Monday, 28 December 2015

A 60,000 Mile Year

By Zan

Our 2015 was a big Pop-Up year. Even before the year draws to a close, the action doesn't stop! I am sitting at my desk having just recovered from a 36-hour power outage as a result of local floods. That alone seems to set the tone for our year of adventure! What else happened again? Oh yes...

We published a book - Our adventures from 2014 yielded us a book - The New Adventure Playground Movement: How Communities across the USA are Returning Risk and Freedom to Childhood - to be exact! We are really proud to have put this out still can't quite believe it has happened. Grab yourself a copy of it from us directly if you'd like one that's signed!

We went to Australia - (23,000 miles) For the first time ever, Morgan and I set foot in Australia and were greeted by the wonderful team at Malarkey. It was a great multi-stop adventure were we saw seemingly mythical creatures (kangaroos) and met play advocates who were keen to instill the importance of play in this giant hot country. It was an amazing journey in a beautiful country - we were so excited to be invited back again!

We went around the world -  (37,000 miles) We didn't think it would be possible, but 6 countries on and 37,000miles later, we have traversed the earth in a big loopy loop. Our adventures took us from the UK to USA, Costa Rica, Australia, Singapore and China before going back to the UK. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, done in two months - a feat which is normally pretty difficult for even the most savvy traveler. We can't believe that we took 16 flights, none of which were delayed and all of which flew us directly into the hands of wonderful hosts with passion for play. This was an amazing journey. Absolutely amazing.

Our Playworker Development Course continues to grow - Our course now has 150 students, and we have recruited some new tutors to help with the workload. We continue to evolve the course based on the needs of the students and are getting great feedback.

We worked locally - I was able to do some small pieces of work locally with a workshop and training in Blackpool and in Bradford. Though they were not big events, they kept me grounded, and reminded me of how important it is to always put theory into practice.

We made loads of new friends - So many new people have signed up to be Pop-Up Adventure Playground independent organisers. There are loads of guest blogposts available for you to read here and if you want to host your own, here's why you should register!

We were written about a few times - Some of the key pieces that other people wrote includes a piece on Atlas Obscura about playwork and adventure playgrounds, one by Bernie DeKoven about our book, and a niece mention in this NPR article. Mr Playgroundology wrote a nice piece about us too!

We were published a few times too - Morgan wrote a piece for the Community Design Collaborative and Team Pop-Ups was published in Play and Playgrounds Magazine, Winter 2015 edition! There's more of these to come soon!

So there you have it - that was our Pop-Up year. We have met and talked to so many people from all over the world and are excited to see the start of something awesome happening in play on a global scale. Thank you all for your continued support for our little organisation. We wouldn't be able to do any of this without you - keep on fighting the good fight for play!

To read more from Pop-Ups Zan, please visit her personal blog. For more information about our work, please visit

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Pop-Ups On Tour 2015: Guest Writer at our Hong Kong Stop

By Louise Bensen

When Pop-Ups friend Louise found out that we were going to Hong Kong as part of our #PopUpsWorldTour2015, she got in touch immediately to ask us where we would be. She came to have lunch with us before our Saturday Pop-Up and stuck around to see all the action. Here is a lovely piece that she's kindly guest written for us.

I had the pleasure of attending the Pop-Up Adventure Playground event in Hong Kong during the World Tour. I am a School Psychologist who suddenly and unexpectedly had the opportunity to teach English in Mainland China for a few years. In the spirit of adventure play, I said, “Why not.”

The Pop-Up event was a delight and a success. As the kids began to trickle in they tentatively explored and initially used the materials to recreate familiar games of turn taking and competition – how I see kids in China play most often. They took turns throwing lids in a box, set up a game (I think parent initiated) of bowling with bottles and cans, and tried re-creating other well-known games. But as the freedom of the place, the skill of Suzanna and Morgan, and the relaxation of parents took hold, their play became more creative, exploratory, and cooperative. The competitive games waned and materials were continually being transformed from one thing to another.

