flown by, and I have an overwhelming feeling of being happy-tired when I think back. It's been busy but a good busy and I am so very proud to be telling you about the following numbers:

We hosted 19 pop-up adventure playgrounds... 4 different locations...
....where over 466 children between the ages of 0-16...
....were brought to play by 374+ adults.

We did this using £2,554.30 from the Co-op Local Community Fund...
...which was supplemented by £800 from Friday Food Nights at Radcliffe Market Hall and £100 from Prestwich Arts Festival...
...and further amplified by £558.86 of donations from wonderful play supporters in the local area from a variety of fundraising opportunities.

This means we were able to raise a total of £4063.16 in 2018.

This couldn't have been possible without an amazing network of people whom I will now attempt to list and thank personally. Brace yourselves for a lot of gratefulness. I have to thank thank you to....

Financial Support:
~ Co-op Local Community Fund - for giving us our start
~ Friday Food Nights at Radcliffe Market Hall, specifically Jodie - for having faith in the longevity of the project
~ Prestwich Arts Festival, specifically Jane - for reaching out and expanding our local reach
~ Folks of the local community - for your generosity

~ David - for being my rock, steady and calm at all times
~ Charlotte - for speaking up at the right time, and being there just when we needed
~ Andy - for taking the time to drive over the Pennines
~ Fiona - for helping when emotions spilled over
~ Mildred - for believing in the power of the box
~ Avanah - for being our first young volunteer
~ Faye - for rocking up and then just rolling with it
~ Dad - for being there every time I wondered if everything was going to fall apart
~ Pat - for saying yes and being there even though things were mad

~ Heaton Park Methodist Church - for believing in me and being the first location to host (read more about this location here and here)
~ Radcliffe Market Hall - for ongoing support and patience with our mess (read about it here)
~ Phoenix Center - for enjoying the madness, twice (read about it here)
~ St Mary's Park - for opening up your space to us for the first ever outdoor pop-up

Other Donations:
~ Live Electrical Radcliffe (encouragement, little boxes, tape and a million white stickers)
~ Think Design (business support, a big roll of brown paper and boxes)
~ Think Flooring and Carpets (cardboard tubes and carpet samples)
~ Radcliffe Flooring (carpet samples, cardboard tubes and vinyl samples)
~ Warent Feingold (business support, encouragement, accounts and boxes)
~ Self Storage Ian (loose parts and stuff for fundraising events)
~ Stanmore Insurance (insurance, ball pool balls and boxes)
~ Matt (moving house boxes)
~ Emma (box factory boxes)
~ Lindsay (boxes and an amazing pop-up sign)
~ Lynne (boxes and packing materials)
~ Pres (boxes and baskets)
~ Jade (boxes)
~ Rebecca (loose parts, packing materials and boxes)
~ Home Bird Crafts (raffle prize and giant box)
~ Adele (raffle prizes and boxes)
~ Lee and Dave (stuff for fundraising events)
~ Fiona and family (Judy the Trolley and stuff for fundraising events)

This isn't the whole list. I know it's not. Because there have been some secret donations, some passing conversations, some folks who have been supporting us without me even realising. To everyone who secretly left a roll of stickers on my table, or argued my case for a pop-up in a location, or invited a connection to come over and say hello, or shared my event in good faith, or fed me when I was too busy to feed myself.... thank you. You folks are wonderful, you genuinely are. Thank you so much for everything you have done to make this year go smoothly. All these playful events, all this talk of play, all the boxes and the play opportunities and the random fundraising, it is for you. Thank you in believing in the cause, and thank you for being part of it. Let's do it all again in 2019.

Pop-Ups Zan has been running Pop-Up Adventure Playgrounds in the Manchester community and is super excited to be doing it as Just Play MCR by Pop-Up Adventure Play - a brand new FB page that will host the events. Go check it out and join the community of Manchester's play advocates!

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Playwork Campference 2019: Introducing Ali Wood

By Morgan

Ali Wood is a subtle but powerful force within the UK playwork scene, on par with magnets or the tides. In a field worryingly packed with macho posturing, she reminds everyone again and again to reflect, to listen with compassion, to think radically about what it means to be 'on the child's side'. As people in the field, and as Pop-Up Adventure Play, we are proud to call her both an inspiration, and a friend! We're really excited that Ali will be joining us as one of two keynotes at the Playwork Campference 2019.

Pop-Up Adventure Play: How did you get into playwork?
Ali Wood: I left school determined to not go to university because everyone else was and both my school and my mum were pressurising me to go. Working at Birmingham Children’s Hospital convinced me that I wanted to work with people. I started doing voluntary work in youth clubs, art projects and community centres locally to gain experience, then to Birmingham University to do what was then a certificate in youth and community work. It wasn’t until the early 90’s when I met other ‘proper’ playworkers and realised that this was what I had been doing (of sorts) for a long time. I was hooked. Youth work was changing and getting more structured and funding for community work was dying; playwork felt like my spiritual home and the field where it felt work was still human and anything was possible.

I’ve been in playwork ever since – campaigning for children’s rights, arguing for children’s freedom and independence with anyone who would listen, pushing for reflective practice, writing stories and anecdotes along the way, doing action research and working mainly in schools or adventure playgrounds.

PUAP: What do you love about it most?
AW: I love playwork because it is both incredibly simple and hugely complex; because it draws in a wide range of adults who can be both wonderful and challenging; because it never stops making me think or prompting new questions. It’s also helped me make sense of my own childhood and why I felt most alive when I was playing. But mostly I love it because it treats children and young people as equal human beings who are capable and competent in themselves. It advocates for play and I feel privileged to be part of the movement.

PUAP: How do you play, for yourself?
AW: My own playing is a little tamer physically and less wild than it used to be, but I still love roaming and exploring new places on foot –especially if it involves hills and sea – and make a point of going each year to places I’ve never been. I am passionate about animals and their welfare and so seeing them in the wild is really exciting. I’ve recently taken up knitting and am very proud of my finished pieces of handiwork! I can get obsessed with word and/or number puzzles.

