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.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Pop-Ups on Tour 2017 - Richmond, BC

By Andy

Midway through our tour we received an email from Jade from a local Chinese Immigrant family group based in Richmond, on the outskirts of Vancouver. This confirmed our fourth stop in Vancouver, which would be sandwiched between a first time community Pop-Up at Slocan Park in East Vancouver and a screening of The Land and Project Wild Thing a couple of days later.

We arrived at the Burkeville Park to find a pile of loose parts, with a sign that read “Pop-Up Adventure Playground – Do not throw away”. We started to unpack the materials while a handful of children honed in from the outskirts to find out what was going on. “Can we play?"

“Of course!” we replied “You can do whatever you like with all the things we have,” Suzanna informed them. Before she had finished her sentence the children were instinctively gathering their supplies ready to commence in their play.

Soon after, more and more families began to arrive. Some brought boxes, others set up camp with picnics while others hovered on the outskirts waiting for instruction. “What do we do?” one of the parents hesitantly asked “You can use all the materials in whatever way you please” I said. The parent looked somewhat baffled but headed off back to her waiting child to relay the instruction.

I started to build up a box, taping the bottom. A child quickly approached me “What are you doing?” he said. “Ermmm, I’m not really sure, I’m a little tired, maybe it could be a bed”. So that’s what I did, I climbed into the box and closed the lid, which I quickly regretted in the 30 degree sun. Instantly I was swarmed upon by several children, some tapping the box, others holding the lid closed whilst another made use of a gap and made the inside of my chamber smell particularly interesting!


After the initial ‘pile on’ I quickly left the scene, but left behind a box that had been injected with life, a narrative, which continued, changed and transformed before its final resting place became the foundations of a majestic looking fort.

Throughout the session families were heavily involved in their children’s play, but for some, this was the first time they, as adults, had played for as long as they could recall. Some of the children proceeded in their play without hesitation while some hovered and repeatedly asked for permission and thanked us each and every time. A few conversations took place that started “Some of these kids don’t know how to play” but they quickly found that this wasn’t the case. Players need practice.

As always, the play blossomed in so many beautiful directions. ‘Under Construction’ signs were made and then passed between children once jobs were complete. Forts were built with varying sizes and styles of architecture. Acorns and pebbles were counted out into cupcake molds and a mass smashing and trashing session was enjoyed by many during clear up.



Families left reluctantly. Deserting their structures with lingering regret. Some children forced their parents to take home their inventions while others asked when the next one would be.

This was a fantastic first Pop-Up and the start of many more to come.

To read more from our Canadian Tour, check out our dedicated page. To read more about our daily adventures, check out Twitter and Facebook, and as always, check out our website www.popupadventureplay.org

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Pop-Ups On Tour 2017 - East Vancouver, BC

By Morgan

At pop-up adventure playgrounds, we get to meet children in public space.  Nowadays, that means meeting them within the circle of their parents and caregivers.

When we’re supporting play, we sometimes get a peek into a child’s world, or the world of their family. And when we’re talking about play with those family adults, we often speak about other things as well - freedom, time, community, memory, hope.  This can be frustrating sometimes, beautiful at others.  Little moments stick in the mind.

In East Vancouver, we held a pop-up in partnership with our new friend Keeping.  He seemed a bit anxious at first, wanting to check whether he’d got enough stuff, the right materials.

“Is this how they normally look?” He asked.  We assured him that each one is different and yes, this one is going well.  The children will make it work.  He began to relax into the process, and together we watched people use the wonderful loose parts he had gathered - an enormous collection of fridge boxes, ribbon in curls that caught the breeze, tires painted silver and gold.

I later found out that Keeping had initially created a registration and waiver system, and had been able to abandon the notion because it seemed as though everything was going fine and no one seemed concerned about risk or injury.  He seemed surprised and pleased.


When I walked the site, I visited different family play frames.  In one corner, a tall grandfather ran up and asked me to “come and cut a door for us”.  I pulled the box cutter out of my pocket and followed him, down the slope away from the trees.

“It goes here,” he said, tracing his finger in a square around the front flap.  He pulled it open to show that there was an internal divider to the box that could open and close, and decided that needed a window.  The window he wanted was specific though, and he got frustrated trying to explain.

“Oh, I’ll just show you,” he said and slipped inside the box and around its corner, quick as a fish.  I was surprised, and made eye contact with his two grown daughters.  They were clearly charmed by him, and we all made that facial expression of eyebrows raised, shared smile of isn’t that lovely.  The face that is normally made above the heads of children.

“Right here,” he said from inside the box.

“He’s been talking about this event for weeks,” one of his adult daughters said.
“The kids aren’t even here yet,” said the other.

A few feet away, a child was inside a tall and slender cardboard box and demanding small pieces of tape from his mother.

“How’s it going?” I asked her.  She smiled, rolled her eyes.

“He’s making an outhouse,” she said.  “Crescent window and everything.  But the door opens down, so it feels like a castle, he says.”  She peered in the little window to where he’d placed a smaller box inside with a hole cut out the middle.

