Pop-Up Adventure Play

Pop-Up Adventure Play

Pop-Up Adventure Play (PUAP) is a “start-up social enterprise” that advocates and serves as a catalyst for play opportunities for children, families, and communities. PUAP’s work is greatly influenced by the international adventure playground movement and the United Kingdom’s profession of playwork. Operating primarily in the United States and the UK, the mission of PUAP is “to advocate for children’s hands-on and self-directed play within communities of supportive adults.”1

Pop-Up Adventure Play was founded in February 2011 by several founding members, including Sharon Unis, Morgan Leichter-Saxby, Anna Housley Juster, Suzanna Law, Daniel Bigler and Erin Davis. Pop-Up Adventure Play was originally established in the United States as a nonprofit project of Fractured Atlas and is currently under development as an organization. In October 2011, Pop-Up Adventure Play UK was established as a Company Limited by Guarantee in the United Kingdom and is currently seeking charitable status.2

Pop-Up Adventure Play supports “child-directed, open-ended play – play where children choose what to play and make up their own rules for how to play.”3 The PUAP team utilizes various tools, services, and programs to advance free play opportunities for children and offers playwork training and consulting to communities worldwide. Some of their successful projects conducted in the US and the UK include the following:

  • A summer-long residency during weekends on Governors Island with FIGMENT (2011)
  • A Pop-Up Play Shop in the Queens Arcade in the city of Cardiff, Wales (2011-2012)
  • A weekly after school program at an elementary school in Brookline, Massachusetts (2012)
  • A county-wide play initiative in Westchester, New York, spearheaded by PUAP (2012)4

Projects generally involve teaming up with a diversity of local organizations including nonprofits, local businesses, parks departments, children’s museums, colleges, cultural institutions, and schools.5

One successful model promoted widely by PUAP is the Pop-Up Adventure Playground model, which is a temporary play space that can be set up anywhere for children’s open-ended play with loose parts and materials.6 The idea for the model originated from work Morgan did in the UK when she was involved with mobile playwork outreach. The concept was then developed by volunteers associated with the New York Coalition for Play (NYCPlay), including Morgan and Sharon, and was introduced in 2010 during a weekend event called FIGMENT NYC 2010. Later that fall, NYCPlay featured a Pop-Up Adventure Playground as one of the play booths at the Ultimate Block Party held in New York City’s Central Park. The emerging concept of affecting change directly in communities with the Pop-Up Adventure Playground model led to the establishment of Pop-Up Adventure Play.7

The main idea behind this type of play provision is that of loose parts. Children can use a variety of every day items, such as boxes, fabrics, rope, string, tape, wood, sticks, and tires, to construct anything they can imagine. The Pop-Up Adventure Playground model encourages those involved to seek donated items from their local community businesses, such as boxes, packing materials, paper tubing, and fabric samples, which could be used as play materials. Reusing materials that would normally be scrapped by these businesses promotes an environmentally-friendly community effort and gives the added benefit of play spaces that require little cost. These “pop-up” play spaces can be set up for a few hours in neighborhood cul-de-sacs, front lawns, parks, and school playgrounds and then taken back down when the event is over.

Trained workers who set up and take care of the temporary play spaces are known as playworkers, an international profession dedicated to supporting children’s play. Their role is to allow the children the freedom to explore, experiment, take risks, and build with the play materials in their own child-directed play, while aiding them as needed and making sure they are safe. The playworkers are careful to allow the children to lead the play and only assist them when asked. This allows children the opportunity to develop creativity, imagination, self-reliance, and social skills as they play together on their own.8

Pop-Up Adventure Play approaches its work through the understanding that “children live within a web of community connections comprised of child-child, child-adult, and adult-adult relationships. By holding children’s play needs within the community as the highest priority, PUAP believes that everyone benefits.”9

  • 1. “Join the Movement!” Pop-Up Adventure Play. < http://www.popupadventureplay.org/ > 1 Feb. 2012.
  • 2. Unis, Sharon. Private correspondence received by Playground Professionals. 1 Feb. 2012.
  • 3. Juster, Ann Housley. Private correspondence received by Playground Professionals. 1 Feb. 2012.
  • 4. “Portfolio.” Pop-Up Adventure Play. < http://www.popupadventureplay.org/ > 1 Feb. 2012.
  • 5. “What We Do.” Pop-Up Adventure Play. 15 Aug. 2011.
  • 6. “Nuts and Bolts.” Pop-Up Adventure Play. 15 Aug. 2011.
  • 7. Op cit., Unis, Sharon.
  • 8. Op. cit., “Nuts and Bolts.”
  • 9. “Our Approach.” Pop-Up Adventure Play. < http://www.popupadventureplay.org/ > 1 Feb. 2012.