I’m at the adventure playground a lot and love being a part of its general chaos and laughter. And I love spending time with my grandchildren and trying to see the world through their eyes…

PUAP: What are you most excited about for Campference?
AW: Meeting and listening to new people who are equally hungry to learn! Being part of an experience where everyone is going to be enriched and fed and inspiring and inspired - that’s the best!

You can hang out with Ali at the second ever Playwork Campference that will be taking place in Houston TX in February 2019. Register here, or if you have any questions, email

Monday, 29 October 2018

Giving Tuesday 2018: Playworker Travelling Fund

By Zan

On 27th November 2018, as part of Giving Tuesday, Pop-Up Adventure Play will be raising money to fuel our newly launched Playworker Travelling Fund. This is an opportunity for us to gather the funds that will help playworkers travel to different communities and share their wisdom with other playful folk.

We hope, this Giving Tuesday, to be able to raise £500 (roughly $640 USD) so that cover the return expenses of one playworker, travelling to the country we work in the most: the USA. This is the same amount of money that each of team Pop-Ups is allowed to spend on their travel every time we go out on an excursion, so we know it is a number that works, and we hope that it is a number that we can raise to help a fellow playworker.

If we raise £500 on Giving Tuesday, we - Pop-Ups Morgan and Zan - each promise to dress up for an entire day as a robot. 

Yes, to thank you for your support on this particular fund-raising adventure, we will each be making our own robot outfits and wearing them for a whole day while going about our day. I, Pop-Ups Zan, am also taking requests on what should be included on my robot costume and what daily task I might need to tackle as a robot.

As a small disclaimer here - each member of the team can choose which date their Robot Day will be. They will each be solely responsible for their outfit, but can seek help from others if required e.g. during construction or assembly. Outfits will more than likely be made of cardboard and other loose parts as this fits in perfectly with the ethos of the organisation. Each Robot Day will be a minimum of 8 hours and will involve photos of each of us doing various things to evidence that we did in fact dress up like a robot for a day. I think that I - Pop-Ups Zan - am also willing to do short videos of my day if folks are willing to donate even more.

We are excited that we have this opportunity to raise funds to help our fellow play friends. It has been a struggle for us to fund our adventures over the past 10 years so we know first hand how hard it is to expand our own play knowledge and support others without the financial means to get there. We hope that our wonderful following of Pop-Ups Supporters will be able to help us to raise some funds so that the practical and theoretical knowledge of playwork can be spread to all corners of the world, starting with just one plane ticket.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Pop-Up Adventure Play community, on 27th November 2018, please help us to help people like you. #LetsSupportPlay #GivingTuesday

You can use this paypal link here to donate on 27th November. If you donate 10 GBP or more, Paypal will match fund your donation! Hoorah! If you have any questions, please feel free to email Suzanna on, or contact us by Facebook, Twitter, or using our website

Monday, 15 October 2018

Press Release: Second Playwork Campference brings international experts on children's play to discuss unconventional approaches to risk and inclusion


HOUSTON, TX: On a three acre site in West Houston, children ages 6 to 13, many with learning differences and communication delays, have constructed a three-acre homemade playground of their dreams. This past year marked a decade of growth and change for the site, which was founded in 2008 and was recently filmed by Alliance for Childhood for their exemplary practices. “Even people who already know about adventure playgrounds often don't know that Houston has one of the very best in the world,” says Morgan Leichter-Saxby of Pop-Up Adventure Play, a non-for-profit which provides training in Playwork practice. “We couldn't be happier to be partnering with Jill Wood and The Parish School to deliver this totally unique event.”

Since WW2, thousands of adventure playgrounds have provided opportunities for children’s self-directed play in the United Kingdom, Japan and Europe, providing children with space and tools such as hammers and nails.  Many sites include fire.  Until recently very few existed in North America, but this model has recently become popular with sites springing up in New York City, Los Angeles, and Houston. However, public reporting has frequently missed the question of Playwork, or the professional work of staffing these sites safely.

“Playwork is special” says Jill Wood, one of the two keynote speakers. “It's what makes adventure playgrounds function even more safely than other kinds of playgrounds”. Playwork, which can be studied at the University level in the UK, is an explicitly non-educational approach which emphasizes risk-benefit assessment and low-interventionist support methods. Studies have evidenced its strong therapeutic potential. However, no formal Playwork professional training programs currently exist in North America.

Pop-Up Adventure Play has been stepping into that gap, providing online training and the first Playwork Campference in 2017, which attracted 90 play advocates from 7 different countries. Participant feedback stated that "...campference was a completely unforgettable experience. Unlike other conferences where it is just info after info I felt able to really think and reflect and resonate on what I was learning." The first event was so well received that preparations for the second Playwork Campference are well underway, to happen on 15th-18th February 2019.

“Playwork is in the limelight right now,” says Suzanna Law of Pop-Up Adventure Play. “People in schools and parks and hospitals... we want to bring everyone together to talk about making a real change…. this is the only place to get it right now.” Ali Wood, playwork expert from the UK and co-author of Reflective Playwork: For All Who Work with Children, will be providing a final keynote on 18th February. A gathering on Saturday, 16th February, will be open to the public who are also welcome to tour the event’s art exhibition, entitled Reflections.

Campference participants will be camping on the adventure playground at The Parish School for the 4-day, 3 night event, a space that consists of three acres of grassland covered by child-made structures. They'll have full access to the site along with bonfires, Texas bbq, and lively discussions around children’s play.

The full press release is available here.

