Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Pop-Up Play Shop in Radcliffe

By Pop-Ups Zan

Sitting at a tiny desk in the middle of a swelteringly hot day in Hong Kong, I stared at an email that had just popped through. I am working in Asia, and my brain is discombobulated from many layers of bilingual conversation, so upon reading this email, I wasn't sure I was understanding what I was seeing even though all the necessary words were in there. This included dates, the word "tenancy" and "storage", and something about the council, all signed off by the words "hope this all sounds okay".

Quite honestly, it wasn't 100% clear, but then reading in between the lines, it suddenly dawned on me: David from The Met was asking me if I would take over a local empty shop for specific dates in the Summer. I'm pretty sure I stopped breathing for a second.

Working in my own community started when I received funding from the Co-op Local Community Fund at the tail end of 2017. My 2018 was a blur of pop-up adventure playgrounds, joyfully attended and supported by the local community who clearly wanted more. As the funding ran out in December 2018, I wondered what would become of all that work, all that networking, and all the connections I had made with the children of North Manchester. Would it end up just fizzling out? Would this be it?

My training and experience in the playwork field gives me a little shake every so often. "Trust in the process", it whispers as I steady myself again. A Pop-Up Play Shop isn't something brand new to us - we opened our first one in Cardiff and then wrote a toolkit. We know that working with the community from the ground up is hard - we've done it before and will keep doing it everywhere we go, even if it is difficult. We know that play is important, for the individual and the community - it says so in the Playwork Principles!

From the moment I stepped off the plane from HK, to the moment I opened the Pop-Up Play Shop doors for the first time was 9 days. During that time, I had acquired the keys, hoovered up what can only be estimated as a a few different species of spider, swept away maybe the equivalent of 100 people's worth of hair, been gifted some furniture, had the windows cleaned pro bono and moved my quirky collection of loose parts into this old hair salon. I was jet-lagged, but delighted: this is now a community space for play.

There were 4 sessions in the shop - the lease on the building was a short 2 months and due to the last minute nature of the whole venture, I could only commit to 4 dates. But what glorious 4 sessions they were!

There was a smoothie shop, a castle, a rocket, and several different robots. There was dancing, and singing, and laughing and negotiating. Babies sat in boxes, toddlers made homes in boxes, at one point an entire adult tried to get into a box and couldn't, much to the amusement of their kid. Adults told us stories about how they used to play, of how they used to freely explore materials and roam. At one point, two of the adults made their own game and were cheered on by a few of the children! Children told us stories, and took us on adventures, and served us drinks, and gave us presents, and wrote us love notes. Babies threw plastic balls at things and then collected them all back again only to throw them out once again. Teenagers also skulked in, and pretended not to play, but stayed for a lot longer than they intended to. Children weaved in and out of the space, making it their own and taking full ownership of it. This was their shop, and it filled me with delight that they thought so.

In the final session, one of the children cut a hole in a cushion and the whole shop filled with a poof of white stuffing. I smirked as the entire floor was covered in white fluff, and the children started screaming "it's snowing!". It was one of the hottest days of the year and I was tired but also really quite sad that I couldn't tell the kids when the Pop-Up Play Shop would next be opening. I quietly left all the snow in the shop and put up my "CLOSED" sign, and wondered if I would be back.

Fast forward two months to October and I have received another email. "I think we are in a position to reopen as soon as you are ready to go", says David from The Met. For the second time this year, I stopped breathing for a moment: I can't quite believe that the Pop-Up Play Shop might stand a chance of becoming a fixture in Radcliffe, providing children with opportunities to play in their own way for a little while longer. Time to fund-raise and get that hoover back out: those spiders can't take over the shop because I am back.

To find out more about Pop-Ups Zan's local projects, join the Just Play MCR facebook group. For all of our other adventures, check out the main facebook page, and if you have time, pop in to our newly revamped website on

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Reflections on Parenting and Playwork - Guest Writer

Our Playworker Development Course brings people together from all over the world to talk about playwork. Divya is from India. She joined the course in March 2019, with the intention of channelising her passion for play. We've invited her to reflect on her PDC journey so far.


By Divya Badami Rao

As a parent, my primary setting is my family, my home. My children are almost always in a state of play. They play with their heart and soul, filling the house at times with silence, at others noise, with calm, with chaos, with camaraderie, and even belligerence. Playwork has deepened the appreciation I have for the way my children play, and helped me accept the messier, nosier and even destructive forms that their play often takes. I understand that my children need the whole house to play, that it cannot be restricted to their room. I practice playwork when I play with them, and when I don’t. I practice playwork when I think through possible interventions, before I actually intervene. I practice playwork when I sometimes don’t know what to do when a situation of conflict arises. I practice playwork when I add to their possessions in a manner that intensifies and expands their universe of play. I practice playwork when I plan our vacations. I practice playwork when I think of them even when they are not actually around.

