Friday, 29 September 2017

Pop-Ups On Tour 2017 - Our Final Stop at IPA Calgary

By Morgan

9 weeks.
10,000 miles.
18 stops.

The Pop-Up Adventure Play team has met and played with literally thousands of people, from coast to coast, in big cities and small towns, on mountains and in prairies, in parks and schools and lecture halls, with new friends and people we’ve spoken with online for years.  “You’ll have seen more of Canada than most Canadians,” at least fifty people told us and while we didn't want to agree the scale of our trip did feel astonishing.

Here’s a reel of some highlights from 16 pop-up adventure playgrounds we helped to host, put together by the illustrious Suzanna Law.


After such an exhilarating run, it seemed right to have our last pop-up at the International Play Association Conference in Calgary, 13th-16th September .

Calgary’s Mobile Adventure Playground unit helped with materials and staffing - we were so pleased to meet members of their team!  Together we set out materials in a corner of Olympic Plaza and watched as two classes of school children arrived.  It was cold and rainy but they didn’t seem to care.  Instead they ran in and found rolls of crepe paper, long poles and plastic tubes. Teachers and conference participants stood in a line along the curved pavement path to watch, their arms crossed against the cold, until I went along and nudged them out of formation with rolls of tape and a little light teasing.

One material was the star of this show.  Of course, children played a million and eight different ways but every so often one kind of play will shape or carry the session in a particular way.  This time, it was in the combination of a metal framed canopy and dozens of rolls of tape.  Masking tape.  Duct tape.  String, crepe paper.  Packing tape.  MORE TAPE, was the cry from all corners at once.  Children wrapped tape around the structure’s legs, putting themselves on the inside of a sticky fortress.  One child wrapped a tree in tape, while others ran from tree to canopy leg to adult’s leg and back again.  Tape went around the legs of adults, and was used in tugs of war that dragged across the site.  The world was wrapped in tape.  Then people got the idea to break it.



Children used sticks and cardboard tubes.  They shouted things at the tape, and tried to karate chop it with their hands until the whole thing bounced, all four legs bound together and skidding on the flagstones.  One side shuddered down, as tape pushed in the button holding its extension.  We rushed over, Andy and Suzanna and Ricky and myself, to each hold a leg.  We put one foot on the small metal plate and held the pole at about hip height.  When one side crashed, we lifted it up again.  When children smashed at the tape by us, we solemnly nodded encouragement.  Mostly, we watched the whole scene around us unfold and then made eye contact, smiling.

"Well, I guess we've worked out what the minimum number of people on a playwork team should be", Suzanna said.  I asked her to take a picture of this moment, for when we next wanted to illustrate supporting a play frame. 


Eventually, the tape was smashed.  The children went home.  We cut the rest with scissors and box knives, then rolled tires and cable reels back into the van, and picked a thousand white beans out of the grass. Suzanna made an enormous tape ball, we said our goodbyes and promised to reconnect with other conference attendees back in the warm.

A couple of days later at the conference center, we shared stories and images from the past two months.  Looking out across the audience we saw so many familiar faces, including Diane Kashin - one of our hosts from earlier on in the tour and Queenie Tan - our biggest sponsor for the tour!  People wanted to see the evidence of what we’d done together, to hear what other folks were currently doing to support free play in Canada, and to meet others who were passionate about the same. It was humbling to see them all attend our workshop, but we knew ultimately that they were putting in the hard work.

After travelling all those miles and meeting almost 3000 people, Suzanna was a little stumped for right words to conclude our last workshop with. She wanted to express gratitude to each host for their generosity, to share the humility she felt for every participant. Above all else she wanted to explain how important every person was that we had met, and their role in Canada's future of play.  Even if these things are hard to say, we hoped they got the message anyway.

Our tour is complete! To hear about how we got on, check out our dedicated website. For daily thoughts from us, please visit our facebook or twitter! www.popupadventureplay.org

Monday, 18 September 2017

Pop-Ups On Tour 2017 - Forty Mile Region, AB

By Andy

For our 17th stop we were invited to the small towns of Foremost and Bow Island in the Forty Mile Region. This stop was brought together by Terri-Lynn and Corinna from FCSS who had been following our Canadian tour and asked us to bring our Pop-Up Adventure Playground model to them.

We arrived at a large open school field to our usual homing signal of loose parts and we set to work. We had the typical boxes and tyres combined with pans and utensils. Fabric and duct tape mixed up with dried beans and pool noodles. Terri-Lynn soon arrived towing a horse box carrying additional supplies, coffee and cheesy snacks – the full complement of playwork necessities!

