Monday, 29 April 2013

play = comfort

By Anna

My family and I live just outside of Boston and, as usual, my husband and I took our daughters Alex (7) and Eliza (3) to cheer for the marathon runners at mile 24. We went home at 2:00 p.m. for a much-needed nap and, lucky for all of us, both girls were resting safely in their beds when the bombs exploded less than an hour later and the city was changed forever.

Four days later, on one of the first gorgeous days of spring, most of the city was in lockdown, as authorities searched for the second suspect and we were urged to stay at home. We stayed inside most of the day, but finally ventured just outside to our small, fenced-in patio. The girls ran their fingers through the new “spring sand”, which we’d recently poured into the sand table after a very long winter. They mixed concoctions merging mounds of sand with earth and dried rhododendron leaves in old Tupperware containers that no longer had matching lids.

In that moment, I knew that one of my critical responsibilities as Mom was to shield my girls as much as possible from the tragedy unfolding all around us, from the terror evolving less than five miles away. The best thing I could do was continue our own version of “normal”. So, against the soundtrack of constant sirens and in the midst of my own uncertainty and fear, we played.

Eliza brought me ice cream cones made of earth and Alex offered me the chance to mix my own milkshake. As I ran my fingers through the sand and felt the cool grains sliding under and over my hands like liquid, I was suddenly my 6-year-old self. I was anxious about something with that sick feeling in my stomach - perhaps the realization that most of my life was out of my control. I was standing barefoot on mossy earth in the shaded space between a wooden shed and my backyard fence. I crouched down and picked up smooth rocks one at a time, collecting them into a pile and sticking twigs into the gaps in my mountain. Gradually, without my full realization, the uneasy feeling left my stomach, the butterflies slowed their panicked flurry, and I was free.

Then, Alex began shrieking with delight and I was back on our patio, a mom with two young girls of my own. These girls were now sitting in their underpants in the sand table. They filled the space completely, laughing, making faces, and pouring sand all over each other at their own tiny beach.

I laughed too, for the first time in what felt like weeks, and wished the table was big enough for me. On that day, one of the most terrifying days of my life, and numerous times since, Alex and Eliza have reminded me that play is often the best solace we can offer and the most comforting gift we can receive.

play = comfort

Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Shop of Possibilities

By Zan

The blog for the Shop of Possibilities has been one of my favourite blogs ever since I found it about a year ago. The updates aren't regular, but the photos are always fascinating, and gives a little glimpse into the life of a possible world. So imagine now how very excited I was that a visit to South London Gallery for a play symposium involved going to visit the Shop of Possibilities!

Here are a few images from the shop:

Curiosity really does help in play!

This tape has provided much fun and before we visitors knew it, we were surrounded by it!

I bet this sign is out all the time, but everyone already knows when it's open, and that the space is theirs.

Look at all those symposium adults in one small space.

That's right, you can hammer in the Shop of Possibilities. Or screw stuff to stuff.  As well as lots of other things!

I was really interested to see the room in the back. It's less open, and less active. Almost like a secret space for those moments in play where you need that quiet moment.
Children have been here.

Look how busy it was!

Tape tape everywhere.

So colourful, and so immersed.

This is a space in the heart of a community. Ran by South London Gallery and staffed by playworkers, children have taken this space as their own and are able to decide what happens, in what way, and for whatever reason they want. That folks, is the definition of the play process in the eyes of a playworker: "freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated" (Playwork Principles). To have that observed in an otherwise unused shop space as a sustainable project is wonderful. From our experiences in our own Pop-Up Play Shop, we know how difficult it can be to do, but also how rewarding the whole process is.

I'm very excited to see how the Shop of Possibilities develops in the future, and very much look forward to working with them in the future.

To find out more about Zan's adventures, please visit her blog. For more information about Pop-Up Adventure Play, please visit our website or like us on facebook.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Playing Around the World

By Morgan

It's been a few weeks travelling for me, going around the world to help local groups advocate for children's play. 

First up was Il Foro de Desarrollo Infantil, or for my fellow English-speakers the Child Development Forum, in Bogota.    

Apart from the interviews with TV, print and radio, it was wonderful to have the chance to talk also with some of the incredibly dedicated and enthusiastic front-line professionals who came to the Forum.  Many of them combine different agendas - such as mixing play support with food banks, or supporting whole families in crisis.