Playwork is not perfect, and nor is there such a thing as the perfect playworker, I suspect, much like there is no such thing as the perfect parent and parenting style, or teacher and teaching style. Yet, the intentional, mindful and contemplative nature of playwork paves the way for democratic, trustful and respectful parenting. New parents generally learn the value of play incrementally. Watching my first born grow from an infant to a toddler and then pre-schooler was really about watching him play, watching how it evolved, how it changed and grew in complexity. One baby later, understanding and adapting Playwork Principles to child raising led me to  what has become an important insight in the way that I understand and practice playwork: the difference between child-led and being child-friendly.

It is common to come across the term “child-friendly” as a parent. Apart from being code for minimal risk, or risk-free, it is an approach to the way education is delivered, or a term used to describe a space, such as a child-friendly hotel or playground. However,  I don’t recall having encountered the use of the term child-friendly in Playwork materials. The emphasis, instead, is on the term child-led. The distinction has struck me as crucial in acknowledging two things: one, that the child is his or her own being, not simply the extension of the people and influences on his or her life; and two, a child’s actions (read: play) has intrinsic worth to the child, which should not be questioned, judged or re-directed, except in exceptional circumstances.

Armed with the finer points of playwork wisdom being instilled within me by the Playworker Development Course, I provide my children with as much playtime as possible, encourage and support their very particular play needs and play narratives. As I allow myself to be led into their world of amusing, crazy, intelligent, imaginative, exploratory, adventurous, and risky play, I watch the wonders of play unfold their beautiful personalities and abilities with much contentment. Parenting with playwork is a pleasure.

We run regular cohorts of the Playworker Development Course - if you want to know more information about the course itself, check out the course link here. If you want to join our next cohort, email

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Four Pop-Ups in Five Days

By Zan

Quite without me realising, pop-up adventure playgrounds have becoming quite popular in my community. I am obviously delighted, but boy has it been busy! Here are some little reflections of some of those events this month:

1. Radcliffe Market 3rd May
The 4 of them did not know each other, but in that moment, they had become a team. They discussed, and stuck, and poked and assembled what they decided to be a Pop-Up Cinema, complete with screen and screen times. I was invited to a screening of Spiderman after which they decided the cinema needed air conditioning so they poked a bunch of holes into the roof of the box. And then the screenings continued.

2. Accrington Town Square 4th May 
The children of Accrington knew exactly what to do with all the loose parts at this pop-up adventure playground, even if the adults were a bit unsure. After a slow start, the site was bustling, and it was particularly interesting to have the festival going on in the background. It was funny that for the majority of the time, the children ignored the music - they were deep into their play and nothing much brought them out of their own adventures. Occasionally a catchy phrase in a song could take their attention - they would lift their heads briefly, sing along, and then dive right back into play.

3. Manchester Monastery 6th May 
There was an urgency from the children in this play space: they had limited time and wanted to do everything. So the play was intense and focused, and there were a few little meltdowns. Understandable really - the rhythmic beats that echoed through the hall gave a feeling of great excitement but almost counted down to the event's end even before it had began. The children played hard, and you could see the spark of joy in their eyes, that would hopefully keep on blazing brightly at home.

 4. Radcliffe Boys and Girls Club 7th May
"I am a box troll" he said from within the box. He poked his head out and grinned: he was so pleased with this creation. The rest of the kids in the space were busy doing their own things: there was a Girls Club, a car, an intricately made boat, and a house, a Boys Only Club, and then a dancing robot. And then a buzz of activity flattened most things until there was only a boat left. There were protective tears over the boat that meant that it's cardboard was reinforced with pure grit and determination, and then the session ended. The boat walked home.

Pop-Ups Zan has been working in her community to provide free play opportunities for children. If you are based in Manchester and would like to find out more, check in with this facebook group.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Just Play MCR - play opportunities this May

By Zan

It's been a while since I have written about my community pop-ups. The 19 Pop-Ups that we managed to host in 2018 were a real hit, so there has been a lot of anticipation for what 2019 will bring!

So as not to inundate non-Manchester folk with local play opportunities, I have set up a Facebook group called Just Play MCR by Pop-Up Adventure Play where dates of the local pop-ups, and their associated links and reminders are all posted up. There are over 40 people in this group now and if you're local to Manchester, you are welcome to join!