It was a perfect venue for observing the developmental differences of play (take note teachers of child development!). The toddlers explored materials and the phenomenon of in, out, putting together and taking apart. They also watched the older kids intently, and then tried to mimic what they saw. Preschooler play incorporated more pretend – the box that became a vehicle, pretend food and cooking – but also included coloring on surfaces they have never before colored on like a big mattress, pieces of Styrofoam, boxes, and the ground. The school age kids organized each other into more focused pretend play such as kitchen/restaurant, and created new games of turn taking and competition with the materials.

The parents and other adults (aunts and uncles) were also a joy to watch. It was like someone unlocked a long dormant child within. Many got better at watching the cues from their kids (and Suzanna and Morgan) and found unobtrusive ways to support the play. My favorites were the adults that got so involved in their own creations they seemed to forget that anyone else was around.

Then there were the skills of Morgan and Suzanna. They gave just the right set up task to adults who weren’t quite sure what this “adventure play stuff” was all about. By the time the kids arrived, those adults were already hooked. Suzanna and Morgan skillfully redirected aggressive play, expanded the play of younger kids, and modeled to adults.

The whole event remained busy and flowing with activity. No tears until the end and clean up had started. It confirmed to me yet again what we know about kids and play: 1. All kids play no matter where they are from, 2.  There are developmental stages to play, 3. Given the opportunity kids find creative, cooperative and intricate ways to play, 4. Kids learn best by doing, exploring and experimenting, 5. It is difficult for parents to back off from “teaching” mode, but they can.

Well-done Pop-Up Adventure Play ladies!!!

To read more about our adventure around the world, please visit our special tour page. To see more up-to-date information about our day to day adventures, join us on our facebook page. To be part of our next big adventure, please email

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Pop-Ups On Tour 2015 - Highlights from our Adventures

By Zan

Since arriving back in the UK, things have been go go go. Morgan and I are both working towards a PhD in Playwork, but sadly being on the road does not often lend itself to the most ideal study environment. So we've been studying hard in the last couple of weeks, and whenever we have had a few moments of free time, we have reflected on our adventure around the world.

Highlights are plentiful, from meeting friends in person for the first time, to being reunited with friends we haven't seen for a long while. In my travel journal, there is a vast collection phrases and moments that capture playful moments for us as we traveled literally around the world. I have entitled these "Amazing Moments" which include: the epic pool noodle battle, when the tug-of-war rope snapped, the red fabric swing, the purple tree swing, when the tyres kept on rolling, when the small boys all ganged up on the big boy, dressing as a robot to avoid wearing sunscreen, the big tarp parachute.... the list goes on! There are so many amazing moments of play that we have encountered on our journey, and we are grateful to have been part of every single moment.

We are so thankful to have been able to go on this trip. Morgan and I would have never dreamt of doing this, and it wouldn't have been possible without our amazing hosts from all 6 countries that we visited - thank you so much! We have learned so much from every community that invited us in, and hope that their play advocacy will continue to thrive. There are so many more reflections and stories to share so look out for more from us soon!

In celebration of a fantastic tour, here is a video created by us featuring the Pop-Ups Sound too. Yes, we had a lot of fun making this video - we hope you enjoy it too!

For more from Pop-Ups Zan, please visit her personal blog. To read more about our adventures as part of #PopUpsWorldTour2015 please visit our special tour page. To see more regular updates from us, please join us on Facebook

Friday, 4 December 2015

Pop-Ups On Tour 2015: The End of The World Tour

By Morgan

We are standing in a circle, facing a fire in the perishing cold. My face is hot and dry while sleet seeps through ill-considered jeans and trickles into my shoes. On a hill, with a steel slide to one side and a view of brick houses and a huge, grey sky. With a belly full of tea and the smell of smoke clinging to my hair and clothes, I can only be at a UK adventure playground. After years away, a trip around the world, it felt a little like coming home.

Suzanna and I had been surprised, a couple of months before, when Yanina of Pitsmoor Adventure Playground got in touch with us. The work of Pop-Up Adventure Play is to bring playwork information and support to places left out in the cold - but the UK is where playwork was born! Surely, we said, there was someone more local to call?  But no, she said.  Local cuts had been deep and they were struggling with the same issues we heard all over - troubles in the neighborhood, fears over funding, isolation from other play advocates. In short, a kind of loneliness.