“Remember this is just pretend,” she said.


Under the trees, a group of small girls were making a castle.  I passed them a purple marker and said that if they drew a window I’d be happy to cut it.  One thought for awhile, and then drew several small round shapes like polka dots on all sides.  Her mother started to object on my behalf, saying “I’m sure they could be square” but I knuckled down and cut around each of them carefully, following the wobbly lines.  The girl nodded solemnly when I was finished, and I moved along.

Sometimes we find ourselves invited further in.  One father approached with a loop of string in his hands, asking me to cut them for a handle.  He brought me over to the box where his son was busy going in and out the little door.

“Do you think this will work?” He asked.  I nodded and he looked relieved.  He began to tell me about his own father, and the experience of their building together.  “I tried to help him but it was difficult.  I was small and could not do the things correctly.  He would tell me so.”  We stood for awhile in the face of this memory.  I’ve heard many fond memories from parents of cardboard boxes, their regrets and fears that their children might not have those memories of their own.  I had not yet heard from someone for whom this was their specific trauma, reformed.  He spoke again.

“I do not want to be like my father, so…”. He looked over at his own son, absorbed in moving small strips of tape from one hand to the next.  “I am careful.  I try to remember that this is his own.”

 And he took the tape from me, and he smiled.

To find out more about the Canada tour, check out our dedicated tour page. If you want to find out more about our daily work, connect with us on Facebook and Twitter, or visit our website www.popupadventureplay.org

Friday, 1 September 2017

Pop-Ups On Tour 2017 - Edmonton AB

By Andy

The second part of our Edmonton stop was a combined workshop and Pop-Up Adventure Playground spread across two days. The workshop was held at the University of Alberta and was brought together by the great people of Play Around the World with a helping hand from Child Friendly Edmonton.

There were a few technical hiccups and some last minute room shuffling for our workshop, but we quickly got back on track after some entertaining improvisation and crowd participation (Thanks Anthony!). The room was filled with parents, students and professionals from a variety of backgrounds. We had people from recreation, city planning, childcare and occupational therapist, amongst others.

An interesting part of the workshop was in response to our question "Who here has heard of playwork?" Hands flew up in the air, more yes than no, which was a first on our Canadian tour so far! During a conversation in the break, a participant stopped me in my flow. "Fraser Brown?!", "Yes", I replied. "Oh, I know Fraser. He visited here about ten years ago. He is fantastic and inspired some of the work that we do". What a small world I thought. But then on second thought, it was a stark reminder just how small the playwork field was on a global scale.

People on route of this Canadian tour have referred to us as the Evangelicals of playwork, and to some extent that is true, spreading the message about playwork as far and wide as possible, but through sparking right conversations and reopening up dialogue about play and playwork we have uncovered that people have been here before us, and traces of a Canadian adventure play movement keep on being uncovered.

The following day we set up for a Pop-Up at Edmonton Zoo. We were nestled between the beavers and the Takin and had our loose parts delivered by safari jeep (aka golf buggy). The weather was hot and the numbers were small, but the play that proceeded was as beautiful and unpredictable as always. Slides and skirts were made. Adults reminisced and the foundations were laid for further work.




There is some great things happening in Edmonton: a recent masters graduate from Leeds Beckett University specialising in play and playwork and a whole host of projects built upon the embers of a previous playwork movement. Keep going Edmonton - we look forward to hearing about your playful adventures.

To hear more about our tour, please visit our dedicated tour page. To find out more about our daily adventures, check out our facebook and twitter. Don't forget to also check out our website www.popupadventureplay.org.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Pop-Ups On Tour 2017 - Laurier Heights, AB

By Morgan

We stopped at Laurier Heights Out of School Care to meet with our host Sherri, who led us out from the parking lot and into the field behind the school. Loose parts were stacked out there already, waiting.

“I can bring out more,” she said but we assured her that wasn’t necessary, as we went poking through the piles of pallets, cardboard tubes, boxes of tape and rope, and stacks of tires. There were a few surprises tucked in there - most excitingly, a large brassy collection of musical instruments. A saxophone, flute and even one enormous tuba. We immediately picked them up and pretended to play. I made the euphonium produce a loud honking noise, like a plaintive goose, and felt absurdly pleased with myself. Having these instruments to play with seemed marvelous, but wasn’t it also a waste? Sherri assured us that they were going to be thrown out anyway, and that they’d cost more to fix than replace.

That moment of giving ourselves comfort and permission to let go turned out to be important, because as soon as children arrived three of them stripped apart the slide trombone and used the pieces to gleefully stab holes in a cardboard sheet, two at a time.


There were a couple areas of destruction going on, including a group of boys at the far end who alternated between building an enormous and complicated den with tearing apart other boxes nearby. A teacher, loitering there and looking anxious, gently touched my arm as I cruised by.

“I think this is okay,” she said. “Tell me why?” So we talked for awhile about play as expression, about the need to explore how materials behave, to let yourself go against a material that can take it, to value destruction and creation equally. We talked about how these ideas applied in our own lives, and how we could apply them to the provision we make for children.