There are a number of events coming up in the first week of May that we thought we'd list and clarify. It's been a bit confusing even for us because all the dates are so close together, so here it is, laid out simply:

  • 3rd May 2019, 5pm-7:30pm @ Radcliffe Market as part of Friday Food Night. Come and play until the street lights come on, and then play some more! Please take note that the play location is outside unless it's raining.
  • 4th May 2019, 11am-4pm @ Amazing Accrington Live Music Festival. Okay, so it's not quite Manchester, but we are the official charity for this event and hope to draw a lot of attention to the cause. Location within the festival to be confirmed so bring outdoor clothes anyway. Check out the press release here.
  • 6th May 2019, 2pm-4pm @ The Monastery as part of Happy Sundaze. This is a paid event, but we're excited anyway as we're the official charity. Come along and join us as we play in the courtyard of this beautiful setting. Check out the interview I did with them here.
  • 7th May 2019, 6pm-8pm @ Radcliffe Boys and Girls Club. If you're local to Radcliffe and have been meaning to come to the Radcliffe Boys and Girls Club with your kids, pop on down and see us - Pop-Ups Zan is exploring a new relationship with these folks in hopes for more exciting plans to come! The Boys and Girls club is for children between the ages of 8-12 and will be indoors.
Wowee, I'm a little humbled and maybe a little overwhelmed too with all these events, but really hope that loads of children can benefit from these open-ended play opportunities! It's going to be hard work, but with some support from my family, the local community, and from the rest of the Team Pop-Ups, I know that it's going to be awesome, and so very much worth it. I'm going to be working with a growing team of volunteers to make this work for the children of Manchester and beyond - if you'd like to be part of this team, get in touch! 

We look forward to meeting you all there - #LetsPlay!

A photo from the first Pop-Up of 2019 which was held in March at Radcliffe Market Hall.

Want to hear more from us? Join us over on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. For updates specifically from Manchester, join the Just Play MCR by Pop-Up Adventure Play's Facebook group here.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Playwork Campference 2019 - "...the epitome of what playwork strives for..." - Guest Writer

In the months leading up to Campference, we often found ourselves in deep email correspondence with folks who want desperately to attend but aren't sure how. We want to help however we can, whether that's talking through dietary restrictions or childcare, providing travel info or discussing work-trade options.  By the time they arrive, nervous and excited to make their name tag (with a strip of sparkly duct tape and a Sharpie) to easy to feel like we're already friends.  

That feeling deepens through spending several days together, as we observe their experiences of making friends, meeting new ideas, and challenging themselves to grow in all sorts of ways. This reflection shows what an incredible honor this work can be. A big thank you to Katelyn Horn of Play-MO for writing this beautiful piece.


By Katelyn Horn

I was asked to write about my experience of the 2019 Playwork Campference, held this past February in Houston Texas. As with many things that involve strong emotional experiences, it is difficult for me put my little adventure last month into words. I wish I could weave a narrative that conveys the complexity of my thoughts and feelings but I don’t know how to do this in the space given. So instead, I will describe select scenes from our weekend and leave you to imagine the story of emotion that runs through.


4am Friday February 15th at a rest-stop just outside of Little Rock Arkansas, halfway between St.Louis Missouri and Houston Texas:
I lie on the floor of my minivan, curled up in a tangle of blankets, feeling the heavy warmth of my five-year-old as he sleeps pressed up against me. It’s time to get back on the road. Caleb shutters awake and wordlessly climbs back into his car seat.

2pm Friday on the grounds of the Parish School in Houston: 
I pick a spot on the farthest edge of the campsite, next to the garbage bins and closest to the outdoor electrical plug. Caleb investigates the inside of a tent that is in the process of being erected. Alan, the tent’s owner, exudes a patient amusement. The tightness in my chest releases just a little.

3pm Friday on the Adventure Playground: 
One of the playworkers approaches me, gently suggesting I give Caleb some space. I acquiesce, heading off toward the keynote session. As I approach the edges of the playground, Caleb comes running after me with a cry of anxiety.

3am Saturday in a rain soaked tent: 
Illuminated by the soft glow of my phone, I research nearby hotels to the soundtrack of Caleb’s persistent coughing, the rhythmic whir of the breast pump, and a gentle patter of raindrops on tent covers.

10am Saturday in the Parish School Library: 
Warm, salty tears slip down my face as I listen to Jill Wood’s keynote on playwork and neurodiversity. She describes the manner in which neurodiverse children can struggle to keep up with the ever changing play of their peers, and the carefully considered, minimally invasive, maximally respectful interventions playworkers can implement to level the playing field. A swell of old fears and new hopes flood through my body.