Yes, we said. We would be happy to come. We would be honored to finish the world tour here in the UK, where it all began. Great! They replied. We’ll call it the End of the World Tour, and we laughed at the apocalyptic sound. A good adventure playground, after all, isn’t only made of tea and bonfires, but also a certain bleak sense of humour.

Pitsmoor Adventure Playground is rebuilding itself, gathering up old contacts and new friends to establish a site under its own management. They’ve opened a play association. They’re considering a scrap store. They’re simultaneously putting down strong local roots, and stretching out as far as they can. Suzanna’s visited before but even in the one day I spent there it was obvious how beloved this site is - a sense of love permeates every bump of its hilly landscape.

To most British people our World Tour itinerary sounded faintly hilarious: Ithaca, NY! Costa Rica! Australia! Singapore! Hong Kong! Sheffield! But to playwork students around the world it sounded both appropriate and amazing.  They were impressed that we’d be finishing up at a real adventure playground. This is the kind of site that playworkers in other countries look to for information, inspiration. It’s the kind of site that had been neglected by its home country for far too long.

We did a presentation in the morning and stuck around for lunch and play time afterwards. It wasn’t our usual overview of basic principles and practices. They’d asked specifically to hear more about what was happening in the rest of the world, to have the widest possible context for their own practice.

So we showed pictures and told stories.  Playworkers are always telling stories, swapping new ideas and helping each other remember what’s been forgotten.  There’s a moment of humility there, of opening arms and saying “this is what I have seen.  What have you seen?  What can we learn about all of this together?”  It was an afternoon of playworker community, and felt like an exchange - our small way of saying ‘thank you’ for all we’d learned and taken with us on our travels.

To read more from Pop-Ups Morgan, visit her personal blog. To see more photos and stories from our adventures, please visit our facebook page, or follow #PopUpsWorldTour2015.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Pop-Ups On Tour 2015 - Hong Kong

By Zan

Reaching the 6th country on this epic world tour felt a little bit like going home. I had somehow forgotten that simply going to "see my family" in Hong Kong also meant that 8 people would come and pick us up at the airport, and that tiny cousins would invite themselves into our room to chat incoherently but enthusiastically about their day. This was play infiltration at it's core: working your way into community so seamlessly that it takes people a few moments to realise that you are visitors invited into a space. Clearly, I had traveled halfway round the world to come home.

And such plans we had for my HK home! After a few days of rest and tourism, we had two consecutive days of Pop-Ups! One of them was right in the heart of the village, on the road, in between rows of residential homes. With the help of my extended family, we set up an abundant Pop-Up Adventure Playground which saw around 80 folks come through. Here are some pics:

My cousins made an archway to draw attention to our event.

Somebody donated a mattress, and the children really enjoyed hanging out on it.

The maids were the real stars of the show - they really enjoyed constructing houses to start the play and then gracefully stepped back as the children joined in. They were amazing.

The grand finale happened when we brought out a giant tarpaulin and everyone joined in with the waving, rustling and bouncing of things.

We were also really pleased to be able to connect with Louise and Lily who had been working in mainland China and came to visit us in Hong Kong for the day. They were able to connect with Playright who also popped by for a visit and we all talked excitedly about play in Hong Kong - such passionate people here! Interest in play is growing in HK and we were excited to hear about it!

On the second day, we popped up at my family's church. The congregation had collected a load of loose parts together for us and it was amazing to find an old rice cooker, some old fashioned mop heads and novelty Christmas baubles donated to play. The play was explosive, and almost deafening at points inside the church hall, but it soon leveled out into some pretty intensive play. Here are some photos:

This was a train.

This parent invented a game with his kid - it involved rock paper scissors then the bottle caps moved. They really got into it and when the winner was declared they cheered!

Some inventive bowling was happening here.

This is my favourite memory. This little boy pulled the most expressive faces as an impromptu drum circle formed. The louder people played, the more excited his face would become! This happened for roughly 20 minutes before he decided finally that he wanted to make some noise too.