Registration Information and Contact Information
To register to please use this link here. Early bird rate of $395 USD (for a camping spot) and $325 USD (for a non-camping spot) will be ending on 31st October 2018. To discuss financial assistance options or if you have any further questions, please contact

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Playwork Campference 2019 - Frequently Whispered Nightmares

As part of Playwork Campference 2019, we would like to invite folks to tell us about their own projects, their communities, and their playwork perspective, so we put out a Call for Presentations. Since then have heard some whispers that we'd like to gently address - hopefully this blogpost written by Campference organiser and speaker, Pop-Ups very own Morgan, will help to soothe some nervous playful people out there.

By Morgan

FWN: “I thought I wanted to speak at Campference, but the Call for Presentations has me all alarmed!”
So, you’re nervous about presenting. Of course you are! It’s a scary thing, public speaking. Everyone is afraid of at least one aspect, so here (instead of Frequently Asked Questions) are some Frequently Whispered Nightmares (FWN).

FWN: “I don’t know enough!”
Yes. Only experts are allowed at the front, and you’re not an expert! Right? Except that you’re probably the person in your neighborhood who knows the most about playwork, and at Campference you are the person who knows the most about your neighborhood. We want to hear your stories, and you’re definitely an expert on those.

FWN: “I haven’t been doing playwork long enough!”
Playwork has its roots in post-WW2 adventure playgrounds. That means there have been generations of people doing this work, learning and developing and talking about what it means to do playwork, to be playworkers. In the USA, we are in a remarkable time of perhaps the greatest number of playworkers and playwork students ever.

That means that, however long you have been in this field, you are part of something extraordinary. Your thoughts and experiences are vitally important. You don't have to be an expert but we want you in this conversation. What are you curious about right now?

FWN: “I haven’t even finished the PDC!”
Haha, we know. That’s okay. I mean, obviously, we encourage you to return and are here whenever you’re ready, but we also know firsthand how life - including the overwhelming responsibilities of starting and staffing play projects - can make distance learning even harder.

Are you trying to do the best playwork possible, as you understand it? Are you using language from playwork, such as cues and frames and adulteration? Are you trying to learn more every day, from texts and from the children themselves?

Then we want to hear how it’s been going so far.

FWN: “I haven’t presented before!  Talking to adults is terrifying!”
Very true. On the other hand, we would like to gently suggest that Campference may offer the most sympathetic and genuinely curious audience you’ll ever find.

We would also love to help people put together sessions that go beyond the tired “one person at the front with Powerpoint” model. Are you good with knots? Know a great way to build platforms fast? Do you have another practice in your life, like tango or Feldenkrais, that you think might have interesting things in common with playwork theory? Have you and a friend recently been discussing an aspect of playwork that other people might have opinions on?

We get it. Truly. Suzanna and Morgan never meant to spend so much time speaking in front of audiences, either. Morgan literally threw up before her first playwork conference presentation (a story she’ll share if you ask nicely), and Suzanna feels usually wants to cry before a presentation (and has done so three times and counting). In spite of these humble beginnings, they have come to see that presenting can even (gasp) be fun.

Get in touch. We’ll talk it through, and help you get there.

If you want to find out more about the Call to Presentations, here is the link to the blogpost. To find out more about the Campference, check out this website here, and consider registering here.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Playwork Campference 2019 - Pre-Campference Leadership Intensive

By Morgan

Since 2010, we’ve had the pleasure of being a part of the US Playwork and Adventure Play scene and helping it to grow.  New projects have opened coast-to-coast in North America, and around the world, led by passionate and dedicated people we are proud to consider colleagues and friends.

At the same time, we know firsthand the struggles in starting projects and in keeping them going.

This coming February, we’re offering a totally unique Pre-Campference Leadership Intensive that is designed specifically to support Project Leaders on those issues and any others they face. It will be an event that's happening in addition to the Playwork Campference 2019 (and will start 24 hours before the Campference itself) and there are only a limited number of spots available. We’ll talk about:

  • finding the right adventure play/playwork model for your community
  • outreach and marketing
  • finding (and keeping!) great staff
  • partnering with other organizations 
  • financial sustainability

And last but not least, personal sustainability! 

We’ll also spend time talking about the movement as a whole, sharing ideas and strategizing about how we can best support one another in pushing this work forward to larger audiences, while still retaining what makes this approach so unique.

Participants can be anywhere in the process of Project Leadership, but we are prioritizing applicants who are already underway (at least one or two pop-up adventure playgrounds in).

If you’ve ever felt “all this rests on me” - come on down! 

We don't have all the answers, but we have dialogue, experience and chocolate.

The one pager can be found here.

The application form can be found here.

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Popping Up in the Community 2018 - Part 5 - 7 Stories from 7 Pop-Ups

By Zan

"...what I find particularly attractive about storytelling is that no one has to teach us how to tell a story. It is a way we make sense of our experiences. It is inclusive and open to all playworkers irrespective of their setting, previous experiences or education. It reduces the gap between the theorists and practitioners, seeing all of us as having important stories to tell as storytellers in our own right." ~ Jackie Jeffrey, "Storytelling and the reflective playworker" in Foundations of Playwork



The look on his face when he entered the room was unforgettable. It was clear that - as a 15 year old - he hadn't been given the opportunity or permission to follow his own lead for a long time. I handed him a pair of scissors and a whole roll of tape as a bounced gently from one foot to another.
     "I really can do whatever I want?"

I smiled, and he didn't even wait for me to nod before launching himself on the biggest box on the pile. He dragged it to a corner and there he stayed. At a few points, we watched him gently lead his girlfriend to the other side of the hall and mutter at her ("stay here") before continuing on with his play.

A little while later, he ran over to me to ask for a black pen. I handed him a black marker and "Corey's Castle" was then christened. On handing me the marker back, he looked at me with a mix of desperation and hope,

     "It needs a roof, but I can't find one"

Sometimes the stars align, or the universe provides, or whatever phrase you choose to talk about unplanned coincidences working out. My dad had just walked in to the Pop-Up and I knew that he had a big flat piece of cardboard stowed away in his car, so I quickly asked him to bring it in. You should have seen the face of Corey - his castle was complete.