3pm Saturday on the Adventure Playground:
Ali Wood and I stand together, silently watching as Caleb climbs into the clabbered-together train engine, voluntarily joining the small crowd of children that currently occupy it. Ali’s presence is warm and curious and the air around her is easy to breathe.

9am Sunday morning in the library:
Caleb evades my grasp, prowling the maze of tables, eyeing the many breakfast pastries sitting vulnerably on their plates. He snatches a giant muffin and runs out through the double doors. My embarrassment is mollified by the victim’s response of exuberant laughter -- a laughter that still rings in my ears as the epitome of what playwork strives for: unconditional positive regard.


I justified the expense and hassle of the Campference as professional development for my aspiring role as president of a non-profit organization bringing the Pop-Up Adventure Playground model and playwork discipline to St. Louis Missouri. But really, I went as a mother searching for a people, a profession, that might help show her how to provide a truly respectful and supportive environment for her autistic son. I was not disappointed.

Photo of AP by Maggie Fuller.

To hear more about Playwork Campference 2019, check out reflective blogposts here, here and here. To be part of the next Campference, please email 

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Playwork Campference 2019 - "That's playwork" - Guest Writer

Simon Rix has been in playwork since he was seventeen, taking roles at all levels in adventure playgrounds and advocacy for children's right to play. We knew it was essential that his passion, experience and political context be represented in this young and growing playwork movement. We invited him to Playwork Campference 2019 as one of the first recipients of the Playworker Travelling Fund so that he could share his expertise.


By Simon Rix

Having been at the Playwork Campference 2017 in California, the highlight of which was not the 100 year rain storm, but the enthusiasm, solidarity and thirst for knowledge and technique that flowed from the other attendees, the flexibility of Morgan and Suzanna’s organisational skills and the willingness of facilitators to respond to appearing needs and the excellent setting of Santa Clara Valley Adventure Play

I was very excited to see that there was to be another Campference, this time in the dry weather! Playwork in the UK is currently in the doldrums… The stupidity of our government, firstly in implementing ideological austerity on the public sector; ostensibly to ‘pay for’ the banking crisis of 2008, but in reality a simple attack on public services by neo-liberal ideologues, secondly in the deliberate disruption of Brexit – both in fact measures designed to increase profit by disposing of public services, has meant a severe shrinking of the sector.

The response from UK playwork has not been one of solidarity, rather one of fratricide and the abandonment of values. In my case, that has meant redundancy from my job as a senior playworker and, despite the fact that I saved the service, which continues, no secure employment since. I looked at the flight costs… there was no way I could afford the fare. So, when Pop Up Adventure Play asked if I would be attending this one, I said that I couldn’t.

I had no idea that there could be such a thing in the Pop-Up organisation as a Playworker Travelling Fund, so I was moved to tears when I got an email offering that I could benefit from this, and so contribute to the conference!

Emails immediately flowed on what my contribution to the Campference could be, pretty soon centering on play structure building, partly as Jill at The Parish School had attended a course I ran on that in the UK several years ago. Originally, the ideas were around swings, perhaps a Tango Swing – I could bring the parts… but, even with the extraordinary support that The Parish School gives Jill and her team, children whirling seemed to be a step too far. We left the design issue fairly open…

Arriving at the Campference, what immediately struck me was the play environment that Jill and her team have been stewarding. I have worked on a number of adventure playgrounds in the UK, as a playworker, play development worker, structure builder and health and safety inspector, so I have a wide experience of sites and their ‘feel’, even when there are no children present. There are some sites where you can assess the dynamism of the children's participation and ownership and some sites where you can assess that there is none. The Parish School site speaks volumes of the former, everywhere you look there is something that somebody has made – sure, you don’t always know what it is, but that’s play - process over product. Play that is facilitated by sensitive and responsive playwork. This impression was confirmed when children came out onto the site later on.

My assessment of the Adventure Play at The Parish School site was that firstly, the team need no help at all and, secondly, that I’d like to take it home with me to show some of the stagnated adventure playgrounds here in the UK what an adventure playground actually IS.

As facilitating delegates began to arrive, and we entered the Pre-Campference discussions, I was again struck with the enthusiasm displayed. Adventure Play is about community, from the community of the adventure playground itself, through the engagement that play services have with the wider community to the community of practice we establish among ourselves. People had traveled in some cases a long way to be part of this community gathering at Campference and between them all brought a sensation of a community mobilised, at the emergent stage of a veritable movement, with all to play for – and nothing to lose.