As I watched my little cousins do their homework at 10pm the night before I left, I really hoped that the Pop-Up Adventure Playgrounds would be the start of something great in Hong Kong. I really hope that parents would see this inexpensive way to play and allow for children to do the same in their own homes. I really hope that everyone would see the benefits of play and stop over-scheduling children, and expecting their little selves to grow up so quickly. I really hope that we will be able to once again visit Hong Kong and hear more about how interest in play is growing, and see my little cousins have the chance to enjoy being children.

To read more from Pop-Ups Zan visit her personal blog. To follow our adventures around the world, please visit our facebook page or follow #PopUpsWorldTour2015

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Pop-Ups On Tour 2015: Singapore

By Morgan

Time on the road goes faster than in other places, and our stories are running a little bit behind, but here they are for you now.

We were in Singapore for only 6 days, delivering one full-day workshop and 4 pop-ups. The first 3 were in partnership with Playeum, and the last with South Central Community Centre, all arranged skillfully by our Singaporean friend, Sirene with help from Days of Play's Louise.

Playeum is a newly opened children’s museum in the converted Gillam Barracks, a quiet area with trees and art galleries. Inside, children can send their lego vehicles hurtling down a ramp, explore changing art exhibits and build imaginative constructions in a maker space. We were stationed out front, with a selection of loose parts and all set to play with the school groups scheduled to visit. It was a younger crowd than we usually see, but they played just the same. Suzanna welcomed the groups as they arrived, kneeling down to tell the children that they were free to play here and then looking up sternly to remind the adults to take a step back.

We set out cardboard boxes with lengths of fabric to suggest forts, which the children then totally ignored. It happens! Instead, the children blew puffs of air down a hosepipe. They heaved tires into the air and giggled as they rolled away. By far the most popular things were a red plastic chain that rattled and writhed on the ground, and an improvised water play area.

There, the children dipped small buckets and splashed their hands. It was refreshing on that hot, sticky day. We’d also brought empty containers from those fancy coffee machines, and one child came up and asked “is this a tiny bucket?” We nodded and he ran back to the others. Using the same ‘tiny buckets’, two small girls had a miniature water fight, taking turns to pour teaspoons of water onto each other’s perfect pigtails. In a perfect semi-circle of observation and photography, the adults watched and laughed.

There’s something amazing about working for children in such a young country. During the full day workshop we met some passionate educators, curious to learn more about play. As always, we incorporated time for them to play as well. Pretty soon, one woman was swathed in gauzy layers, sitting cross-legged and making predictions as her giggling friends brought offering dishes of cotton balls and bottle caps. Looking past them and through the window, I saw a tire roll downhill and a few moments later three teachers go racing after it. Others gathered armfuls of cardboard and laid it down a slope behind the building, taking turns to slide down.

Afterwards, in groups and privately to us in pairs, they shared how powerful this experience had been. Some played like this as children, but others never had. It felt beautiful, said one. It felt free.

Our last session was at the South Central Community Centre, where we saw some of the workshop participants in their professional setting. They were so proud to show off their gorgeous facilities, and we were so impressed by what we saw! As a token of our appreciation, we had bought some lengths of fabric to hang as swings. The same red plastic chain proved popular again, but this time for teenagers eager to test their high jumping skills!

Those few days in Singapore showed us a country poised to learn more about play, and ready to help children get the chances they need for self-directed fun every day. It’s clear that they have a battle ahead, as there are extraordinary academic pressures on children and limits on outdoor space. Some of the individuals we met are also facing up to their own unmet needs, but finding the process of supporting play incredibly and immediately rewarding. Helping them get started was incredibly moving, as one participant took us to the side afterwards and said “thank you for bringing joy to our community”.

To read more from Morgan, please visit her personal blog. To follow us on their journey around the world, please visit our Facebook page or follow #PopUpsWorldTour2015.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Pop-Ups On Tour 2015 - Playworkers Gotta Play

By Zan

At every workshop, we ask participants a question that almost always stumps them: how do you play? There's always an awkward pause. No one makes eye contact and the whole room seems to think. Is it really that difficult to answer that question?

To us, it seems logical, almost crucial to the role of a play advocate to take some time out and experience play. Without that experience, you aren't able to fully appreciate the essence of play. Without full immersion once in a while you won't be able to fully understand the importance of play for children.

