Checkers and gardens

On Monday, we had a big storm in Vermont.  My Uncle called from Massachusetts because apparently we’d been mentioned in the severe weather warning.  This little town doesn’t get on the news very often.

It was also one day after the first seeds germinated in my experimental little garden, and they were all washed away.  Some baked flat onto the tarmac.  This afternoon I was staring bleakly at the wreckage when the neighbor kid came by.  We chatted for awhile, and I applauded the new tricks he’d learned on his bike.  He brought over a box of paper twist firecrackers and we threw them at each others’ feet and laughed.


The last thing he brought over was a checkers set, and he and I sat out on the grass to play.  We both talked a lot of trash while laying the pieces out, and then I started kicking his ass.  Nothing too terrible, but definitely not letting him win.  He responded by changing all the rules, so he could start kicking mine.  Checkers was far more fun his way, where points were scored according to sassiness of tone or making the other person laugh.  At one point there were residents of three houses standing outside, chatting until it was time for dinner.

This interaction could have been framed as a spin on negative capability, playful communities, or used to illustrate that subversive way play has of coming in the side door and throwing glitter around.  After having felt depressed about my little plant-pocalypse though, I most appreciated it as a burst of fun in my day, and delighted in its surprise.  Our game reminded me that this is the point of summer, to be outside and laughing in the warm shade.

Supporting play community in Canada

This year marks a decade since I got into playwork.  A DECADE, goodness.  There are probably more thoughts on that coming soon.  Mostly though, I count myself fortunate to have wandered into the most marvelous community of people – curious, passionate, ingenious, dedicated (and yes, a little mad too sometimes, but we wouldn’t have it any other way).  That’s why a big part of our work at Pop-Up Adventure Play is focused on building, encouraging and growing that community – both online and in person.

This summer, we’re going to Canada!  We’re not the only playworkers participating in the IPA Conference in Calgary, but we might be taking the longest route from the airport.  That’s because we’re starting in Halifax (the opposite coast) and making our way west.  En route, we’ll be stopping in several truly rural locations to talk adventurous play and playwork with some good folks who have been isolated from professional community for far too long.

Every tour allows us to visit people who couldn’t afford to bring us out there directly.  They put us up in their homes and feed us at their kitchen tables.  We keep our costs low to stay accessible, but this time hosts tell us they’re struggling to contribute towards our costs of flights, food and fuel between locations.

That’s why we’re reaching out to our community, and asking for a little help.  

Since 2010 we have spread the word about play, playwork and children’s right to be free.  We’ve done this almost entirely on professional development revenue and donations from people like you, giving labor freely and gladly.  If you’ve been encouraged by our work or inspired by something we’ve put online, consider donating here.  The Thank You perks are pretty awesome, too!

We’d also be so grateful if you shared this information around.  And isn’t that the most extraordinary picture?  Suzanna took it at Campference, and every time I look at it I smile.  It seems to reach that quality of magic you feel on a marvelous site, every ordinary and astonishing day.

New Year’s Revolutions

There’s another of those uncredited lines running around my head, that children playing out is both sign of and catalyst for healthy communities.

It sure feels true, doesn’t it?  When we see children playing outside, we can assume that people know their neighbors, there there is confidence in the safety of public space and a general acceptance of children’s presence.  In communities where children do not play out, we often see a spiral of suspicion, repression, conflict, trauma and reaction.  Something similar happens with adult play – we know what follows when societies suppress art, literature, comedy and dance.  Healthy communities hold a place for participation, imagination and dissent from citizens of all ages.

2016 gave us a lot to process, and I’m glad to be starting the New Year by teaching a winter term course at Middlebury College, titled “Children’s Play as Social Subversion”.  My abstract promises that:

In this course, we will look at historical and cultural interpretations of children’s play in anthropology, psychology, anarchist theory, the “new sociologies of childhood” and the UK-based field of playwork. We will investigate systems of power and control acting upon children’s time, space and freedom, and play’s intersection with issues of gender, race, class and neurodiversity. Through readings, written work and practical assignments, we will establish a rich understanding of play, exploring and moving beyond the conventional fixed equipment playgrounds which have been called “ghettoes for play” to critically examine material and social environments children create for themselves.

This is all pretty thrilling, but I’ve been embarrassed by my struggle to assemble a reading list that reflects the diversity of the field.  Other than the playwork ‘classics’, what should I be reading and sharing with people newly interested in play and children’s rights?  What readings or concepts have inspired you to think differently, feel more deeply?

And if you’re looking for more ways to play in your 2017, keep an eye on this…