That’s a very exciting place to be in, and a foil to the dotage expressed by a lot of playwork in my own country. It is also a testament to the work of Pop-Up Adventure Play, the thousands of miles traveled in hired cars, and the genuine contacts that have been made and nurtured on these journeys. People seemed to be enthused by and committed to the work in hand and to its reinvention on their own terms. Unlike the UK, cowed by neo-liberalism, delegates at Campference seemed well aware of the politics of the work, the politics necessary for it to grow and thrive and the responsibility on them to drive and ensure that politics is appropriate to the situation that they find themselves. Vaneigem said “let ten people meet who are resolved… rather than the long agony of survival; from this moment, despair ends and tactics begin.” This was such a meeting.

From there, my role at Campference was to be outside building a structure. Which I did gladly. I’m never happier than on the tools in the sunshine, with a free hand… The design brief was no more than the word ‘Tall’… in some ways, I was disappointed not to have been able to participate in some of the dynamic discussions happening indoors, many of which made their way outside with people who joined in the structure building.

Here's Simon, working away with Campference delegate Chenine.

The beginnings of the structure that Simon helped to construct. The children have now called "The House of Dreaming".

It’s always great to bring people into the creation, some of whom have had little experience of tool use or building, and to see them accomplish or understand maybe for the first time. I think that these skills, among others, are the authority of the playworker; if we regard authority horizontally arranged to be preferable to a hierarchical arrangement. This authority is based in the old-school use of the word, that if you want to know about such a thing, you see so-and-so, because they are an authority on it. As playworkers, it is the skills we can gather, put to work on the play site and pass on to others which is our horizontal authority stance.

It’s also a great place to mull over concepts and worries, while we complete the task in hand. True whether it’s playworkers or children… many useful discussions were had, misconceptions addressed and smiles exchanged. There was also the bits when something heavy had to be lifted, and the group came together to make it happen, with cheers and congratulations when it was successfully done. That’s playwork.

I can’t congratulate Morgan and Suzanna enough. I can’t admire Jill and her team enough. I can’t other than respect all the attendees and facilitators who made this event buzz. I so appreciated being able to attend, which was made possible by the Playworker Travelling Fund.

Playwork Campference 2019 was held on 15th-18th February on Adventure Play at The Parish School in Houston, TX - we have blogposts about it here and here too! If you want to find out more about this or want to be part of the next, email Check out our facebook / twitter / instagram for more from us! 

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Playwork Campference 2019 - A Million Thank Yous

By Zan

It's been 2 weeks since the Playwork Campference 2019 ended and I am surrounded by snotty tissues. No, I am not emotional that it is all over, this is just my compulsory post-project cold. I've got to say, this is the worst one I've had for a while so this project must have been big.

And I think it was. With 101 people joining us at this 4-day, 3-night event from 9 different countries, I think that this is one of the biggest projects I've ever had my hand in!

While I am forced to slow down, I have been reflecting on the event, and have decided to take this opportunity to say thank you, on multiple fronts:

First, I would like to thank Jill of Bayou City Play and my wonderful work wife, Morgan. These two ladies formed the tidy and presentable part of the Campference 2019 Team, and I thank them for staying strong throughout the process of organising this event, for trusting me with the paperwork unquestioningly, and for their reassuring voices of reason during moments of stress and doubt. Thanks to both of them for making this process fun, for staying true to playwork and for occasionally playworking me. I am genuinely excited about any future projects we may do together!

Next, I would like to thank The Parish School, the wonderful staff there - especially Nancy Bewley - and I want to applaud Adventure Play at The Parish School - to Wes in particular - and the lovely children of AP. Thank you for opening up your site to be our home for 4 days. Thank you for letting us roam around your home turf for a few days and for being so welcoming too. Without your grounds, we won't have been able to accommodate our campers. Without your kitchens we wouldn't have been able to feed our delegates. Without your school we wouldn't have been able to run our workshops or understand the significance of history on an adventurous play space. Thank you so much for saying "yes".

