Category Archives: pop-up adventure play

Many Hands Make Great Play

The kids are smiling, laughing, shouting, jumping, building, making, exploring, wondering. They’re active physically, mentally and socially as they create their own loose parts play zone at the ‘Wear Pink’ MET Track event.

DSCF8909

a
I’m not sure who is more exhilarated, the kids or we three amigos who pulled this together as a pilot project hosted by Nova Scotia’s Youth Running Series. I think the kids have a leg up on us, just barely though as the perma press smiles are pretty equally distributed between them and us adult types.

DSCF8842

a
Our role is quite simple. Provide a space and ingredients – let the kids do the rest. It’s a wonderful recipe for spontaneity. The kids intuitively understand that permission is being given to play with the stuff – ‘loose parts’ in tech speak – in any manner that they can conceive. It’s a freewheeling, dynamic playscape fueled by the power of imagination. In short order we see cardboard castles, obstacle courses, balancing on planks and hula-hooping bike tires.

DSCF9009

a
Inanimate objects seem to come to life as they are re-purposed in a metamorphosis of play. Milk crates become pathways, steps, towers – bales of hay are launching pads into unforgiving gravity, tires and planks are transformed into a catapult’s working parts.

DSCF8997

a
On this day all paths are leading to play. By all accounts the event is a success. Kids have a blast, adults reminisce about childhood, PhysEd teachers there with students participating in the running series are enthusiastic, our hosts are eager to have us back. A sweet blast of euphoria courses through me as I watch the kids having fun with simple treasures, making their own worlds of play. The three of us – Dean, Luke and myself – check in with each other. We’re all in agreement, ‘it’s awesome’.

DSCF8987

a
Social media gives us the thumbs up too. I’m starting to think of what we can do next year. Where else can we take this traveling playshow? If you’re reading this in Halifax and have any suggestions, give us a shout, we’d love to hear from you….

Loose Parts Stats - Sept 23

a
Thanks to all the folks who helped with and inspired this ‘loose parts’ play session. It would have never happened if I hadn’t crossed paths with Suzanna and Morgan and at Pop-Up Adventure Play, Sarah and crew at Stepping Up! Halifax, Robert at Glasgow’s Baltic Street Adventure Playground, the fine folks at London’s Assemble who along with Baltic put on a great outdoor play event on Glasgow Green during the Play Summit in April, Brendon P. Hyndman and his loose parts research in Australian schools and Mairi Ferris who brought me to a forest in Fife, Scotland in July to share an incredible play space where kids as young as six-years-old make their own dens with branches, learn to use tools, to make fires and are able to explore the woods in safety.

Run Jump Build

Thanks also to the businesses who helped us with materials for the day – Enterprise Car Rentals, Valleyfield Farms, Canadian Tire, M & R Enterprises, Farmer’s Dairy and Novabraid.

My biggest thanks to Luke and Dean the other playmakers on the team who helped make it all possible. Two weeks later the goofy grin comes back to my face along with a ripple of laughter every time I picture the kids making their own thing….

Glasgow Green is Calling

Later today I do the Halifax – Heathrow jet skip with a final touchdown in Glasgow just a couple of weeks shy of the XX Commonwealth Games kick off that happens to fall on my birthday. It’s the second time this year that I’m a guest at a cousin’s wedding on Scotland’s west coast. Joyous days for the couples walking down the aisle and wonderful occasions for all of us to make new friends and reconnect with family on both sides of the Atlantic.

DSC06197Glasgow Green – Play Summit Pop-Up Adventure – April 2014
p
My April trip coincided with the Play Summit spearheaded by Nils Norman (check Nils’ great photobank of playscapes here) and London’s Assemble. The Summit symposium featured leading play thinkers, advocates and activists in the People’s Palace and adventure play shenanigans for kids on Glasgow Green.