So at every workshop, we encourage the adults to play by giving them an opportunity to take part in a mini Pop-Up Adventure Playground. In Australia, just as it has been for all the other locations we have been to, the adults have responded really well to being given a tiny window to do whatever they want - Morgan wrote a little about it last time we blogged. Here are a couple of other images from workshops we've done in Australia:

This was a workshop in Orange, NSW, Australia

This was taken at our workshop in Perth, WA, Australia

The need to play is present in every single one of us. Some of us might need larger doses of it than others - children most of all need heaps of it. But we forget how important it is sometimes. Sometimes we are too busy being grown ups and raising grown ups to remember that we need play, and our child needs play. So remind ourselves why we need make play a priority by going out to play!

Here at Pop-Up Adventure Play, we would like to encourage everyone to play every day. Even while we are busy on our World Tour, we have managed to fit in some moments of play, after all, we playworkers still have to play! Here are some of photos from the past few weeks to inspire you:

We visited a Botanical Garden (USA)

We made friends with the locals (Costa Rica)

We explored new and exciting foods (Australia)

We experimented with photography (Australia)

We went to the beach (Australia)

Your moment of play doesn't have to be long - it can simply be lingering over a cup of coffee, or singing in the shower. But it could be much longer - like exploring a new part of a city, or indulging in your hobbies. Whatever your play is, you need to be doing some of it every day so the next time we ask you how you play, you will be able to answer right away!

If you'd like to find out more about Pop-Ups Zan, please visit her personal blog. To find out more about this tour, please visit our Special Tour Page or follow #PopUpsWorldTour2015 on twitter. To keep up-to-date about our adventures, please like us on facebook.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Pop-Ups on Tour 2015 - A Workshop in Queensland

By Morgan

I am writing on another place, from seat 26F gazing out on the rust-red earth far below. We are somewhere in the air between Brisbane and Perth – Justine, Suzanna and myself all in a row.

Our last workshop and pop-up was in a town called Robina. Whispering Gully Childcare had invited us in, only a week after they'd had Marc Armitage in to talk about the play cycle and low-interventionist styles. In playwork and on tour, we build on human relationships and work together to make changes that are larger than ourselves. We are always standing on the shoulders of giants, but in Robina we were lucky also to be in the footsteps of friends.

“We loved hearing Marc speak,” one said. “And I've been intervening less, but it's hard! Sometimes I hear myself start to say these things I said for years and then...” She slapped her hand across her mouth, and friends on either side giggled in recognition. The site is shifting from a more traditional educator-child approach to one explicitly playwork-inspired, and the teachers who'd worked there for years have been suddenly faced with a lot of new ideas. How to balance these big questions of freedom, responsibility, opportunity and trust? How to explain all this to the parents?

“Yes,” Suzanna said. “It is hard, especially at first. Good playwork is never easy, but that's where reflection comes in.” The teachers nodded, and told us how strange it was to feel less needed than before, and how inspiring it was to see what children came up with, what they were all capable of. They shared stories of children's prowess, achievements, and humor. Then, we thought there'd been enough talking and that it was time to do some playing instead.

We'd put cardboard boxes, tape and string in the children's playground and clapped our hands at them, saying “get up, go on! Get outside already. Go play!” They looked a little horrified at first (as most are, to find that a Sunday morning workshop contains audience participation) but quickly got into it. When we called 'five minutes left!' we heard a chorus of 'no's' echo around the site, full of plaintive Australian diphthong.

“I'd only just got into it!” one participant said as she carried her box back inside. We explained that bellowing at them was deliberate.

“I felt a bit of pressure there, to be honest” a woman in the reflection afterwards. “Like you expected something of me and I wasn't sure what.”

“Same,” said another. “And it was really interrupting, when you shouted at the end!”

“Yes,” Suzanna and I said. “That's why we do it with you, so you can see what it feels like for children.”

“Oh,” said the first. “Horrible,” agreed the second.

Learning about playwork involves a lot of deep thinking, a lot of acknowledging feelings and talking about them. All this is inspiring, but is also hard, and that's why I was so glad to spot the staff not only playing at the community pop-up afterwards – but playing with their new vocabulary.