Now I would like to thank all those who volunteered their time at Campference - to our keynotes, Jill and Ali for their constant and knowledgeable presence throughout the event, and to every single one of you to presented too. Sorry about the time-keeping and technological mishaps - you are patient and kind people. Thank you for your wisdom, your stories, and your willingness to share. A big thank you to those of you who flew along with our ever changing rota of responsibilities, who washed dishes, prepared food, washed pots, wrestled vegetables into foil, tracked down lost potatoes and took part in the biggest chilli party any Campference has ever seen. Thanks too to those who hung out with the children, who helped to ensure that parents who attended the Campference were able to find time to participate, who ran, who chased, who danced, climbed, hammered, and who ended up having a water fight. Thank you for using your playwork skills during this time. Thank you for your fluidity and flexibility in the scheduling confusion, and for having the children's best interest at the forefront of this gathering. A huge thank you to those who put up and took down tents that may not even have belonged to you, for those who created the outdoor shower and for those to braved it, and for those who snapped beautiful photos for yourself and for others. Thanks for spotting the armadillo, for checking out the baby frog, and for not running away screaming when the fire alarm sounded. Thanks to the folks who mucked in at a moment's notice, who helped to locate lost kitchen items, or had to pop out unexpectedly to get emergency supplies. Thanks to those who stepped out of their comfort zone to meet a new friend, who may have been scheduled with new faces to work in a strange task, and those who we called upon for advice and gave it honestly and freely. Thanks to those who helped to clean toilets, who vacuumed endlessly, and whoever it was that kept skillfully disposing of the Unmarked Beverage Recycling. Particular mention too, to the person who helped us remove the (ahem) Disguarded Unmentionable from the middle of the campsite at the end of the Campference. You know who you are and you are awesome. You know who you all are, and you are all awesome. Thank you so much.

I know that I am rambling, but I think it is important to continue this train of thought. My brain might be fuzzy with this dreadful cold, but my heart is still full. Bear with me as I carry on:

I want to thank all 88 adults and 13 children that came to this 4-day, 3-night event. Thank you for trusting us to create a schedule (sked-du-el / shed-du-el) that would be of interest to you. Thank you for making the journey to Houston from all over the world and believing in our promises that we will take care of your needs in terms of accommodation, food and workshops. We hope that we met all those needs and that you enjoyed your time with us. Thank you for making Campference 2019 the spectacular event that it was.

Lastly and importantly, I want to give my final thank you to Playwork. This is a field that embraces the uniqueness of all, and the playfulness of everyone: a lifestyle that so many of us have chosen to identify with, and tell the world about. I want to thank playwork for being the reason that 101 people got together on a cooler-than-usual February in Houston. I want to thank playwork for being the word that we have all discovered that describes that passion for children's play advocacy, that love of children's rights, and that fire in our bellies to do something more for children, for humanity. It is in the name of playwork that we get together and talk about intricacies in practice, we discuss our barriers and successes, and we share our dramatic and hilarious stories. It is because of playwork that we will continue to work, to gather like-minded folk together, and spend far too much time on social media. No matter how much hard work it is, we are thankful that is field exists, and we are doing our part to make it grow.

Here we all are, delegates from Campference 2019 on Adventure Play at The Parish School.

Playwork Campference 2019 was a spectacular event. If you want to be part of the next Campference or want to learn more about this one, throw us an email, or get in touch using Facebook or Twitter. We're looking forward to even more amazing playwork moments. 

Friday, 1 March 2019

Playwork Campference 2019 - "...we practice ways out and in of play." - Guest Writer

We have invited our one of the first recipients of the Playworker Travelling Fund, Ana Rita to write about the journey that she took with Pop-Up Adventure Play to the Playwork Campference 2019. We haven't quite written about it yet (our reflection time is taking a little longer than expected), but we thought we'd give you Ana Rita's version of events first. Ana Rita is from Portugal and is one of the co-founders of 1,2,3 macaquinho do xinês (which roughly translates into "What time is it Mr Wolf") and is one of the students on our Playworker Development Course.


By Ana Rita Secca da Fonseca

Today I had my first playwork session after attending the Playwork Campference 2019Together with two other people, I co-founded a play provision and advocacy project based on the Playwork Principles. After three years of existence, we are now working in a primary school during lunch break recess once a week. Just before I left to the Campference, we had a hard time in one of the sessions. There was a split between three groups of children and each group occupied different corners of the playground, created dens and started a very fast dynamic of stealing things from each other. A lot of crying erupted and also complaints of aggression. I was feeling the eyes of the school staff rolling and imagining how many concessions we would have to go through in order to get the school to continue to support the project. That day I left feeling very frustrated and sad. What could I have done more or differently? I started looking for literature about this type of behavior, reviewed my Playwork Development Course materials, discussed the topic with the other playworkers, but the feeling did not wash away. Then I left to the Campference.

One of the first things that I remember hearing at the Campference was that there are no recipes in playwork practice. We have been feeling isolated here in Portugal. There is no such thing as a playworker career. We have learned it on our own terms, reading, discussing, searching for projects that could inspire us and reaching out to Pop-Adventure Playground and enrolling into the Playwork Development Course. I have been having so many questions and doubts that it always felt that we might be doing things wrongly because indeed we were unable to find a recipe. So, I smiled when I heard Morgan saying that. As the hours went by, I accumulated inside my body honest and poetic reports about the playwork practice from all the different people. The feeling that I was part of a community sank in and I felt safe and nurtured.