I was able to pop in for a couple of hours and immerse myself in conversations and presentations about adventure play. It was exciting to meet and chat with people like Hitoshi Shimamura who flies the adventure play banner in Tokyo where, he told me, there’s an aversion to fences around playgrounds. The goal is to offer an inviting, open space that presents no boundaries or barriers with the surrounding community.

Tim Gill and I sat down for lunch and a chat. Early on in my exploration of playgrounds I had sent Tim a few questions on the possibility of developing a play index that could capture how local authorities were measuring up to enabling play opportunities for their young citizens. He sent me a thoughtful and informative response that included suggested contacts and the friendly pointer that an undertaking of this nature would present unique and complex challenges.

No FearClick photo for free download courtesy of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundtation

True to form when we lunched under the glass dome of the People’s Palace, Tim was generous with his time and gave me a broad overview of the UK play landscape from his vantage point. PlayGroundology reblogs some of Tim’s work from rethinking childhood and I never tire of referencing his book, now in its third printing – No Fear – Growing Up in a Risk Averse Society – to parents, educators and the media.

Over the years, I’ve seen some great photos and video from London’s Glamis Adventure Playground. It was a thrill to be in the audience for Mark Halden’s presentation on some of the problems Glamis is encountering with fundraising. He bemoaned the significant time and energy that had to be dedicated to this activity. In an environment with small teams and already parsed budgets, the effort associated with financing can detract from programming for the kids.

Mark has a Canada connection too and has spent time in BC. He made me aware of a well loved and regarded play advocate, Valerie Fronczek who passed away last year. Many people spoke her name when they heard I was from Canada. Valerie was a respected and engaged member of the play community and worked tirelessly for kids. From what I heard, it would have been great to have known her.

What struck me during my brief interlude at the Play Summit was the sense of community and camaraderie amongst the participants. It was one of those gatherings where there was a lot of information flow and the delineation between presenters and practitioners was very porous. Many of of those in attendance had dedicated much of their working lives to help kids and play.

Just before I hopped into a cab to take me back to Central Station, I came across a playground with huge slide structures. I had to grab a few shots while the taxi waited. They sure looked like Spielgerate designs to me. When I visit again in a few days, I’ll give them a test run if I’m not chased away by parents.

DSC06992Towering, twisting slides on Glasgow Green
i

April’s pop-up adventure on Glasgow Green was an early days event for the Baltic St. Adventure Playground which is located nearby in the Dalmarnock district. Their official opening weekend is on for July 19 and 20. I’ll be back in Canada by then but playworker Robert Kennedy has kindly offered to give me a tour during my visit. It will be the first time I set foot in an adventure playground. It would be perfect if I could have our three kids with me – another time…

7f2105a6-d363-4edb-9b5b-7db2cab956f8

I’m hoping to get over to Fife too and learn a bit about some of the play happenings there from twitter friend @MairiMo. Mairi was a great help during my April visit and set up a meeting with Theresa Casey, a play author, consultant and President of the International Play Association. I’ll have more to share on the IPA and the meeting with Theresa in a subsequent post.

Glasgow Green and Edinburgh was time well spent and the first real opportunity I have had to meet with and hear the experiences of so many play people which is resulting in both pragmatic and inspirational returns. The Glasgow Green pop-up really got me juiced to work with others in Halifax to create a similar event. It will be taking place in September in association with the Youth Running Series. I’ll be picking Robert’s brains later this week to see what he can share and suggest.

DSC06231Pop-Up will be playing in Halifax, Canada soon. Thanks to the Play Summit and Baltic St. Adventure Playground for the inspiration

There may be some surprises of the dragon variety on this trip too. I’ll keep you posted.

I’m wrapping this post by giving a big shout out to my papa who will be 80 later this year. He’s an enthusiastic supporter of and sometime photographer for PlayGroundology. Yesterday, along with one his brothers and my brother and sister-in-law, he completed a six-day walk across Hadrian’s Wall. Their longest day was 27 kilometres. He did a number of interviews along the way with people from a variety of countries and is considering putting it all together to share on YouTube. This man just continues to blow me away.