One colleague opened her plastic water bottle for a sip, looked at it for a moment and then splashed a little on her friend, who looked startled.

“Ooooh,” her friend said. “Was that a play cue?” The splasher laughed. “I'll cue you!”

The splasher laughed again, then dropped her water bottle in favor of a bucket.

“Yeah?” she said, “Well, I'll annihilate you,” and soaked her friend head-to-foot.

To read more from Morgan, visit personal blog here. To see more from our tour around the world, visit our facebook page or follow #PopUpsWorldTour2015.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Pop-Ups On Tour 2015 - L.A., Our Lost Day, and the Most Livable City in the World

By Morgan

After Costa Rica, we headed north again for a short flying visit with Erica, Jeremiah and their son Dallas. We visited them on the US tour in 2014, and saw them present 10 days ago in Ithaca on developments since. They’ve been fighting hard against a proposed landfill expansion, and still finding time to prioritize play. After a night and a day with them, Suzanna and I left Andy in their capable hands for an extra few days of beach frolicking, and hopped on a plane to Melbourne.

It will surprise no one that the flight is long (loooooong, in fact) but both of us were startled to discover that we left on the 13th and arrived on the 15th. Somewhere, in the endless night of a tin can hurtling through the air, Wednesday happened for the rest of the world but not for us.

In window seats, one behind the other, Suzanna and myself watched dawn break around the plane’s wing and knew we were getting close.

Since then, we’ve had a weekend of puttering around Melbourne and appreciating its wonders. We walked miles each day, exploring alleyways of interesting shops and nibbling our way through Chinatown. Climbing to the balcony of the public library, we saw a cartwheel shape of Melburnians reading and typing beneath a grand cathedral ceiling. We met Marcus of Playground Ideas for coffee and, on the University campus benches, even did some work!

Tomorrow, our Australian adventures begin. Together with Malarkey, we’ll be heading to New South Wales to present on 20th October and then Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia! Stay tuned, for further pop-up adventures, and wherever you are - keep playing!

To read more from Morgan, please visit her personal blog. To find out more about our world tour by visiting our special tour page or follow us with #PopUpsWorldTour2015.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Pop-Ups On Tour 2015 - Costa Rica

By Morgan

Hasta Luego, Costa Rica!

I am typing this on our flight from Panama City to LA, in between stops 3 and 4 of our grand World Tour.

We three couldn’t have been more excited about this stop, because it allowed us to visit Carolina and tour Bellelli Educación.  Carolina has been a friend of Pop-Ups since the very beginning, but so far our relationship has been mostly online.

Back in 2010, we had an idea that playwork could be applied in a way that would benefit and rebuild the social networks that allow children to play out. Our first pop-up adventure playground was in Central Park NYC as part of the Ultimate Block Party, and the response was amazing!  Visitors built houses out of cardboard boxes, shared stories with us from their own childhoods and kept on asking, when is the next one?  That was gratifying enough, but then a surprise - an email from someone all the way in Costa Rica who had seen those photos on Facebook.  She had a question of her own, one that prefigured many more to come: how can I do one of these myself?

A busy, playful community at play!

Carolina became our first independent organizer, and is probably still the most prolific.  On Sunday, we were thrilled to attend Bellelli’s 27th pop-up adventure playground!  An estimated 400 people came to the public park of Escazú, drawn by event listings on Facebook.  Many more streamed out of the church at 11am, when the children’s service was over.  They built rocket ships and cardboard armor, shared snacks laid out on huge sheets of paper and made some new memories of their own. Suzanna, Andy and myself wandered the site, chatting with those we knew and eating shaved ice with syrup and condensed milk from a man who’s been making them for seventy years.

There were many amazing creations!