The session in Foremost was delivered in conjunction with Foremost School which had an impressive catchment radius of around 50 miles! Some of the children in attendance embark on a daily commute of over an hour each way to get to school, some coming as far as the US border, near the state of Montana!

The recess bell rang, the children arrived and they played hard. Echoes of “This is AWESOME!” could be heard as loose parts were negotiated, squirreling and hoarded between groups. Some joined forces to build forts, others made complex vehicles whilst others sought what they needed in a simple pile of beans.



As the bell rang to declare the end of recess, children swarmed asking “Can we keep this?” “How about this?!” “Even this?!” – At the same time the skies quickly started to change from a bright blue to a deep red as the smoke from neighbouring wildfires moved in. The wind picked up too sending ribbon and crepe paper streaming across the fields


We quickly scrambled and packed up the site. We each handed piles of loose parts to Suzanna who was occupying the back of the horse-box. She stacked and meticulously organised the space, ensuring that everything could fit and would be easily accessible for our second event later that day. After a short stop for lunch and being gifted a home-grown cantaloupe from a curious local, we headed back on the dusty roads to the second stop, Bow Island.

We arrived at Centennial Park where children were already playing with the loose parts as they were being taken out of the back of the horse-box. Some local parents were keen to help with the set up and others brought a table of a snacks, drinks and hot-dogs!



The session proceeded naturally, forts were built from cardboard, towers from milk crates and the beans reappeared with second wind of neophiliac quality. During the session I was incorporated into a couple of different play frames. At one point I was the “tester” horse for a prototype carriage made from a wooden reel, rope and pool noodles and later I was draped in a glittery shawl and paraded as a princess, to which I was very quickly abandoned in full attire.

Local parents were keen to learn more, many asking great questions about intervention and risk. We discussed how by providing recycled and everyday materials made it much easier to say yes. Some adults just needed their own playtime. I heard two of the mums hysterically laughing as they pranced around in a bra made of duct tape. No purpose or goal. Just for fun. Just because they could.

As the sun started to settle and the children emerged from their play, there was an overwhelming, tranquil feeling of success. Parents, organisers and children alike left carrying their careful creations, full of enthusiasm for when the next event would be held.


Thank you for inviting us FCSS, we had a great day, we met some amazing people and felt welcomed in your community. Keep going.

This was stop number 17 of our 18 stop tour - if you want to find out more about how it went, check out our dedicated tour page. For more from us check out our facebook, twitter and website www.popupadventureplay.org.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Pop-Ups On Tour 2017 - Calgary Play Symposium

By Andy

Crawling down back roads looking out for house numbers and community centres has become somewhat the norm for us, especially now as we start the descent towards the end of our grand Canadian tour after 7 weeks on the road.

Today we were heading for the Play Symposium courtesy of  Calgary Child’s Play and thankfully finding them was simple. A pile of cardboard boxes, tubes and fabric scattered outside was the give-away, in addition to the little yellow car's paparazzi welcome, the obvious real star of the show.

The Play Symposium was organised in the run-up to the IPA World Triennial Conference for early arriving delegates and local play enthusiasts. They were interested in hearing about playwork, playpods and an overview of the play scene in Calgary both now and moving forward.

Impressively, by 10am on this Sunday morning the hall was packed out with enthusiastic play discussion echoing around the room from accents the world-wide. We were up first, coffee-fueled and energetic. The audience listened intently to our message, frequently stopping us to ask questions to clarify terminology and to learn more, laughing at our jokes and finding similarities in their own practices. We were excited to see familiar faces of people we had met during our tour, smiling and waving from the back row, as well as several students from our online Playworker Development Course.


Kirsty Wilson from Bristol Scrapstore talked about playwork and playpods and also hinted about some exciting projects which are in the pipeline in Calgary. It was great to present alongside fellow Playworkers from the UK, each with a slightly different style and delivery, but a passion and enthusiasm that is comforting and familiar.

The concluding address was from Robyn Monroe Miller, the vice-president of the IPA who shared her experiences of play from Australia, the passion that drives her work and her admiration for the work of Stuart Lester and Wendy Russell. It was great to hear playwork terminology referenced, and very reassuring to learn that Robyn will start her IPA presidency with an interest and understanding of supporting play, for play’s sake.

The Play Symposium was a great opportunity for play enthusiasts to get together, make connections and head into the week with an introduction into playwork. Hopefully this has sparked an interest to learn more with some of the exciting playwork presentations scheduled throughout the IPA conference and beyond.

Thank you for bringing us together Calgary Child’s Play and being the 16th stop on our tour. We look forward to watching your work blossom in play!