It’s well past my bedtime and I need to get some rest for the long day ahead. Glasgow Green is calling and play is piping the tune. In this year of the Homecoming it’s Scotland Forever.

Pop-Ups On The Road 2014

Itinerant playmakers and PlayGroundology friends Pop-Up Adventure Play are on the road in a big way this year. PlayGroundology asked Suzanna Law if she could contribute a guest post to share some of her thoughts and experiences about the group’s recently concluded US tour. We’re happy she took us up on the offer. Stay tuned for future tour dates, perhaps you can organize to have them come to a community near you. I know we’ll be looking for an opportunity to bring them to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Exactly two months and eleven days ago, I was a ball of anxiety. I was in a snow storm with my colleague Anna and her two children battling our way to Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA to meet Morgan, our other colleague. As the car fought its way through the thick blanket of snow, I started to wonder if a two-month tour of the USA was a good idea.

This then triggered a whole wave of other thoughts: Will the hosts be ready for us? Would the little yellow car we chose be able to complete the journey? Are we really ready for this? But really, my biggest question was this: Was I going to make it to the first stop of the tour? Turns out I had nothing to worry about. Two months and six days on, after “sleeping for a thousand hours” (as Morgan put it) the tour is complete and I am ready to reflect on my adventure. And wow, was it incredible.

PopUp1Here is our little yellow car! It traveled through 28 States and did around 11,000 miles!

Let’s talk about some details first. Ever since Pop-Up Adventure Play was formed about 3 years ago, we have been invited to communities across the world but primarily in the USA. People have been wanting to find out more about playwork and to find out how they can bring more playful opportunities into their own homes. Above all, they wanted some people who have worked in the field before to come into their community to tell everyone that play is a good idea.

The biggest barrier to our visits has been the cost of travel which isn’t always an enormous amount, but is a stumbling block for many. Having mulled over this for a while, we decided to organise a tour! This would reduce travel costs as we’d already be on the road, and we would also be able to go where we would be invited. And that’s how we began the Pop-Up Adventure Play and Special Guests Tour 2014!

PopUp2Cardboard Sledding at Bernheim Arboretum in Kentucky

As the Tour Organizer, I had a personal aim of getting 7 locations on the tour. In my mind, it would be a success if I had one event every weekend. Morgan and I would form the core tour team and we would bring in our friends to be part of the tour. Using a combination of social media and reaching out to some of our existing contacts, we started the tour with 14 confirmed locations. Two weeks into the tour, we had somehow booked another 2 stops on the tour and had reached our limit: Pop-Ups Tour 2014 would be a 16 stop tour. I still can’t believe it.

PopUp3Chasing the robot at Manhattan Beach, CA

Oh goodness, and how could I not talk about our Special Guests? Grant Lambie, Andy Hinchcliffe and Erin Davis joined us for parts of the tour, bringing their expertise to communities who asked for a little extra; who wanted knowledge and experience that we didn’t have. They truly brought an extra spark to the tour, supporting us with their know-how, encouragement and car care.

Some really stand out moments of the trip have been with hosts at their locations. They have been absolutely amazing and inspirational, standing on the frontline of what feels like an American Adventure Play movement. They are brave and bold, and determined to create a playful, adventure-filled future for their children and for the communities in which their children live, all the while working within a society that isn’t all too familiar with play for it’s own sake. I have been blown away by their passion for play.

PopUp4Adventure Playground at the Parish School in Houston, TX

PopUp5An incredible place to play in Cary, NC

It may have been hard work driving a tiny yellow car across the US and stopping mostly to deliver workshops, run Pop-Up Adventure Playgrounds and to sleep, but it was totally worth the journey. Anxiety and tiredness aside, the Pop-Up Adventure Play and Special Guests Tour 2014 was a complete success. I’m so chuffed (British for “really pleased”) about this whole thing which you can read more about on our blog and am proud to announce that we’ll be doing this all again in 2015! If you want to be part of our next adventure, please email me on suzanna@popupadventureplay.org.

