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!