Monday, 21 August 2017

Pop-Ups On Tour 2017 - Winnipeg, MB

By Andy

Since we started our Canadian tour just over a month ago, we have started each day full of curiosity as to what the next location will bring. Our only disappointments have been in not yet seeing a moose, and hearing that our chances get slimmer the further west we drive. We have seen a handful of deer, a snake and one llama, but it was in Argyle, outside Winnipeg, that this game got much more interesting.

As we approached the venue for our presentation, we drove past what appeared to be a team of horses facilitating a camp-fire. A group of risk-averse cows watched on from a safe distance (and no, we hadn’t overdosed on maple syrup). It was truly amazing. We found out later that this was 'smudging', a slow burning and smoky fire to help disperse the mosquitoes, but have held onto our first interpretation.

We were invited to Winnipeg by the great folks from the Manitoba Nature Summit, who skillfully gathered interested groups, professionals and individuals from far and wide to attend our workshop in the most beautiful of settings, the Brant-Argyle School. People came, listened, nodded and questioned, and hopefully left with new ideas and supportive encouragement to start making change, however small, right away.

The following day we all held a Pop-Up Adventure Playground on the same school grounds.  We met children from “the end of the road” (which could easily have been 30 miles away, we weren’t sure) and folk from as far as Kenora. Forts were built, glue was smeared and battles were had with sticks and stones – nobody got hurt either, except for a child on the ‘purpose-built’ play structure of course!

It was interesting and endearing to watch families engaging and interacting together in this protected environment. Dedicated family time is rare and unquestionably necessary, but as a playworker it was fascinating to be able to witness those moments were it ‘clicked’ and the adults realised that they were actually supernumerary in their children’s play. Adults became burdens, their children were just entertaining them out of politeness. They had been excluded, and to the perimeter they shuffled. Some took longer than others, but eventually they all gave in and accepted their place.

Children are pretty good at this play stuff. Research has shown that it’s preloaded into them, although sometimes they need a little time and space to re-accustom themselves when they are out of practice. Pop-Up Adventure Playgrounds are the perfect environment for children to re-align themselves in what they do best. They are also fantastic opportunities for bringing adults who support this together, sparking the conversations needed to create a sustainable community around play for the future.

To find out more about our Canadian adventure check out our dedicated tour page. For daily thoughts, readings and memes, check out our facebook and twitter. And of course, don't forget to visit our website

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Pop-Ups On Tour 2017 - Kenora, ON

By Morgan

We were told to park at the Rec Center opposite Safeway supermarket, and wait for the boat to come.

The Lake in the Woods - aka Kenora ON - is a vast aquatic wilderness of densely wooded islands, navigated by small boats with outboard motors, silent canoes and the occasional tourist cruiser. We were headed for Town Island, and the B’nai Brith campsite where a small group of children from Youth Agencies Alliance were staying for the week. Beneath our metal bench seats on the boat, we’d stuffed a collection of materials. Cardboard, held together with duct tape. A milk crate filled with gifts from Englehart, ON.

When we arrived they showed us to our cabin, and the field where we’d be popping up in the morning. This group was older than our usual crowd - aged between 11 to 16 - and came from different locations within the Winnipeg region. Lise has invited us to come, and told everyone that “some people from far away are coming, and we’re going to play”.

They didn’t seem to be entirely sure what that might mean.

The next day, we dragged out our small collection of loose parts and scavenged lots more from the various storage sheds. A bag of empty plastic bottles, some rope and about a million milk crates. People began arriving, drifting in as their other scheduled activities finished.

“Is this the adventure?”

“Is this the playground?”

“Yes,” we said. “You can do whatever you like here, with anything you can find.”

The first group built a table from milk crates and dealt out the card game Hearts.

“That table’s too small,” a member of staff said quietly. I assured her that they would figure it out and, sure enough, when their group grew they added an extension. More children arrived and started making places to sit and hang out, while others dug out a soccer ball and started a pick-up game that eventually stretched from 7 participants to about 30, and back again.