    "Just 20 minutes to go? Must work faster."

He used language that sounded very much like he was in an examination hall and was pressed for time, and his facial expressions were of focus and resolve. But if you had seen his creation, you would have seen how much he enjoyed himself, how much autonomy he had, and how this was anything but an academic exam. This was a reprieve from all that school stuff that he very much needed.



He wielded the frying pan with such fierce joy that I could feel myself flinching at the thought of that kitchen tool hitting someone in the face like in the cartoons. He didn't hit anyone (or let go, which was the other fear) and asked us politely to throw some plastic balls to him. He was surprisingly accurate and every time the ball hit the pan, there was a pleasing "BOCK".

He disappeared for a while shortly after that, and the next thing we knew, he was asking us about some beautiful rainbow fabric that he had just discovered amongst the loose parts.

     "Can I take it home?"

He had created a rainbow "cape" - a beautiful construction of multicoloured strips that were attached to his shirt somehow at the neck behind his head. As he walked, it swished elegantly in the fading sun. It was as if he was two different people. Sometimes we are a frying pan wielding ball hitter, and sometimes we are a rainbow cape wearing king. That's what the freedom of play offers.



All 2-feet of her was determined to climb the little wall. It didn't matter that she was in a beautiful flowing dress, that the rest of the children we running on ahead or that that wall really was a little bit too tall for her. No, this was her Everest and she was going to do it her way.



I checked for consent in multiple ways. I looked at his face which was still relaxed and smiling. I watched his body language - limited as it was at the time - but he wasn't struggling or sweating visibly. I also pretended to fix something nearby and muttered quickly under my breath ("Are you okay?") to which I was given the smallest of nods and an eyebrow raise. He was a willing participant in this play frame.

I guess it's not every day that you're given a bunch of tape and are told that you can do whatever you want with it. And it's not every day that your brother is available to be taped to a shipping container. I know for a fact that sibling relationships can get complicated, so maybe this was one of those ways to resolve some issues. Or maybe it's just so much easier to get your brother to agree to something like this than to try and convince someone else that you don't have a trusting relationship with. Maybe it's a mix of all of the above and more. All I know is that she had a deep-seated impulse to tape her brother to a shipping container, and he was okay with that.



     "When I get into this box, will you close the flaps for me?"
     "Of course. Are you sure?"
     "Yes. Just close them." she said, as she folded herself into the box. I slowly close the flaps, sensing that she wasn't sure if she wanted this.
     "No wait, I don't want you to close them."
     "Okay. How about I close one flap?" I fold over one of the larger flaps and she giggles.
     "Okay, so how about you close all the flaps and stick some tape on?"
     "Are you sure?" I said, taking the roll of tape off my wrist and obviously looking for the loose end.
     "No. I mean yes. I mean..."
She paused and looked around. There are other people playing in other ways - a pillow fight was happening at one end of the room, a kitchen was being made elsewhere. A few other people were also getting into boxes.
     "Yes, use the tape" she said to me, with conviction.
     "Here we go!" I said, making a song and dance about it to delay it a little for her. Before I stick it on, she giggle-screamed and kicked open the flaps.
     "Noooo, it's scary!"
     "Aww, okay. How about I just close the flaps?"
     "Hmm, how about you close the flaps and then stick the tape on loosely?"
     "Alrighty, here I go!" I close the flaps and superficially stick down a piece of tape, perpendicular to the opening of the box where the light would be seen from the inside. She giggle screams again and kicks open the box.
     "That was awesome! Can we do it again?"



The two children did not know each other before this pop-up, but were getting on wonderfully. The older needed someone to talk to, to build for, and to show things. The younger wanted someone to follow, to mimic, to be doted upon. It was a perfect relationship, and together, they played for a good couple of hours creating a bathroom complete with shower, toilet and "place to sleep". The play was as elaborate as their blossoming playful relationship - it was a joy to watch.



The multi-coloured tiny chairs were stacked in the corner of the room, out of the way. Halfway through the pop-up, I noticed that two little people were diligently and purposefully unstacking them, and placing them carefully in very specific places. Wordlessly, the two little people played with these chairs. Who knows what their narrative could be - were they setting up a cinema? Making a bus? Maybe they each had a different narrative. Maybe they just liked unstacking the chairs.

Sometimes, even with the best intentions and the highest quality loose parts, sometimes children simply can't resist playing with the objects that are already on site. And why not? They're still loose parts after all.


Monday, 27 August 2018

Playwork Campference 2019: Call for Presentations

By Zan

It's been a bit quiet here on the blog front but we are finally ready to start making some noise again! We've had lots of chats about our Playwork Campference and have set up a dedicated webpage for it, which you can find here.

We thought long and hard about the theme of this year's Campference and have settled on the following - “Through the Woods: Choosing a Playwork Path”. It's important to us that playwork is the focus of our work, so this is a meeting of minds to help folks make an informed choice when it comes to the playwork approach.

We're also very pleased to announce that we're putting out a Call for Presentations! 

Yes, we'd like to hear about playwork directly from you! The one pager pdf can be found here, and the submission form is here. And here is a snippet of info from both of those wordy things:
Our theme of "Choosing a Playwork Path" emphasizes the complexities of putting theory into practice.  We want to hear the choices and compromises practitioners have made to keep playwork front and center, what opportunities they have seized and how.  What is a playwork path?  How is it found, created or followed?  We are interested in proposals including:
   ~ case studies of relationships and projects
   ~ illustrative explanations of key theories in practice
   ~ stories combining playwork and parenthood
   ~ practical skillshares, such as rope work and basic construction techniques
   ~ information from other fields, such as improvisational movement, social thinking or somatic therapy, which might inform or expand playwork
The deadline for submissions is 31st October 2018, so have a think about how you can contribute to the Campference. As always, if you have any questions, please email but please remember that only presentations submitted using the form will be considered. We look forward to hearing from you soon!

