Vote for Santa Clarita Adventure Play!

Almost exactly 3 years ago, Jeremiah handed in Module 3 of his Playworker Development Course.  The assignment sent him out into his local environment, to choose a site and evaluate its potential for play.   He wrote:

“The location I’ve chosen is an empty lot in my neighborhood that I’ve had my eye on for several months (if I had the time and money and know-how, this would be our neighborhood’s adventure playground).”

Take a look at it now!

In that video, you might spot Suzanna, Grant Lambie and myself during our US Tour stop in L.A..  Eureka Villa is an amazing site – in fact, we love it, Jeremiah and Erica so much that we’re co-hosting the Campference there!

We’re also asking for your help. 

Right now, this project stands to win $100,000.  This would allow the team to do two marvelous things: run a series of pop-up adventure playgrounds all around LA country, and open the FIRST ADVENTURE PLAYGROUND IN L.A.


Seriously.  Click that link.  It’s literally the easiest thing you’ve ever done to support a project, and has the potential to really impact this project and the city of LA in a really beautiful way.

This is a program that is rooted in best practice, coming straight from the heart.  Over the years, we’ve felt honored to work with Santa Clarita Valley Adventure Play.  We love and totally respect their approach.  Heck, we’ve even sent them Andy!  In short, this is an adventure playground being driven forward by a team of totally dedicated people who believe in it and want to do their part.

You can do yours.

Playwork and education

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the Ithaca Children’s Garden’s annual Play Symposium.  It’s a site I love, and a town full of people I adore – not too shabby really, for a conference.

I got to see Fraser who, in spite of being my PhD supervisor, I don’t spend nearly enough time with.  There were several independent organizers of pop-up adventure playgrounds, and students from the Playworker Development Course, and people I hadn’t seen in exactly a year.  As always with a room full of talented, passionate people there was much to catch up on and learn.

Fraser showed footage from his work in Romania that I had never seen.  Teacher Tom shared stories from his cooperative preschool, about the breadth and depth and beauty of play in early years   Erin Davis showed some new footage taken at ICG during my summer there, including a couple moments of quite deep playwork practice.  Reilly Wilson (of play:ground) did some myth-busting on issues of liability on adventure playgrounds, and showed my favorite slide of all (and she’s said I can ask her some questions about it to share here very soon).  I talked too, showing some video and stories from five months with Jill Wood at the Parish School in Houston, TX.

The night before I presented, I stayed up to swap out images and tinker with content.  It would be easier to have one talk that I give over and over, but there are always new thoughts to include and every audience is different.  Sometimes conversations with other participants over lunch will remind me to be explicit and not to assume previous knowledge.  I made a new slide and wedged it in towards the end.  The only text was:

playwork ≠ education

The person at the front of the room doesn’t always have a best sense of how a piece of information is received, but I definitely felt some surprise.  There might have been a gasp or two.  I looked out and saw a lot of early years people, people who had spent two days looking at pictures of children playing in mud or balancing containers with water in, poking holes in cardboard boxes, and thought “this looks familiar”.  They watched videos of children building with hammers and nails, stirring scrap wood in a fire, and perhaps thought “this looks great!”

But other than hearing the term ‘playwork’ and learning that there’s great info out there on risk, I don’t think many understood this to be an approach – professional, specific, holistic, unique.  The second hand raised in Q&A was to ask me to expand upon this (and the first was about the Campference, so).

I think I said something about playwork and education having different histories, assumptions and priorities.  I may have said something about our trying to keep a light touch, or injecting moments of surreality to help hold a moment as playful.  It’s a little fuzzy because my brain was suddenly locked in a traffic jam – I hadn’t needed to explain this before, a fact of difference that seems so obvious to those who know and unnoticed by those who don’t.  For days after, I counted off all that I should have said.  In case this is a conversation you ever need to have, here’s what I came up with.  Send me your notes as well – we’ll improve together.

In the meantime, if I could do it again, I would tell people:

  • Read Fraser Brown’s Fundamentals of Playwork
  • Understand that playwork has a theoretical and practical background totally distinct from even the most progressive forms of education, and that sometimes these approaches are in conflict
  • Watch trained and experienced playworkers out in the field, ask them questions and listen to the answers
  • If you’re trying to incorporate aspects into another practice, start by trying to talk less and listen more.  Notice your own prejudices and preconceptions, so that you can start suspending them
  • Get comfortable feeling uncomfortable

Playwork and education are as different from one another as magpies and pomegranates.  Lots of educators are getting interested in adventure playgrounds, which is fantastic!  But we need to be clear, when sharing images and stories we love, that these aren’t truly adventure playgrounds unless there are trained playworkers on site – people who have studied this practice specifically, are supported in their development by a board who understands what makes these sites different, and part of a community of professionals.

How to start an adventure playground

There are some questions about adventure playgrounds that we at Pop-Up Adventure Play get asked a lot.

“What about liability insurance?”

“Who pays for these places?”

“Are they really safe?”

And, our favorite:

“How do I open one??”

When people ask this, flushed with new excitement, it’s worth taking a moment to step back and rethink the question.  On the one hand, we want to see as many adventure playgrounds as possible.  We’re thrilled to be part of this new wave of interest in adventure playgrounds, and to be helping those new sites with their staff training.  But more importantly, we want all adventure playgrounds to be great adventure playgrounds.

And that comes down to staffing.

Great playworkers can make the most of a site that is frankly crap, while uptight or apathetic playworkers can ruin the richest of environments.  We all share a burden of anti-child, anti-play education to dismantle before we can support children’s play in specific, nuanced ways.  We all need a community of professionals to show us options of response, to encourage us when things get hard, and to celebrate the successes that only people in this weird and glorious field would understand.  The revolution starts within.

For anyone genuinely interested in starting a new adventure playground, there’s nothing like spending time on a good site and talking to people who have been doing this work for years.  That’s one of the reasons why we’re hosting the upcoming Playwork Campference in partnership with Santa Clarita Valley Adventure Play – and on their new adventure playground.

Days of learning and practicing the concrete skills and philosophical underpinnings of true playwork practice.  Afternoons listening to people who have done it themselves – Prof. Fraser Brown (veteran playworker and author of Playwork: Theory and Practice and other landmark texts), Jill Wood (Founder and Head of Adventure Playground at the Parish School).  Evenings watching The Land and asking Director Erin Davis all about it, or sitting around the bonfire while the conversations go deep.

We couldn’t be more pleased about all this, but we’re not doing it for us!  So, why should you be there?

1.  You get to be a part of a new adventure playground’s opening, asking its organizers and others about the common barriers these sites face, and how they have overcome them

2.  We have a tight focus on adventurous play, undistracted from lots of nonsense about learning outcomes.  For a few days, you can take a break from needing to justify this approach and instead immerse yourself in its richness, challenges and rewards

3.  We’ve chosen to highlight great playwork practitioners rather than professional speakers, so get ready for some amazing and inspirational people who you haven’t even heard of yet – people who remain available throughout the Campference for follow-up questions (and probably a beer as well)

4.  This event is truly international, with four countries represented so far and several people coming from the UK.  Talk with colleagues across generations of practice, and in all sorts of communities.  This diversity of voices gives you more ideas to draw upon, as on-site mentors help you build your own foundation of theory and style of playwork practice

5.  This is the first Playwork Campference, and it may be the last!  We can’t promise we’ll do this again.

If you love these sites, this work, these ideas – register now.