In one of the last sessions at the Campference, there was a though discussion on how to playwork when children behave in ways that mistreat others or that can be offensive to gender or culture –challenging behavior at its best. Stories started to unfold from one corner of the room to the other. Some people collect plant leaves, post-cards, mugs. Playworkers collect stories. These stories create inside us new possibilities of action, new pathways for play, endurance, compassion and humanity. I guess it is why it is called playwork practice. Because we practice ways out and in of play.

Here is Ana Rita performing at the Untalent Show on the second evening.

Today when I entered the play site, I felt different. Not sure what exactly it was. Then the children came in. Not long after the playframe installed itself. Many children were running around stealing things from each other. A few were crying, a few were insulting others, a few were building over and over again after several strikes. But this time I felt confident, safe, relaxed. And that was new to me, in a situation like that. It is because I have Morgan, Suzanna, Ali, Chris, Simon, Kelsey, Jill, Wes, Courtney, Alex, Naomi, Susie, Yula, Laura and all the others with me and I can get back to them and to their stories in my mind and heart or just write an email, reaching out.

I feel extremely thankful for the opportunity that was given to me through the Pop-Up Adventure Play Playworker Travelling Fund to attend the Campference. I also want to thank to Pop-Up Adventure Play (Suzanna Law and Morgan Leichter-Saxby) for connecting everybody, for nurturing the playwork movement, for creating and maintaining the Playwork Development Course and also the other support materials and for taking the herculean task of organizing the Playwork Campference, promoting cohesion within the playwork community and the transmission of knowledge.

The Playwork Campference 2019 was on 15th-18th February 2019 and was hosted in Houston, Texas at Adventure Play at The Parish School, lead by the wonderful Jill Wood. We're going to be writing more about this in the weeks to come, but for now, enjoy the photos here and here.

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Playwork Campference 2019: Reflective Letter from our Previous Keynote Speaker


Dear Campference 2019 attendees,

Why do we attend conferences?

To paraphrase the 20th Century poet, T.S. Eliot: ‘information is not knowledge and knowledge is not wisdom’. In other words, it is possible to have lots of information in your memory about a particular subject, but if you don’t know what it means then it’s worthless; and if you don’t know what to do with that information and knowledge then it’s largely useless. One of the great things about most playwork conferences is that they have the potential to provide all those things - information, knowledge and wisdom. There will be presentations offering hard facts about the world of playwork; and workshops run by experienced practitioners who can share their knowledge. To make the best use of the wisdom on offer we need to develop the art of judging the difference between those who offer wisdom and those who offer nonsense dressed up in the ‘emperor’s new clothes’.

Of course, the other great thing we get from playwork conferences is the opportunity to network, to make new friends, to meet like-minded people, to debate with those holding different views. In 2017 I attended the first Campference, where all those things were possible, and much more besides. It was organised by the Pop-Up Adventure Play people, and it involved not only the usual conference fare, but also the opportunity to camp out with the other Playworkers (and in some cases their children) at the Eureka Villa Adventure Playground in Val Verde, near Los Angeles. That must have seemed like a good idea when the organisers thought of it – after all, who wouldn’t want to camp out in sunny California? Unfortunately, on the second day, the heavens opened and we had a month’s rainfall in one day. The site was awash, but the playwork spirit came to the fore, and in the end, it felt as though the event had actually been enhanced by the incredible weather.

However, the thing that particularly struck me about the Campference was the thirst for knowledge of the attendees. People came from all over America, and in some cases far beyond. I met playwork people from Japan, Australia, Kenya, and Guatemala. They came with enthusiasm and positivity, and above all an intense desire to learn more about playwork. At the end of one of the evening sessions, I was one of the Panelists who were given the task of summing up the playwork approach in a few words. I think the questioner probably expected me to fall back on my usual ‘fun, freedom and flexibility’, but I had just been talking about the therapeutic aspects of playwork, and so I said “unconditional positive regard”.

Fraser on stage with Erin, Luke and Michele, the panelists at Campference 2017.

In this response, I was drawing on the work of the humanistic psychologist, Carl Rogers and the play therapist, Virginia Axline. Humanistic theory would see the playwork environment as characterised by respect, understanding and openness on the part of the playworker – an environment where the child is free to express their feelings completely. In such an environment the role of the playworker is that of a selfless helper, whose task is to satisfy the child’s fundamental need to play, while at the same time developing warm human relationships. All this may eventually enable the child to come closer to self-actualisation than might otherwise be possible. ‘Unconditional positive regard’ is the term that applies to the fundamental attitude of the playworker towards the children. The playworker who adopts that approach deeply values the humanity of the children with whom they work, and most importantly, cannot be deflected from that attitude by any particular child behaviours. The attitude is constantly reconfirmed by the playworker’s “acceptance of and enduring warmth towards the children” (Mearns and Thorne,  1988, p.59 – slightly paraphrased).