PopUp6Bouncing off the inflatable loose parts in Portland, OR

In Praise of Loose Parts

In play, ‘loose parts’ are skirting the edges of nirvana. Ask any kid. Now they probably won’t call them ‘loose parts’. They’re more likely to use the generic and all encompassing ‘stuff’ prefaced by cool, awesome, or great. It might even go the way of ‘this stuff is epic’.

Simple play is best for kidsStudents at Emmaus Primary Catholic School – Melbourne, Australia. Photo: Jay Town. Source: HeraldSun

Wood, rope, tarps, tires, milk crates, cardboard boxes, fabrics and apparently hay bales too can make up a loose parts inventory. It’s what the kids do with it that’s a real blast. They create, they build up and pull down, they improvise, they move, groove and PLAY!

Now, thanks to Australian researcher Brendon P. Hyndman we have empirical evidence that loose parts in primary schools go way beyond a good thing. From the perspective of increasing physical activity, engaging a broad cross-section of kids and being light on constantly squeezed budgets, this study shouts out ‘Eureka!’ embrace loose parts play.

Here are selected comments from A Guide for Educators to Move Beyond Conventional School Playgrounds…. published in the Australian Journal of Teacher Education.

the way they interact with each other…it’ s lovely to listen to…the co-operative play has really increased…they do negotiations…interactions between levels has been fantastic

kids in my room have mixed with kids they wouldn’t normally hang out with…there’s not a…set number that can or can’t be involved

students became a lot more complex in what they did…it was a real journey…there was…dragging, pulling and moving…then came the building phase…then came the dramatic phase…but all of those remain there

Quantitative data, as the charts below demonstrate, also offer a compelling storyline – given the opportunity, kids will choose to build and play with a variety of loose parts so much so that it becomes the dominant play activity.

Ausie Journal of Teacher Education

Given that many kids in Australia and elsewhere are getting the bulk of their physical activity and play within the school setting, in excess of 50% in some instances as cited in Hyndman’s study, these findings are significant.

The effects of the loose parts intervention were measured at various stages over a 2 1/2 year period and engagement remained steady.

“…teachers’ perceptions were that student exhibited increased amounts of excitement, engagement, creativity, problem solving and physical activity during their play with the introduced movable/recycled materials.”

Loose parts are an important part of the playwork canon and have strong roots in the UK within adventure playgrounds and with groups such as Pop-Up Adventure Play. David Rockwell’s Imagination Playground has also a taken a page from the loose parts experience in the creation of the big blue block play environments.

Loose Parts

All hail loose parts. They are the jazz of play bebopping the kids along in a wonderfall of spontaneity. There are downsides though that can’t be dismissed. As more and more schools, neighbourhood groups and play schemes embrace loose parts, it just might start proving difficult to source the ingredients – milk crates, cardboard boxes and of course hay bales!

Here are the kids, subjects of the research study, in action at Emmaus Catholic Primary School in Ballarat, Australia as reported by WIN News Victoria.

We hope to get something on the go in Halifax this summer and we’ll let you know how it turns out. I have just started to put together a menu of ingredients and am wondering where I will be able to acquire some of them at little or no cost. If any readers have put together a loose parts play event, I’d love to hear from you.

Many thanks to Brendon Hyndman for his grand research. You can follow him @Dr_BPH.

Hearts of Play

In both religious and secular celebrations, giving, goodwill and peace are Christmas mainstays. For kids it’s an incredible time, a wondrous dance of merry magic dream makers feverishly anticipating the arrival of Père Nöel, Sinterklaas, or Old Saint Nick. The air is infused with hope, friendship and play.

Beyond our own homes and communities, out there in the wider world, there are those who on a daily basis act with hearts of play. My thoughts gravitate to these Pax Ludo envoys at this time of year because their mission – helping kids to explore and experience the joys of play – is so closely aligned with Santa’s selfless journey of giving.