To learn more about our Canadian adventure, please check out our dedicated tour page. To hear more from us on a daily basis, check out our facebook and twitter, and don't forget our website www.popupadventureplay.org.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Pop-Ups On Tour 2017 - Surrey, BC

By Morgan

Well, we’re on the final stretch of our Grand Canadian Tour! Our last stop in BC was Surrey and included both a pop-up adventure playground and a screening of The Land.  These two events were hosted by Child Care Options and gave us the chance to meet folks in quite different ways. We were able to connect with lots of local Childcare providers, some of whom knew us from our social media presence, others through Options directly, and a few more found the pop-up purely by walking past.

We also want to give a small shout-out to Gisele, who was instrumental in organizing our stop in Surrey but couldn’t be there on the day.  Sharlene and the rest of the team were enthusiastic too, and we knew for certain when they told us they’d been hoarding materials for weeks, and unloading them since 6:30am that morning!

While we were getting ready, Ricky asked what it would be like at a pop-up adventure playground primarily for under-5s.

“It’ll be super chill,” I said.

This held pretty true.  The 100 little ones toddled in and out of cardboard boxes, wobbled across wooden pallets and stared at bafflingly sticky balls of tape.  It felt pretty relaxed for us, but it was still adventurous - just on a smaller, slower scale.




Andy said that he gave pieces of tape to one boy.  The first time it was too long for him to handle, and he cried when it got tangled, so Andy handed him a series of tiny tape pieces that slowly got bigger. Eventually, he could manage the length of tape he’d wanted in the first place.

Meanwhile, I was watching two slightly older boys smashing a cardboard box apart.  Unsure how this would be received by the rest of the crowd, I stood at the edge of their play frame to show that this was okay here.  They were laughing and practicing the language of anger, shouting “I… hate you! You stupid… box!”  This talk grew until one of them knelt down and bit the cardboard hard, then jumped up and shouted “I’ll bite you!  I’ll bite you right in the toilet!”  I turned my face away so they wouldn’t see me smile, charmed by this being the worst thing he could think to say.  About twenty feet away, Suzanna was with the boys’ mums, explaining why I was standing near the kids but not intervening.  She asked if they were comfortable with what they saw.

“If you’re cool, we’re cool, as long as they’re in sight!”  She asked if they ever felt judged in their parenting styles, and they said no - that they knew their boys were rather gentle and so felt very comfortable being more free in their boundaries.

We know that it’s been hard times in British Columbia in terms of legislation around children’s freedom to roam, but that doesn’t match what we’ve been seeing on the ground.  While there are many more conversations to have around children’s rights to play, self-determination and risk, there’s also extraordinary work going on right now, to improve children’s lives across Canada.

To hear more about our Canadian adventure, check out our dedicated tour page. To see more from us, check out our facebook and twitter, and as always, come check out our website www.popupadventureplay.org

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Pop-Ups On Tour 2017 - Coquitlam, BC

By Morgan

Play has a way of bringing great people together. On 2nd September we welcomed Ricky to the tour and yellow car. He’s been a member of our Board since 2013, and was curious to see what we were up to in Canada firsthand. On his third day, we participated in Integrate Play Solutions double screening and panel. The evening would consist of Project Wild Thing, followed by The Land, and finally a Q&A with Pop-Ups and Pop-Ups Heroes Dr. Mariana Brussoni and Dr. Helen Little.

We were a little starstruck, or I was at least.

One thing that’s always interesting about screening The Land is noticing when people laugh. Sometimes a room will be united in their reactions, roaring together or gasping in unison. Other times you’ll hear a bark of laughter from the shadows. Andy found himself anticipating their reactions, knowing what they’d be seeing happen next. Suzanna sat at the back with Mariana and Helen, watching them watch the film. She said that they enjoyed The Land, which neither had seen before.

“They were wide-eyed too,” she said.  “They felt wonder about the same stuff we do.”


It was amazing being on a panel with these two extraordinary researchers and writers, and a testament to the organizing abilities of Kirsten from Integrate Play Solutions. What was more incredible was the feeling of coming together from different disciplines, hearing our answers to questions about risk, freedom and children’s right to self-determination in play backed up by these two experts!  It felt affirming, encouraging, and we agreed afterwards that it was so nice to be on a panel with other folks from a different field who really got it.

It’s now only a few days to the IPA conference at Calgary, where we’re excited to meet up with so many Friends of Pop-Ups, and to see both Mariana and Helen again!

To read more about us and our adventure across Canada, check out our dedicated tour page. To see more from us, check out our FacebookTwitter  and our website www.popupadventureplay.org.