After that, it was time to come home and repack before heading out to Cairo, where the Canadian International School of Egypt was hosting Egypt's first Pop-Up Adventure Playground!  This was organized locally by the amazing Lola Bradford, who brought together a team of incredibly dedicated teachers - and got us all custom uniforms! 

After the day's play, we gathered up the houses that had survived to bring them to an exhibition space in the school's lobby.  For the last children, it left a beautifully strange "children's city" of cardboard and paint.

I feel even luckier than usual to be part of Pop-Up Adventure Play, to have the chance for all this fun travel and to meet people all over the world who care about children's play.  Everywhere I went people talked about fear of public space, the rigors of academic over-scheduling, the collapse of social networks as people increasingly relocate for work.  While so much is different in every community, it seems that we share so many problems internationally. 

Play is a universal instinct, it's central to our humanity and essential to our happiness.  When we come together in support of children's play, whether locally or across huge distances, we feel less alone, we are inspired by the new friends we meet and the ideas they share with us. 

All of this contributes to my next exciting news, that we are proud to launch our very first online training opportunity, called the Playworker Development Course!  We've designed it for people of all backgrounds who are interested in supporting children's play, and over the course of 12 modules it addresses such key issues as:
          - improving any environment for play
          - essential theory and practice
          - risk/benefit assessments
          - developing communities around play

Of course, there's much more to it than that!  Every student gets key readings and assignments, and access to a private online discussion forum.  Students can sign up independently, or be part of a group.  All of our course tutors are experienced, trained UK playworkers, dedicated to inspiring and supporting playworkers in settings all over the world. 

If you're interested in learning more about the course, email us and we will send you more info! 

Monday, 8 April 2013

A Week in the Life of a Pop-Up Person

By Zan

The last 7 days have been a bit busy, but in a really good way. I thought it might be nice to share some of the stuff we get up to on a day to day basis at Pop-Up Adventure Play as well as share some photos from my exciting week.

In the UK it was a Bank Holiday, and for me that usually means busy busy busy. I spent the preparing for the rest of the week which meant organising the garage full of cardboard boxes that I had collected together for the 3-day Pop-Up that we had organised in my local community. It was a lot of boxes, and to avoid an early morning panic the next day, I loaded up the car the night before so that I was ready to go the next day.

I like to organise the stuff in easy to carry boxes just so I know what I have before the session begins. It never looks like this after the session!

I also spent the day organising my paperwork for the week. We at Pop-Up Adventure Play know how important it is for children to get our undivided attention during any given session, but as a result, we are always super tired afterwards. To make sure I didn't neglect anything important, or forget to do anything on a time limit, I did it all on Monday so I wouldn't need to think about for the rest of the week. And also handed any remaining responsibilities over to another member of staff in case anything came up. And then I was ready!

I woke up nice and early to gather my remaining tools for the session. Couple of pairs of scissors, lots of tape, string, and risk assessments. I never go anywhere without them!

On arrival at the location, I signed in then unloaded the car. This always takes a while on the first day of any location but it's always worth it. There was a huge variety of boxes of different sizes and shapes. Providing this variety means that children have more choice and therefore have more scope for play - the basics of the Loose Parts Theory!

It was a quiet session. Only 4 children playing in intense short bursts punctuated with "Suzannnaaaaa" throughout the 4 hour session. It was wonderful to see, and exciting to be part of, such creative play. The highlight was watching a little boy play out his weekend watching his Dad fixing the roof at home.

"This is the chimney"

I was incredibly tired when I woke up on Wednesday. It hadn't occurred to me how hard I had played the day before, and how unfit I was. The combination of this gave me creaky bones in the morning and I turned up to the session like a walking, talking Zombie. I always find this happens though. Consecutive days of play usually makes the playworker super tired but that's okay. As long as the children are benefiting the most!

Today's session had a few more children. I had also accidentally poached some children from the activity next door (4 hours of cooking with under 2s... not sure why they hadn't thought ahead for that one) who came to me covered in flour but with amazing cheeky grins.

There was much more exploration and today than creation, which I am always very excited to see. What will happen when I throw these all over the floor? If I do it again will it do the same thing? If I poke this person with my makeshift sword will he fight back? Will I win if I try again? The children skipped through playtypes quicker than I could name them in my brain, but for good reason - they were doing things their way, and not for my benefit, and that makes me happy!

"What will happen if I take possession of a house that someone else has spent 2 days building?"