I hope this year’s Campference lives up to expectations, and that all those attending maintain ‘acceptance of and enduring warmth towards each other’ – in the spirit of playwork.

Prof. Fraser Brown
Leeds Beckett University
January 2019


Monday, 7 January 2019

Playwork Campference 2019: Introducing Jill Wood

By Zan

In preparation for the first Playwork Campference in 2017, we interviewed US-based playworker and Director of Adventure Play at The Parish School, Jill Wood who we had invited to the event as a special guest. She was such a hit at the Campference that Morgan and I felt strongly that she should play a much bigger part in the next event. One year later, Jill, Morgan and I had a Skype meeting that ended with happy and warm hearts: not only would Jill be one of our keynotes, but we would be taking the Campference to her in Texas. Here's a short interview with Jill as we prepare for the Playwork Campference 2019.

Pop-Up Adventure Play: What were your favorite moments of last Campference?
Jill Wood: I met person after person who was creative, open-minded, generous and highly motivated to improve the quality of children’s lives. Reimagining things requires community and support. It requires shared experiences and resources, stories of success, and honest conversation about challenges.

I went home to Texas smelling of campfire, soggy from the rains, and reinvigorated to keep our Houston playground as adventurous as possible.

PUAP: How do you feel about Campference coming to yours?
JW: I am ridiculously excited! It is such an honor to have play people from all over the world gathering on our playground. I would be nervous, except that I know the children have created something beautiful in AP. It’s a space that deserves be shared and will make a great place to conference.

PUAP: What are your hopes for Campference 2019?
JW: A few years back the kids on our playground started digging a huge hole they called ‘the Mine.’ They would dig until they found a chunk of clay, put it on a window screen, spray it with a hose until it was palm-sized, then run around with fists held tight around it. One kid told another, ‘you throw it against the wall and if it sticks, it gives you super speed.’ I heard another say it gives you multiple lives, so when you get shot you can jump back up again. Someone else said it makes your brain icky to zombies.

I hope people leave with immortality, lightning speed, and brains that taste like poop to zombies. I also hope they leave knowing there are 80 other people around the world who believe childhood is precious, will fight to protect it and would be happy to Skype for a reflective pep-talk!

Registration for Campference will close on 15th January 2019 but there is still time to sneak you in! Check out the information here and get in touch today if you want to come! Follow our Facebook and Twitter for more! 

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Hello 2019

By Zan

The coming year promises to be filled with adventure.

Right off the bat, we are excited to be just over a month away from the second ever Playwork Campference, a gathering of over 70 play advocates from 6 different countries in one of our favourite adventure playgrounds: Adventure Play at The Parish School. Morgan and I will get to hang out in person for the first time since October 2017, and will also be popping in to the TASP/IPA conference in Virginia in March.

I'm have been invited back to Asia too! I'll be doing some training with the folks of Playright - Hong Kong's Play Association, and will be traveling on to Malaysia to hang out with Queenie Tan and her team. I can't quite believe that I will be going back to a world where everyone looks like me - I feel both privileged and alarmed, but as long as I prioritise the needs of the child at all times, I know that I can overcome my own adult fears.

In between these trips, I also hope to continue developing Just Play MCR - play opportunities in my own community. It was a spectacular 2018, so I hope to fit in more pop-ups in 2019 and gather playful folk from all over Manchester in the name of play.

These are the physical adventures Morgan and I will go on - there might be a few more (and we are always open to more) but so far this is what we have in the books.

Adventure is certainly in the mind for us too as Morgan and I battle to finish our PhDs. It seems like just yesterday that I agreed to dedicate 6 years of my life to a specific area in play and then promised to write about it, but 6 years later, I have still not finished and have had to put it on pause twice. Hopefully this is the year that I will be done, I will be able to celebrate with Morgan as we put this writing monster to bed.

Having typed all of these plans out, I am excited about the next 12 months. It's going to be a lot of hard work - especially the PhD - but I know that it'll be worth it in the end. Much like trying to put outdoor gear on a toddler before going outside - there will be tears, tantrums, lots of random excuses and procrastination, and probably even a rogue dragon invasion, but once it's done and we start playing, it will feel amazing.

Hello 2019 - we look forward to meeting you head on.

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