Friday, 11 May 2018

Playwork Campference 2019 - Save The Date!

By Zan

We are super excited and slightly giddy to be announcing the next Playwork Campference. Ladies and Gentlemen, we will be working with Jill Wood of Adventure Play at The Parish School in Houston Texas, to host the second Playwork Campference on a well established adventure playground in the USA on 15th-18th February 2019.

Adventure Play was the setting for our risk study that we published a few weeks ago. It is a space that we have worked in before and a place which truly invites open-ended play.

If you are interested in finding out more about adventure playgrounds and talking about playwork in the company of like-minded people, then this is your conference. We will have camping as an option which will both reduce the costs of accommodation and increase the opportunities to connect with playful people. This is why we've called it a Playwork Campference (credit to Jeremiah Dockray of SCV Adventure Play Foundation for the name) and if you think that sounds awesome, you're probably gonna want to more.

Fill in our Expression of Interest form here to receive regular updates

As you can probably tell, we are already passionate about this event. We know how important it is to feel like you are part of a community, to feel like you belong. This is one of our playful answers to this, in response to positive feedback from our last Campference in 2017.

If you can, please join us. We're looking forward to meeting each and every one of you.

Read more about our last Campference here, here and here. To read more of our immediate thoughts about play and any news flashes, come join us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. More information is always available on our website

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Popping Up in the Community 2018 - Zan Part 4

This is part 5 of a multi-part blog series about the pop-up adventure playgrounds we create in our own communities throughout the year. This is an example of how our pop-up adventure playgrounds work, and us using our namesake model and our own resources to work within our own communities.

By Zan

I will admit that I cried.

Just short of 150 people had indicated that they were "interested" in coming to my pop-up adventure playground, which I was hosting as part of a food night with Farrars Cafe and Tea Rooms at Radcliffe Market Hall. I knew it would be popular, but looking at numbers a couple of hours before the pop-up, I hadn't imagined that it would be that popular. I had only arranged to have Pop-Ups PDC tutor David support me during this event but all of a sudden it dawned on me that we would need more help. And then the tears came.

Luckily I was able to recruit my family to help - my dad and sister-in-law popped down to help us out and it was so necessary too! The market hall was huge and 55 children came along - that means that there were at least another 50 adults present too! The hall was filled with the sound of playing children, the voices of merry adults, and the smells of wonderful food. There were plenty of loose parts to go around too so all was well. Here are some photos of what they got up to:

Making a call in a boat. That's what everyone needs.

There's that phone again. So very popular.

Making robots with stickers.

Here are all the people. I was so glad to have the support of Pop-Ups PDC tutor David, my dad and my sister-in-law.

The large donation of tiny boxes were really popular!

About an hour into our 3-hour pop-up, the fire alarm went off. By this time, I was on my toes and ready for action. People were naturally confused, and a couple of people left immediately. I checked to see what was happening and it turns out someone had boiled a kettle underneath a smoke detector, setting off the alarm and then there didn't seem to be a way of switching it off. It didn't affect the play too much - the children didn't seem to notice the incessant beeping - but the adults were ruffled. A team of firemen rocked up and stood around for ages, pointing and talking seriously while looking at some doors. It turned out that the several fire doors were locked shut and the firemen were very upset about this. I was annoyed with myself too - I should have checked about the doors as part of my pre-play risk assessments, but because I knew there were 2 doors available, I didn't check the remaining fire doors! That's a mistake I won't be making again! Eventually the firemen recommended that we should wind down for the night. Adults filtered out with their children gradually, waving goodbye as they went and at about 8pm, our pop-up adventure playground suddenly went still. We quietly tidied up, grateful in the moment that the air was still.

There was a lot of people and unexpected things happened, but I really enjoyed this pop-up! The community was warm and supportive of the work, and asked over and over again when we would be back again. The next one has already been arranged and word is spreading - there's food and play! It's so wonderful to be popping up in my own community, and I am so thankful to Farrar's Cafe and Tea Rooms for the opportunity!

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Popping Up in the Community 2018 - Zan Part 3

This is part 4 of a multi-part blog series about the pop-up adventure playgrounds we create in our own communities throughout the year. This is an example of how our pop-up adventure playgrounds work, and us using our namesake model and our own resources to work within our own communities.


By Zan

     "If I wrap this tape around your legs, you know you might fall over, right?"
     "Do you still want me to do it?"
I was amused to see that sticky tape was the big thing at this particular pop-up. I was amused too that some of them felt that the risk of falling was of a particular thrill.

Hop. Hop. Hop... Hop......

     "Argh, I fell! Will someone help me?"
I walked over and carefully helped the horizontal boy become vertical. It wasn't that easy because he couldn't help in the slightest. Which also means that he fell over like a sack of potatoes and it would definitely have hurt.
     "Would you like me to take the tape off?"
     "No, I want to jump."
     "Okay, but take it easy okay?"
He hopped off slowly with another one of the taped up boys and I looked around - everyone was holding up tape and asking me to help. I smirked and wondered when they would work out that they could tape themselves up.

My tape work got more elaborate. Two kids asked to be taped together, back-to-back. Three kids asked their combined 6 legs to be made into a weird 4-legged situation. Then the back-to-back people fell over and needed to be freed. Then there were some 3-legged combos, and then there was a 4-legged race of two groups. People were falling all over the place, from giddy silliness and tape-tripping silliness.

     "Will you put some tape over my mouth?"
The boy who had his legs taped together had hopped all the way back across the room and wanted more. I wasn't sure about this so I thought briefly about the actual risk of tape over the mouth and given that I had control of where this tape was being stuck, I could make sure that tape was loosely applied and the nose was available for breathing.
     "Are you sure?"
     "Can you put more tape on my arms and legs too? There's not enough, I want more!"

