Loose Parts, Part Two: CCP’s First Pop-Up

Happy November, everybody! October was a hectic month on my end. At the beginning of the month, I travelled to Ithaca, New York to attend and present at the Ithaca Play Symposium, “a gathering for change-makers fostering a culture of play in their own communities… two days of sharing, discussion, and play, while learning from local initiatives and play leaders from across the US and abroad.”

SO MUCH TO SAY about this amazing conference. I came back inspired to continue my work and to expand the network, particularly across Canada. A post-conference blog post has been on my to-do list and is half drafted in my Google Drive, so hopefully I’ll have a chance to share those thoughts on The Lion and The Mouse’s blog soon!

A couple of days later, I headed to Calgary to join forces with Calgary Child’s Play for a day. I hosted a couple of workshops with staff, speaking on my knowledge and experience in playwork and the particular way The Lion and The Mouse meshes the field of Playwork and that of Forest Schools to create our outdoor-based, play-based programs. This was also a valuable time to discuss the differences and challenges in bringing Playwork and opportunities for risky play (more on that in November’s post!) and outdoor play to accredited care programs.

The same afternoon, I helped CCP host their first-ever Pop-Up Adventure Playground. We had previously discussed the kinds of loose parts that would make it interesting, and I was blown away by what they managed to gather. None of the staff at The Lion and The Mouse have a vehicle, so although we get larger items donated by our families, we have always been limited in the kinds of large boxes, pallets, and amount of tires or other large objects we can bring to our Pop-Up events, simply due to lack of transportation in gathering such supplies. When I saw the sheer amount of items CCPers had amassed, I was excited to see how kids would use the materials. We all got to work setting up and got ready to welcome kids from the Westgate community, as well as CCP’s program participants, for the end of the school day. Plenty of extra staff were on hand to step in if needed, but mainly to observe the event.

Although some neighbourhood kids had already joined the event at this point, witnessing the sixty-plus kids that are part of the Westgate CCP program ascend onto the Pop-Up space, on a sunny but cold day in a field just outside of the community centre, was quite the sight. I never know how kids will react to such events, since many (but not all, of course), don’t regularly engage with open-ended materials in such a space, especially when we tell them that apart from injuring each other, they can do whatever they want with the materials. The initial 15-20 minutes were CRAZY. No other word for it, really. The kids barrelled into the large space that we had set up and while some got to work building, or simply exploring, a critical mass of kids were simply interested in using some of the more stick-like loose parts to smash cardboard and run around and be loud. I think this was a bit of a shock for some staff members, but I assured them that after 15-20 minutes the group usually got into a groove, which was indeed what happened. For me as well, most Pop-Ups that we run take part as part of a community event such as a festival, and thus there aren’t usually a large group of kids that come at the same time, with the exception of the Spring Break Pop-up we did at the library, which was indoors and had much smaller loose parts (was still pretty energetic though!).

As mentioned, after the initial 15-20 minutes of running around and smashing boxes, kids got into the groove, and many began a series of projects, which they remained engaged in for the entire two-hour play session in some cases. Some kids built incredible fortresses/dens, some made dolls, some created games, some dressed up in costumes, some had battles out of cardboard tubes, and more. School-aged boys who – let’s face it, don’t do this THAT much at school – dressed up in “typically feminine” costumes, which to me showed that we had created a safe space. I’m not saying that boys don’t like playing dressup, but in my experience working in schools, they aren’t usually “allowed” socially to wear scarves and skirts and such things within play. Interestingly, there were a number of kids who incorporated what I saw as local culture into the games, such as pretending to be cowboys or ranchers. I don’t think I’ve ever seen kids pretend to be cowboys at a Pop-Up in Montreal. Culturally, the references are not the same.

Kids left the Pop-Ups having had fun playing, which is the most important, but also being proud of the things they had created. They didn’t want us to take down the dens, and indeed I would have loved to leave them up, should the City of Calgary have allowed it. They were so excited to share with their parents all the things they did and made.

Helping run this Pop-Up was a ton of fun for me, and made me prioritize getting our hands on fridge and furniture boxes for our next Montreal Pop-Up event. I hope it inspired staff and parents to find opportunities for loose parts play, either in a massive Pop-Up style event or simply by adding them to their daily play spaces. It inspired me, at least, to continue providing such opportunities.

Thanks to CCP for giving me the chance to spend some time with you, and for being allies in child-led play in Canada!