“Are there really no rules?” one girl asked me. I recalled Penny Wilson’s line, and said “try not to hurt yourself or anyone else, but that’s it.” She nodded, and went to join a clapping game that kept collapsing into laughter. Rain began to fall, and one group huddled under an umbrella. Others dragged a tarp over poles made of milk crates and laughed every time it fell over.

We watched with pleasure as the teenagers navigated the space in their own time. Some members of staff had expressed concern that ‘these kids’ wouldn’t be able to handle freedom, that there would be fights or strife, but it was an incredibly laid-back session. The staff began to relax too, stepping further back and watching the young people ease into their bodies and the landscape.

Towards the end, a tall staircase of milk crates developed. Friends dared one another to climb higher on the wobbly towers, which others held upright. They discussed whether 6 was too high, or if they could make it to 8. One wobbled the tower he held deliberately, and his friend told him off from above. Lise was beside us, and possibly beside herself with pleasure. She pointed out which young people usually didn’t engage in activities and here were shining, which ones had laughed today more often than she’d seen all week. Another member of staff was starting to panic at the risk he saw the children engage in, and Lise talked him through their process. I handed him a football-shaped stress toy I’d found, and he smiled a little wryly but stood squeezing it for the next 15 minutes.

“This is exactly what we wanted,” she said. Every pop-up is what the children need it to be, and this one was relaxed and convivial. Sometimes, they’re coincidentally what we need them to be as well.

To read more from Pop-Ups Morgan, check out her personal blog and her moonlighting page. To find out more about our Canadian tour, please visit our tour page. You can also find out more about our daily play thoughts on facebook and twitter

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Pop-Ups On Tour 2017 - Englehart ON

By Andy

After a long drive from Vaughan, we made it to Englehart, with just minutes to spare. We quickly shuffled into our ‘fancy’ clothes, wiped the sweat from our foreheads and jumped on stage before a packed-out room of friendly parents and professionals, many local and a few from afar. The crowd, which was brought together through the hard-work and dedication of Onita Knight, listened intently to our messages and engaged in some great discussion.

As the session came to a close people fed-back, telling us that in such a short session we had provided them with a totally different perspective on play. Many enjoyed the new language, some started to recognise similarities in their own practices whilst others still seemed a little apprehensive.

The following day started with a storm. Literally. We pulled up at the site of the Pop-Up with our hoods pulled up but our spirits high and we continued as we always do, albeit a little soggy.

The children arrived. Some watched and wondered, while others dived straight in. Many of the adults watched on with apprehension but were open and supportive of the concept. The children were immersed. Forts were built, swings were tied, 5 of them in fact! Fun and freedom was enjoyed by all.

Whilst wandering the site I spotted a group of boys teetering on the edge of mischief. Their mysterious over-the-shoulder glances gave it away that they were ‘up to no-good’. As I honed in closer to get an idea of what was going on, I spotted Morgan, who was also hovering with similar intentions. We telepathically exchanged “You got this?” - “Cool, It’s all yours” and I proceeded to get a closer insight as to what was going on.

Despite my best efforts, I was spotted and approached by one of the boys “Can we smash this?” he asked holding a plastic tray in one hand and a section of a bike rack in the other. “What do you think?” I replied, but before I knew it, the tray had been obliterated. The boys passed the tool around, laughing and grinning with joy and excitement, reviling in their new-found freedom.

Discussions took place with a handful of adults who had observed this process. Some felt that allowing children to play in this way could encourage them to be disrespectful, some agreed with the freedom but felt that children should be involved in the clear-up to understand that “actions have consequences” whilst others thought it was wholly “liberating”.

During some follow up discussion we talked through how children, through their play, need to work through many different stages, at their own pace and for their own reasons. Smashing plastic into hundreds of pieces is satisfying and fun, and if not here, where? Pop-Up Adventure Playgrounds are a space where children can be provided with the space, resources and permission to interact or not, in any way they desire. Keeping a space tidy, or clearing up 'mess' is an adult agenda which children have to contend with on a daily basis. Here, in this space, for a few glorious hours, children can stop engaging with adult agendas and freely make their own.