When it was time to leave, it took some time to extract all the children from all the layers of parcel tape. Some of the folks had used so much that scissors just couldn't get through the thick layers so another adult helped me to carefully use box cutters to hack through the layers. There was a contented buzz in the air that felt both positive and tired.
     "What words would you use to describe the pop-up adventure playground?"
     "Would you like me to come again?"
A resounding yes rang through the community building. That's really the best feedback that one can get for a pop-up adventure playground. I had a great time with this group of children at this holiday club. I look forward to hanging out with them again!

Find out more about Pop-Ups Zan on her personal blog here. If you want to host your own pop-up, check out our free resource pack here. Want to find out more about Pop-Up Adventure Play? Check out our facebooktwitter and website

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Popping Up in the Community 2018: Morgan

This is part 3 of a multi-part blog series about the pop-up adventure playgrounds we create in our own communities throughout the year. This is an example of how our pop-up adventure playgrounds work, and us using our namesake model and our own resources to work within our own communities.


By Morgan

For more years than I can tally, I've moved too often to have a neighborhood of my own. I've circled Southern Vermont since 1999, but only recently planted roots. This winter was my first time hosting a pop-up as a local resident.

I talk (and talk!) about community, about making change where you are and claiming public space for play. A large part of my work is encouraging people to venture out, into their own neighborhoods, with nothing but a bunch of scrap and an idea, based on my experiences Play Ranging (so I knew it was legit), but there is something fundamentally different about doing this in the place where you live.

For one thing, it can be a lot more embarrassing.


The library was a logical place to begin. Firstly, I love my library. I love all libraries, but this one is particularly good and a non-small part of why I moved here. The programming director, Anne Dempsey, was so enthusiastic when we met and totally got it about play. We decided on the front lawn as a location, and chatted about which materials might be a good match for changeable March weather. She arranged to promote the event on the town's only movie screen before the Friday feature, and her press release graced the cover of our local newspaper.

I showed up that Saturday morning with the steadfast vehicle crammed with bags of assorted junk, including pool noodles liberated from Erin Davis's barn. The snow itself was one day old, light but packable – much like that kinetic sand, if you kept it in the freezer.

At this point, I would like to quote the letter of support Anne Dempsey wrote for me after the event.
"From her tiny yellow car, Morgan pulled out colorful hats, mixing bowls, pool noodles, a pink flamingo, a small tarp with two ropes, some wooden spoons, and spray bottles filled with colored water. She placed everything on the snowy patch of grass. 
At first, nothing happened. No one came."
Now, I've spent many an afternoon while ranging or with pop-ups, sheltering deep under my hood in the rain without any children for miles. But there is something very different about that, when all the people going past are folks you'll be seeing the next day while getting coffee, and the day after that at the supermarket. I had a clear and definite feeling of failure, of humiliation. A couple of friends said they'd try to pop by and, like a bad party, I didn't know whether to hope they showed up or didn't.

Then, something shifted and I remembered the Actual Point of all this. It wasn't to display my work, or make an abstract statement. It was supposed to be about allowing more play to happen, which meant that if I enjoyed myself the day was automatically a success.

Back to Anne's letter:
"So, Morgan began spritzing the snow with colored water. She drew a hopscotch board on the sidewalk nearby. She invited people coming into and out of the library to join in the fun. At first, people looked embarrassed and maybe felt a little bad for her. After all, it seemed like a crazy thing to do. But people came around. A toddler and her father drew chalk marks on the sidewalk and scooped snow into a mixing bowl with a wooden bowl. A retired guidance counselor made a miniature snowman and squirted two spots on its head for eyes. Two children dueled with the pool noodles. A boy scooped up snow with a mixing bowl to build a snow fort. His best friend stopped by. They buried a toy alligator under the snowy floor of the fort. A child climbed up the trunk of the maple tree with the help of a rope tied further up. Morgan helped a child extend a tarp between the tree and the park bench. It made a good shelter!"

At its heart, a pop-up adventure playground is a tiny celebration of weirdness. When you host one, you're saying “look what a person can do here” and inviting others to join in. There is so much more potential for joy in the world than we usually allow ourselves to see.

Which means it's no wonder that this feels different, in that corner where we actually live.

Find out more about Pop-Ups Morgan on her personal blog here. If you want to host your own pop-up, check out our free resource pack here. Want to find out more about Pop-Up Adventure Play? Check out our facebooktwitter and website

Monday, 9 April 2018

Popping Up in the Community 2018: Zan Part 2

This is part 2 of a multi-part blog series about the pop-up adventure playgrounds we create in our own communities throughout the year. This is an example of how our pop-up adventure playgrounds work, and us using our namesake model and our own resources to work within our own communities.


By Zan

The children ran in to the room and stopped short of all the loose parts.
     "Hello everyone, you can do whatever you want with all the stuff I have here. If you need anything, the adults will help you" I said to them, sensing that they wanted some sort of introduction.
     "Yes we know" said a little boy, his eyes wide with anticipation.
     "Well, awesome. Whenever you are ready, you can go!" I hadn't quite finished my sentence yet and some of them had already launched themselves into the nearest box. The littler ones took more time. They wanted to receive their name sticker, and then cruise quietly around before diving in. Once they were in, they were fully in.

     "This is a great idea" said one of the adults who walked in with a baby tucked under her arm. "You should do this more often."
I smiled and explained that the pop-up adventure playground model was something that my charity had developed and that we'd been doing this all over the world.
      "Great! When's the next one here?"