After that, I went back into the session’s flow and saw that a friend of Suzanna’s had arrived. Both were talking while giving small pieces of tape to a child named Emmett, who carefully placed each piece on them. One went on Suzanna’s leg, two on her friend’s hairy shins (he said “oh! Ohhh,” in the tone of an adult succumbing to play) and Emmett giggled after each one. I took over the role of tape dispenser so they could chat, and soon had pieces across my knees and pockets. Later, I was passing back around that larger den at the edge and heard a frustrated cry of “EMMETT!” before the boy himself ran out of there, giggling and chased by an older boy who was covered in a dozen small pieces of tape.

There were some amazing moments, under the bright Laurier Heights sunshine. We always say that every pop-up is a little bit the same (with forts and smashing, running and taping) and a little bit different. For example, this one had a marching band.

Turn up the sound for full effect.

We’d also set up a couple of swings from the fixed goal posts. I’d set up one of those tightly spinning hammocks, and Andy made a tire swing. We put materials to make more nearby, and when Andy went past to cut them down at the end, he found a bunch of those compound knots that children often make and said that some had pieces of flute hanging down.


Afterwards, one parent carried her half-asleep child to the car told me, “tomorrow we’re going to rent a trumpet. He was in that fort playing with it the whole time. I’ve never seen him do anything for that long!” And so, a new generation of musicians is born.

To find out more about our Canadian adventure, check out our tour page here. To follow our daily adventures, check out our facebook and twitter. Finally, don't forget about our website www.popupadventureplay.org.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Pop-Ups Canada Tour 2017 - North Battleford SK

By Morgan

The first family arrived 10 minutes early at our North Battleford SK pop-up, and sat on the grassy hill to wait. Workshop participants and staff of BECIP carried out materials from the library basement, armfuls of cardboard, piles of shoe boxes, tubs of tape and string, paint and styrofoam cups. As children and families started to arrive, the participants circulated and tried out the advice we had given them that morning. Circulating, colleagues bumped into each other and compared notes.

“I adulterated!” One said.  “As soon as I said ‘I like your boat’, I thought ohhh.  The look she gave me!”
“I did it too,” her friend commiserated.  “It’s hard to observe and stay quiet, when we’ve always been taught the opposite.”

We assured them that this takes time, and is a process. We distributed tape and cut windows for children who asked. Andy built a swing, Suzanna tried out Facebook Live and we all chatted with the parents. One grandmother, whose two grandchildren were visiting from Edmonton for the weekend, said that she’d been following this event on Facebook for weeks.

“Most folks around here don’t have a lot left over,” she said. “And it’s hard to know where to take the kids that won’t cost anything, but feels special.  It’s meant a lot to be able to tell them about this, to say that people were coming from far away, and to let them get excited.”  The older boy had finished his first structure and now moved onto a school bus, while his young brother sneaked in the back door and stole a handful of his snack. She smiled at them. “They’ve had a great time.”


The oldest asked me to hold something for him, to tear off small pieces of tape one at a time. I did that for awhile, feeling the sunshine on my face and looking around at the families playing across the grass.  About 200 children came to our 3 hour pop-up, unfolding and stacking, smashing and painting, sticking and pulling apart. I was called away to meet another adult visitor, so handed the boy my roll of tape and excused myself.

“Come back later,” he said.  “When you’re ready to teleport!”

We met people doing amazing work in the Battlefords, supporting families across an astonishing 25,000 kilometer patch. The area north of them is served by airplane, since there aren’t any roads there. They told us that parent involvement in children’s play was often an issue - not the helicopter parenting we might expect, but a great distance. Some parents will say it outright, they explained: “I don’t know how to play with my kid.”

At the pop-up, however, they said they saw families interacting in ways they’d never seen before. Some were directing their children’s play, or co-opting it unknowingly, but they were trying.  They were being playful themselves, and that caught the hearts of our hosts.  At dinner, they brainstormed future pop-ups - in a borrowed gym during the long winter, taking the idea up to those rural communities. Several told us that this visit, the simple ideas we’d shared, renewed their enthusiasm to keep working and playing together.  It’s a challenging field, and one afternoon spent laughing makes an enormous difference.


Another woman came up to us in between these sessions. “I worked on an adventure playground in St. Andrews’s,” she told us. Suzanna and I looked at each other, said we’d never heard that there was one. “I was only 16,” she said.  “I had no idea they were so special.It was how I’d grown up, and it was a fun summer job.  But it’s why I went into early childhood, and your talk reminded me of what I loved there.”  By the end, she had decided to get back in touch with old contacts, see when and why that site had closed.

Who knows, perhaps by the next time we’re back a new AP will be flowering in Canada again.

To hear more about our Canadian adventure, please check out our dedicated webpage. To see what we get up to on a daily basis, check our facebook and twitter. And of course please enjoy our website www.popupadventureplay.org.

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 www.popupadventureplay.org.

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 www.popupadventureplay.org 

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 www.popupadventureplay.org

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