It's tidy up day! But not before 20 children of all ages, races and sizes piled into my Pop-Up Adventure Playground. They had so much fun doing so many awesome and playful things. Houses were the most popular thing to make and they took to it with such gusto, energy and urgency. The adults piled in to help too, which is always encouraging, and I spend a few minutes talking to the adults about the real need for play, and how best to leave the children to their own business. Everyone seemed to really enjoy it and have a wonderful time.

The session is a-buzz with activity. It's awesome!

Usually at a session, I ask parents just to leave the tidying up to me, but this time they all mucked in and wouldn't take no for an answer. By the time everyone had left, I didn't have much to pack away. Just a whole load of recycling to transport to the giant bins at the back of the school, and a quick sweep of the floor. Tidy up day didn't end up being too laborious, and I wasn't too tired when I got home. Hoorah!

Unsurprisingly, it took me a long time to get going when I woke up. Luckily, I didn't have to be anywhere, and spent the day on paperwork and meetings. Oh yes, playworkers have paperwork too, and when you're running a charity too, it takes up a lot of time, and patience. It's all good though, lots of good conversations and connections made so that's nice. A marked contrast to 3 days of play, but it's all part of a playworker's responsibility for play advocacy.

Day off. HOORAH!

A visit to Plas Madoc Adventure Playground. There were three main reasons for going over to Wrexham for a few hours: 1) to see Pop-Ups friend Erin who's come over from the US to do some filming for a play documentary (absolutely amazing stuff), 2) to see my friend Claire to runs the adventure playground, and 3) to remind myself what all this work is for, and why playwork is so important, and embrace the career I have chosen in an environment for play that is simply choc-a-block full of possibility.

"The Land" aka Plas Madoc Adventure Playground. I think this one of my most favourite places in the world right now.

And so ends my slight-extraordinary-and-not-too-typical week at Pop-Up Adventure Play. Every one of our weeks is a little bit different, and I hope to be able to tell you more about our work as time goes on. Hope you've enjoyed the little insight into my world, and the wonderful adventures of Pop-Up Adventure Play.

To read more about Zan's adventures in play, please visit her blog. To find out more about Pop-Up Adventure Play, please visit our website and like our facebook page.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

play = conflict

By Anna

There is a monster in my house. She is 3 ½ years old and her name is Eliza.

When she scrunches up her eyes, nose, and mouth into the center of her face and growls, all other ferocious beasts beware. She is the toughest of the tough, until she laughs out loud and falls down on the floor.

Last Friday, I was with my small monster and my older daughter Alex (7) at a playground near our favorite bakery. I was on the top of a play structure with both girls, and I’d been assigned the role of “monster who eats people”. Thus, I was the worst of the monsters. As I ate people (a.k.a. a delicious chocolate breakfast treat from the bakery), sipped coffee, and enjoyed the warmth of early spring, some children climbed the large wooden stairs towards us.

Eliza walked to the top of the stairs and looked down with her best monster face, blocking the way. I paused for less than three seconds to see what would evolve. But, a voice from below instantly yelled, “Hey! Can you move out of the way? My child is trying to get up there, too. This park is for everybody.”

I turned to see a woman standing below us. “It’s okay,” I smiled, “I’m her mom. I have this. We are being monsters today. It’s going to be okay.” I turned back to the stairs to find that Eliza had already moved quietly to the side. The woman, who I later learned was at the park with six toddlers from her home daycare, was still trying to argue. “It won’t be okay if he backs up on those stairs and falls.”

I’ve spent the last seventeen years in the field of early childhood education and the last nine years specifically researching play. I fully understood how much this woman had singlehandedly (in one self-centered moment from fifteen feet away) stolen from the young boy whom she was trying to protect, and from Eliza (the monster). Later, I sat next to the woman on a bench and rehearsed how I would explain to her the importance of respecting children, of giving them space to work out their own conflicts and to create conflicts in the first place. I would say that I’m about to complete a doctoral degree; that I know about play and learning, and that children need and often enjoy conflict in the safe space of play. They create challenges themselves, dive into their own dramas, and just as easily banish obstacles from their latest narratives.

But, I didn’t have to say any of this. Andrew (the 18-month-old whom Eliza had blocked at the top of the stairs) spent the entire forty-five minutes we were at the park following Eliza everywhere she went. He never let his newly found monster out of his sight. He pointed at her, grinned, and said, “No” before toddling away and looking back hopefully.

play = conflict