Today's group of adults were childminders, parents and a couple of aunties. For the first time ever, I was running a pop-up adventure playground with one of my own small people present - my not-quite-3-year-old niece. When she arrived, we ran up to me very quietly and just stared.
     "Hello little one, there are lots of things for you to play with here, would you like to have a look?"
She shook her head and stared for a while longer. She is younger than the usual pop-up audience so understandably, she was a bit nervous.
     "Would you like to do some drawing?"
She nodded enthusiastically, so I took her hand, found some crayons and a cardboard box and she was in. My dad came along shortly to hang out with my niece so I was freed to go and be a playworker. I realised at that point that this was going to be a challenging pop-up for me, one where I would have to wear the hat of a playworker and that of an auntie. Fortunately for me I had asked Pop-Ups Andy and David to come and help out so they were able to support me while I switched hats. Every so often, a little hand would touch mine and I would hear the words "Auntie Zan, will you come play with me?". It was the most adorable thing ever, though I had to catch myself and make sure I was able to devote time to playworking and playing, non-concurrently. Being both roles at the same time took practice and I was definitely new to that.

There were more children at this pop-up compared to the last, and more boys. Play was a little less delicate and a little rougher around the edges. There were certainly some beautiful moments: two little people moving around metal door knobs in a cardboard box; little crawlers sitting in the middle of wicker baskets; older boys shuffling along the ground in a box singing "the wheels on the bus".

Challenging moments caught the attention of all the adults: when the biggest den was flattened and the children started jumping all over it; the game of chase with one unwilling participant; when David was captured by two little boys and tangled in a net. Though it felt challenging to us, it was a great moment to flex our playwork muscles. The children's behaviour was only challenging to us, they themselves are only following their own instincts and playing.

The two hour session ended quite naturally when a lot of the tiniest players started getting a bit too sleepy. This is the second pop-up this year I had been able to organise in my community, with more to come! I had a great session and was flanked by some great playworkers - I hope too that the children enjoyed themselves and really got to play.

Find out more about Pop-Ups Zan on her personal blog here. If you want to host your own pop-up, check out our free resource pack here. Want to find out more about Pop-Up Adventure Play? Check out our facebook, twitter and website

Past, Present and Future: The Pop-Ups Story

By Morgan

A conversation on Facebook recently veered into the weeds, as they sometimes do. We reflected on the back and forth of digital text and decided it was time to bring the conversation out of bubbles and into whole paragraphs. Asking us directly about who invented the pop-up adventure playground model highlighted some confusion among folks who are new to the field, and some who have been around for years.

Playwork is a beautiful approach that is older than we are, and much bigger than any of us. Suzanna and I have been in Playwork for more than a decade apiece, and one thing we’ve learned in both PhD and frontline practice is that the stories of ideas matter. That’s not about ownership but inheritance. If you don't know the history of an idea, you can't engage deeply in its practice. How can you critique or improve upon something you don’t really understand?

Our small contribution to this field is the Pop-Up Adventure Playground model. We’ll talk about what we developed and what we didn’t, what we inherited and how we’ve shared it with others. So get comfortable folks, it’s time for a little story!

In the UK, Playwork has been around for decades. It developed from the post-WW2 Adventure Playground movement and particularly took root in the UK, where people can get academic and vocational qualifications. That’s not the only route, and many great Playworkers have learned through practice, reflection and by being brought into rich site cultures of play. Playworkers also operate in public space (playranging) and in hospitals, schools, prisons and everywhere else children might be found. Each of these settings offer a unique application of core Playwork ideas, and new terms arose to demonstrate the particular skill set needed. For example, Playranging. This is where both Suzanna and I started, and involves taking kits of loose parts into public space - usually green pockets in public housing projects - and working with the children there perhaps once a week for a couple of years. This requires a different level of knowledge and sensitivity to community engagement, because you’re essentially working in other people’s front yard.

There have been Adventure Playgrounds in the US, some noted for their quality of practice (Adventure Play at the Parish School) and others for their steadfast longevity (Berkeley Adventure Playground).  But without a strong foundation of Playwork theory and professional development, we feared that efforts to promote these sites would be unsustainable at the national level.  What’s more, getting fixated on permanent sites misses so many great opportunities to support play right now!  Most communities don’t have, might never have, an adventure playground. We wanted a model that people could use themselves, in the communities where they live, today. A shifting team of dedicated people worked on this idea, including Sharon Unis, Anna Housley Juster, Suzanna Law, and myself.

The idea of a ‘pop-up adventure playground’ developed through conversation and practice. The idea, right from the start, was to explicitly combine playranging with community organizing, in a package that could be delivered by anyone and without formal training. We held the first in Central Park, NYC in 2009, with the support of other great folks including Erin Davis and Joan Almon. It was an enormous success, and a powerful reminder that, even in ‘real’ adventure playgrounds, the hammers and nails are not the point. Children’s play is, and sharing techniques that anyone can use to create rich and permissive environments for play, and knowledgeable, non-interventionist support.

We knew this model had to be as lightweight, engaging, and welcoming as possible, both to the organizer, and members of the public. It needed to be able to meet people where they are, whether wanting to do outreach from a school or library, or dragging boxes out into their nearby park.  It was a specific answer to the US context, designed to work at the grassroots and institutional levels, to build community and momentum, and to start making changes in children’s play lives right now. Over time, delivering these events would give the organizer experience in all sorts of playwork skills: checking the site, selecting materials, staging and cleaning, supporting play, explaining the event and play's importance, faith in the process, etc. We knew, from our own work, that these events would attract other local residents of all ages passionate about play.

There were also compromises involved. No playworker should operate alone, and yet we were empowering folks without training to make themselves, and these ideas, more public while flying solo! So we emphasised the most non-threatening of loose parts, and suspected that hosting pop-up adventure playgrounds would help organizers make new friends.  To support organizers’ individual growth, and that of the larger movement, we stayed as contactable and approachable as possible and started developing the online Playworker Development Course.

Of course, people have been taking loose parts outside since… forever!  And many organizations in the UK have been hosting Play Days outside for years. These are also free and public celebrations of children’s play with loose parts and playwork staff. They’re an amazing way for programs to show what they do to a wider audience, and reach more local residents. But they don’t tend to be delivered by people who live in that community, or who are operating without the safety net of an organization and professional community.