If you are looking for a good cause to embrace, consider for a moment one of these fine organizations in Hearts of Play (click through for version with full notes).

Enjoy this time for reflection, giving thanks, and family.

NEWSFLASH, this just in – PlayGroundology’s first Haiku Deck, The Book of Play has received a ‘hai 5’ and is in the running for best Haiku Deck in the Pure Wow category. Check it out, VOTE for PLAY and share it with the hashtag #hdbestof2013.

Hats off to Haiku Deck who make storytelling a breeze. Cheers

Back to School with Pop-up Adventure Play

While my kids are on summer break, I’m getting ready to hit the books after a couple of decades at recess. There’s no doubt that I’ll have to cut back on my lollygagging and skylarking but I’m confident that the sacrifice will pay huge dividends. The last time I felt like this was 25 years ago when I enrolled in an International Development Studies program. This time at bats it’s going to be all about play.

Wait, maybe lollygagging, skylarking and a little self-directed tomfoolery will end up being part of the curriculum. There’s sure to be some heavy lifting too. I’ll be swotting about theory, wrestling with assignments focused on practical applications and learning about the tradition of playwork as pioneered, developed and practiced in the UK.

Playworker course

This is heady stuff for me and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Over the past four years I’ve been acquiring a layperson’s perspective on the fascinating world of play. My initial entry point was hanging out with my kids and visiting playgrounds in our local community of Halifax, Nova Scotia. We mapped the playgrounds, took lots of photos and did little write ups that we shared online.

Shortly after getting the Halifax Plays project up and running, I started finding great people all over the world – designers, sculptors, architects, social enterprise leaders, academics, landscape architects, psychologists – all focused on enabling quality play experiences for kids. The wonderweb was working its magic and before I knew it, PlayGroundology was born.

My interest in play continues to grow. This Playworker Development Course by Pop-up Adventure Play is providing me with the opportunity to deepen my knowledge and learn from respected practitioners and peers. I hope too that it will provide me with tools to help make the transition from author/blogger to active local participant in the development and implementation of play strategies and happenings at the community level.

robot kidsRobot photo – taken at a Block Party Pop-Up Adventure Playground in Fairport, NY

Back in my more youthful days I was frequently a reluctant student. It resulted in me spending an additional year in the classroom before I could graduate. Way back then, I loved to hear Alice’s power chords torquing the teen anthem, School’s Out and dream about the summer fun ahead.

I’m pinching myself now and reviewing my email correspondence to ensure that this is all actually taking place. Well it is and many thanks to the Pop-up Adventure Play team for making it all possible. I’m coming full circle in a way back to my educational roots in the UK. I started my scholarly career at the age of 5 at Larkfield Primary School in Greenock, Scotland. I was the wee Canadian boy who couldn’t stand the winter cold in shorts and had to get special dispensation to wear long pants.

I will be writing here occasionally about the course and will be happy to share my perspectives with anyone who’s interested.

Well Alice, I gotta tell you, school’s in and it’s looking like an awesome session.

ScreenShot Mondays – Pop-Up Adventure Play

A couple of Mondays per month, PlayGroundology screenshots a cyberspot that focuses on playgrounds, or play. I hope readers dive in and explore. Even if you’ve seen the selection before, take a moment and check to see what content has been added recently.

Think of this as a very slow stumble upon, an invitation to relish something new or to revisit an old friend. Some of the people and places may be household names in the world of play and playgrounds, others not so much. I hope all will pique your interest in what they have to offer and further your own possibilities for playfulness.

Pop-Up Adventure Play

What a winning combination – pop-up, adventure and play. Having been deprived of adventure playgrounds in my own childhood, I am always happy to have the opportunity to point parents in that play direction when something of interest pops up. Click through, pop in and find out a little more about adventure play and playwork.