For more information on our Canadian Tour check out the tour page where we have linked up all our blogposts. To find out more about what we do on a daily basis, check out our facebook and twitter. Please also check out our website too 

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Pop-Ups On Tour 2017 - Vaughan, ON

By Morgan

We drove along a paved path that curved up through the Kortright Centre for Conservation. We parked and walked in, past a grove of tall slender trees. Boxes and saucepans had been set up between them, a length of string and squares of fabric. There was enough of a clearing that the air was brighter there, illuminating a patch of recently abandoned reordering.  To our right, more loose parts were scattered like leaves beneath the trees. Adults moved through the space carefully, some taking pictures, others speaking quietly. Some were there for the workshop in an hour, others part of EarthDay Canada who were hosting the pop-up adventure playground.

We’d spent the morning with EarthDay Canada, talking about the programs that they’ve been running and the connections between play and a love of nature. We talked about working with schools and communities, scaling up and the specifics of practice specific to playwork and its implementation. And eating croissants. It was a meeting about possibility, about what’s been done so far and what might come next. A lovely start to a day of play.

That evening, we spoke for about an hour on rethinking risk and play. Diane Kashin had invited us in, and helped spread the word through the York Region Nature Collaborative. People shared their play memories and we told playwork stories. Then we watched The Land, and reconvened for a Q&A.

There are some questions that come up every time we show this short film. It’s an extraordinary way of reaching people, opening them up to rich conversations about freedom, rights, what a duty of care to children might really mean. There are a couple of scenes that inspire questions about gender and exclusion, whether children are replicating the sexism they’ve seen or processing it, and whether that’s ours to say. When it seemed like that was where conversation was headed, I referenced one of the key scenes that often made people uncomfortable.

Suzanna put her hand out and said, 'No, Morgan. This time they laughed."

I looked out across the auditorium full of people who'd seen the humor in that moment, the humor the child had felt. They grinned at my surprise. One woman put up her hand and said that she'd also seen the film in Ithaca, where the audience reaction was very different. She explained that the room's response had colored her own perception each time and I wondered what a difference framing a film like this can make, and how we go about changing opinions one room full of people at a time.

I swung around and stared at the audience, who then laughed good-naturedly at me.  As soon as we think we know how something will go, play has a way of twisting out of our expectations.  It reminds us not to fall into the complacency of thinking we know what will come next, and lets us be delighted by surprises - and then, to keep learning together.

To find out more about our tour, visit our posts about Halifax NS, Montreal QC, London ON and Blenheim ON. For daily thoughts on play come join us on Facebook and Twitter, and check out our website

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Pop-Ups On Tour 2017 - Blenheim, ON

By Morgan

Blenheim, ON has a population of 4,563.  Between the pop-up adventure playground and workshop afterwards, we saw about 200 - a significant proportion of the local residents. They welcomed us into the Growing Together Family Resource Centre and talked about efforts over recent years to move towards an emergent, more child-led curriculum.

The space they’d opened for the pop-up was really large and generous-feeling, a vast green expanse of grass with a spectacular tree just waiting for hammocks. The people we met, educators and local families, were new to playwork but familiar to one another. In the workshop we had a sense of the crowd as nervous but excited, and ready to learn more about supporting children’s play.

We showed some pictures, told a few jokes, and started telling stories that illuminate key terms in playwork such as cues, frames and adulteration. We used examples from the pop-up and our own practice, to show how easy it is for adults to interrupt or co-opt children’s play.  Together we laughed at ourselves, at the times we’ve got it wrong, and reminded one another that play support, like play itself, is a process.

Afterwards they gave us each a gift bag, fully stocked with Canadian snacks. With the car filled up with ketchup potato chips, coffee crisps other delights, we set off again for Vaughan ON and the open road. Thank you Blenheim, ON!

For more on our Canadian adventure, check out the blogposts from Halifax NS, Montreal QC and London ON. More coming soon! wwwpopupadventureplay,org