We knew many of the adults there because the day before Carolina had invited us to deliver a 7-hour workshop on playwork approaches for local teachers and parents. Erin Davis also gave us permission to screen The Land, which brought up all sorts of fascinating conversations around risk, freedom, memory and truth.  Participants asked in-depth questions about playwork practice, ways to build rich material environments, tips on supporting open-ended play, and responding delicately to cues.  Many of the teachers are from Reggio-inspired schools such as Bellelli, and probed at the subtle but key distinctions between that approach and playwork. The Pop-Ups team also shared some experiences doing playwork in extremely diverse settings, and some personal reflections on our own processes of constant learning.  Together, we all discussed the importance of trusting children, and ways to make that trust real.

The participants at our day long workshop on Saturday.

So many of those participants came to the pop-up, bringing their children and friends.  Carolina brought her adorable niece, who was hilariously disinterested in meeting her aunt’s amiga Morgan. We held babies and distributed tape, and were hugged by people who had the loveliest things to tell us.

"I’ve thought play was important for so long", one said.  "But I thought I was alone…"
"You’ve given me the words to talk about play now", said another.  "I work with disabled children and they need this so badly.  Where can I learn more?"

The best feedback, however, was from the 9 3/4 year old son of Krista (a kind member of the extended Bellelli family who had hosted Andy in her home).  At the post-pop-up BBQ, he told Suzanna:

“That was amazing."
“Yeah?” she asked.  “Which was your favorite bit?”
“All of it,” he said.  “I’ll remember it for the rest of my life”.

This is a robot outfit, created to avoid wearing suncream.

Carolina told us of some of the conversations she’d had with lots of visitors who had said that they would love to be involved in creating more events or in bringing these ideas into their own organization’s setting.  "When", they kept on asking her, "when is the next one happening?"

This four-day trip gave us a brief but amazing time in Costa Rica, with a visit to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, and lots of delicious food.  Costa Ricans seem to eat every 8 minutes, and we were not complaining!  It was also a chance to see firsthand the dedication and passion which drives Carolina and her team to such extraordinary accomplishments.  Bellelli’s work, whether in the school grounds or off, displays an enormous sense of love for communities wherever they may be built or found.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens.

We were so grateful to have had the chance to see Carolina and her team in their community, and to seal this friendship with hugs - in person! See you again soon, Costa Rica!

This is Carolina - thank you for having us!

To find out more about Bellelli Educación visit their website or their facebook page. To follow our progress as we travel the world, check out our facebook page or follow #PopUpsWorldTour2015

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Pop-Ups On Tour 2015 - Ithaca, NY, USA

By Morgan

This post took a few days to write – partly because we're officially on tour now (next stop, Costa Rica!) and partly because our last stop was a little overwhelming. Suzanna and I spent 6 hours in a rental car afterwards, discussing detail and processing.

The Ithaca Play Symposium brought together advocates of adventure play from coast to coast, and Canada too. Erica and Jeremiah, of Santa Clarita Valley Adventure Play, kicked off the festivities with updates on their site's development. Starting with pop-ups, they've found a site they love, battled a proposed landfill expansion in their neighborhood, and put together grant applications for a permanent adventure playground. Tricia O'Connor shared the personal aspects of her pop-ups journey at Lake Erie Adventure Play with United Way's help, including pictures from our visit to her home and a theme song crooned by her own husband.

They were not the only participants who have had a busy year, or who have persisted despite setbacks. The conference served as a way for organizers to come together, learn a little more about playwork and encourage one another to continue. It was a powerful experience for us, particularly during the afternoon's dive into larger, harder discussions about the movement itself, its strategy and gaps. Despite our post-conference conversations, those two days in Ithaca survive in my memory as a series of sparkling moments. Here are a few of them for you:

  • Jill Wood sharing a long-distance pecha kucha, of pictures from Parish AP with voiceovers from the children who know and love it best
  • Reilly Wilson, a PhD student at CUNY examining the much-neglected US history of adventure playgrounds, saying that real change will require public investment in play
  • An audience member at Erin Davis's screening of The Land saying, “I don't have children and I'm not a teacher, so I wondered at first why I came to this movie. But having seen it, now I know. When children don't play out, we all lose”
  • Joan Almon reminding us all to speak to one another with both honesty and kindness
  • Conference participants running around the Hands-On-Nature Anarchy Zone in a light Ithaca drizzle, pushing tires down slopes and laughing in small circles around the mud pit

The amount of passion in the room was astonishing, and we were deeply moved to hear so many people reference 'pop-ups'. As far as we know, we were the first to use that phrase and were humbled to have contributed a phrase that clearly resonates. We met 12 students on our Playworker Development Course, a new record. After 5 years advocating for adventure playgrounds and playwork in the US, we were deeply moved by the response to our work, by the crowd's curiosity and gratitude. Having sent out so many cues, their return was humbling.

