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…

On baking as play

Suzanna reminds me to play, because I forget all the time. I might be short-tempered or vague when we’re talking or start to go weird in some other way, and Suzanna will ask if I’ve been outside lately. She’ll ask what I’m doing for fun and perhaps show some of the crafts, postcards, photography and doodles that she’s been working on. And for several years, she’s patiently encouraged me to start baking again.

When I was small, I loved to bake. The reasons all came back when I carefully leveled cups of soft flour and poured tiny scoops of fragrance. I don’t know why I resisted for so long, other than all the usual reasons why we resist what is good for us. It was fun, to look through recipes again and daydream flavor combinations for scones, quiche, cornbread. I cut cold butter into mountains of flour, and creamed it against bright sugar crystals. Everything is full-fat, sweet and crumbly. Over a few weeks, I got good at baking again, and had the joy of bringing my mother food she was actually excited about eating. It reminded me how cake is more powerful than we give it credit for.

If cake was the point though, we’d go out and buy one. Making something more difficult than it needs to be for the fun of it is a pretty decent definition of play. Baking develops skills of foresight and improvisation, and offers the drama of a sponge’s rise and fall. Like all play, baking allows people to experience large emotions in a small way – joy, disappointment, risk and triumph. And when I take a strawberry pound cake, sunken in the middle, over to a friend’s house I can watch her taste it and know it came out good.

I’ve been lucky to have Suzanna as one of the voices in my head, calm and compassionate. She reminds me to be gentle, and apply some of the warmth and non-judgment from playwork to my own self. I’m so grateful for that, and specifically for her nudges to play more. When it comes to baking, the risks are low, in time and effort and cost, but the rewards can be marvelous. In short, it’s a great choice for the chronically play deprived – such as myself, and maybe also you?