Recently, Suzanna and I have both delivered pop-up adventure playgrounds in our own communities.  After years of doing other kinds of playwork, and years of pop-up adventure playgrounds, trust us that these things are connected but distinct. It’s not easy, to host these events and make a stand where you live, but it is rewarding in ways you could not have guessed.

The pop-up adventure playground model has picked up steam in a way we never could have imagined. Clearly it resonates with people, empowering them to get started making change! People knew it would straightaway - the first person to contact us and ask to deliver her own pop-up adventure playground was Carolina Garcia of Bellelli Educacion in Costa Rica, swiftly followed by organizers in places such as Mexico, Egypt, and Uganda. They emailed us with stories of local barriers to play, and stories of how children were resisting these. We heard about villagers coming home after war, of teams of local residents determined to reclaim their inner city park from crime. We heard fears of liability, busy schedules, risk paranoia echoed by people in almost every context, every country.

It’s these people who made events happen. They dragged materials, photocopied flyers at work, shook hands with strangers, and tore endless pieces of duct tape for the children who showed up. Play has been marginalized, misunderstood, and all of us have baggage of our own.  To plant a homemade flag for play in public space, to declare that right here, right now, things will be different - that takes passion and bravery.

In short, we think that independent organizers are just the most awesome folks around.

These people are the movement.

Pop-Ups are simple to deliver, but they’re also a lot of work. They’re based in playwork, but most people doing them aren’t playworkers yet. They’re designed to make change in your own neighborhood, but people do them in lots of other places too. It’s easy to see how things can get confusing. That’s another reason why we want to encourage people to learn about the ideas behind these events, so they can be better prepared for however their project might grow.

We usually suggest that new independent pop-up adventure playground organizers start small, in their own literal or metaphorical backyards. Starting there helps do several things - it makes it easier to choose an appropriate site and collection of materials, uses and grows existing relationships with other residents, and gives the host credibility when talking about what life can be like locally. Making change in circumstances where those things aren’t all true can involve a lot of inadvertent steamrolling, often of people who have been steamrolled plenty already. That’s one reason training can be important.

For many local organizers, visitors start clamoring immediately for more - more events, ongoing programs, summer camps, collaborations. At each of these, parents and children begin to trust one another more and connect differently.  They play harder, longer, deeper, and want the project to grow with them.  Supporting their play through this process requires more training, too.

Pop-Up Adventure Playgrounds are designed to spark conversations, build connections in the warmest and most inclusive way possible.  They’re a great way of testing the waters locally, getting practice and attracting attention to an idea.  An event or two can be delivered very effectively without training - but beyond that, you need more information, and a professional community of support.

This model is so dear to our hearts, we made it the name of our organization. So it’s been a little strange, to see this phrase become part of public and professional vocabulary in a way it simply wasn’t before. We’ve even heard it used by people in the UK! Today we have more than 300 registered independent organizers in over 30 countries, the vast majority of whom we’ll never meet. In an important sense, that’s the greatest possible compliment. It can also be a little scary.

We ask people to register their events, a process which takes 2 minutes and costs nothing. That’s so we can chat them through the process and make sure they both felt and were prepared. We give a lot of encouragement, hear their stories and reflections (posting many on our blog) and visit during tours whenever we can.  Some people host one pop-up, others dozens. Many we never spoke with again, and several have become truly great friends. Registration has never been about tracking or monitoring or credit, but about connecting with the people and welcoming them into the field, just as they will be welcoming people to the event.

Not least, we want to share useful resources on playwork!

But someone recently asked us why we were ‘demanding credit’ by independent event organizers.  This was a surprise, and we wondered if others were questioning our motivation in asking people to register.  It’s true we’ve felt some anxiety as this concept spread.  We’ve heard folks explain this model by saying “it’s so easy, you just bring out junk and kids play with it!” While that’s true, it’s definitely not the whole truth. Worse, it contributes to a worrying tendency among new Adventure Playground enthusiasts to love the site and forget the staff, to focus on the stuff rather than the people who are constantly making nuanced assessments and responses in support of children's play. ‘Proper’ Adventure Playgrounds simply don’t work without trained playwork staff, and we’ll keep repeating that forever. Similarly, even at pop-up adventure playgrounds organizers often find that, while much of the work is intuitive, vocabulary and reflective community make a vital difference.

Also, we want to learn about these new advocates bursting onto the scene.  Some raise our eyebrows by saying they “want to open an adventure playground, because I love danger!”  Others have problematic desires to work in communities they are not connected to, from a desire to “fix” local problems they don’t understand.  Both of these adulterative motivations can be unpacked through reflection.  We’ve also seen organizations take the pop-up adventure playground model, standardize it, and roll out on a massive scale. That’s why we ask that event organizers share our info, so every attendee knows they can host their own, and come to us directly for support and training.

Registration is where we ask for people to provide us with their email addresses in return for our Resource Pack - so we can directly offer them support.

The phrase ‘pop-up adventure playground’ has officially gone beyond us. To us, that’s a sign of its success thanks to the hard work and inspiration of so many people. We’ve decided it’s time to become even more transparent about what these events are, where they come from, and how to do your own. The question of how to be more useful has guided us from the beginning - that’s why we’re YOUR play association!

We want to make it as easy as possible for anyone who wants to to host their own extraordinary, responsive, etc pop-ups, and to know that we’re here to help.

Here are the 7 Principles of Pop-Up Adventure Playgrounds - helpfully beautified by our friend Maayan - which we’ve used since the very beginning and is part of the Resource Pack. Feel free to call any event that follows them a pop-up adventure playground.

We would still love it if you let us know what you’re up to, so we can help celebrate it. We are always available by email, or if you prefer, Facebook and Twitter are great platforms to reach us too. We look forward to hearing from you and your pop-up adventure playgrounds!