Here are 12 students and 2 tutors, all from our Playworker Development Course!

Children on the outskirts of the Ithaca Children's Garden, playing away from all the adults.

A screening of The Land at the local cinema.

This is a powerful moment in US adventure playground history – one we truly believe is part of a newly rising wave of interest and dedication. All around us, in the plastic chairs and by the coffee machine, people who have emailed for months met for the first time and hugged in celebration.

We couldn't be more pleased to be a part of this moment, this marvelous movement. It is a time of blooming possibilities, with new sites and organizers springing up everywhere. Whether in the US, UK or on tour, we're happy to keep on watering.

To read more from Morgan, visit her lovely personal blog. To see more about our tour around the world follow #PopUpsWorldTour2015 or visit our special tour page. For more on Pop-Up Adventure Play visit

Sunday, 27 September 2015

The World Tour Begins!

By Zan

To kick start our World Tour, we invited our Board of Directors to meet us in Manchester where we officially had our first stop! It was pretty low key, but it was great to tell our board members just how Morgan and I had done over the past year, and to hear the support that they have for us as we continue our work for children's play all over the world.

Without further ado, allow me to introduce our board:

From left to right:
Ricky Tsang (Director), Andy Hinchcliffe (Director), Suzanna Law (me, Employee), Michelle Jones (Director) and Morgan Leichter-Saxby (Employee)

We had a great day reporting on existing projects and talking about future plans. It was wonderful to be surrounded by people who have our best interests at heart, and genuinely look out for us. I felt a little emotional and pleased to have such good people around me. I'm pretty sure Morgan felt the same way.

We also invited one of our Playworker Development Course tutors to join us too! We would have asked everyone but only one lives within a reasonable driving distance away for food! :)

Here we are with David Stonehouse (Tutor) all looking cool and pretending to be rockstars. Haha.

A good portion of our day was dedicated to play too. We managed to wrangle an awesome location for our board meeting. When I say awesome, I mean private land with Easter Island statue, fishing pond, pizza oven and a zip line. Yes, that's how we roll!

I'm excited now as we start the World Tour and look forward to seeing our wonderful board again this time next year - we'll have lots of adventures to talk about!

To find out more about our World Tour please visit our special tour page or follow #PopUpsWorldTour2015 on Twitter. To read more about Zan's adventures, please visit her personal blog. For more on Pop-Up Adventure Play simple visit

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Play Advocacy in Blackpool

By Zan

After a glorious fire and den building session in Blackpool, we were invited back again to host a Play Advocacy Day. It was a particularly blue-sky day as we approached the LeftCoast office to talk to about 15 adults from different Blackpool services who all came together in the name of play.

We were pleased to kick start the day with an hour long talk about play, the possibilities and importance. We were followed by architect Nils Norman who spoke about some of the projects that he had designed, and then we came to the interactive part of the day - our very own little pop-up adventure playground. We invited everyone to come and play. Here are some photos:

After a few moments of hesitation, everyone got stuck in.

Big things were built, to compete with other big things that were built.

This is a happy robot that I may or may not have accidentally sabotaged. Sorry robot people.

This is the Blackpool Tower.

This is a fort, and definitely not a tent. And there is definitely a person inside there.

Blackpool Tower complete - but not the tallest creation in the room!

The whole day was a lovely reminder that sometimes we get lost in a world of adult priorities and forget that children should also be prioritised. It seemed like we were in a room full of kindred spirits who wanted more information and ideas on how to make that work in play. Our workshop participants really seemed to enjoy the play, the play talk and look like they are already making plans to make a more playful Blackpool. 

We were really excited to meet such wonderful people yesterday, and we hope to be part of the discussions as they prepare to make Blackpool a much more child-directed, play-filled place.