Pop-up Playground Adventures

Editors note: This blog was written by one of Play Outside NS’s most important teams members, Jane Cawley. Jane is a retired Early Childhood Educator and former Director of the Nova Scotia College of Early Childhood Education. Jane not only has many years of caring for children under her belt, but she also teaches how to best support children’s development to our current and future Educators.

The amazing thing about a pop-up playground event is that it looks to an outside observer like a magical happening, that arrives with a “POP” and 5 hours later it disappears as quickly as it came. In reality, it takes months of planning; sourcing loose parts, creating an ongoing presence on social media, forming community partnerships, amassing an army of volunteers, creating and implementing a task plan for the team, and all the while keeping fingers crossed that the weather will be good.

We arrived at the Commons on the day with a U-Haul and our cars packed to the rafters. We unloaded the loose parts and reassembled hundreds of cardboard boxes (the bigger the better) that had been flattened for easy storage. Our team member Alex Smith, who hosted a pop-up playground in 2017, advised us to gather as many cardboard boxes as we could and thank goodness, we took that advice.  As you can see from photos the boxes were a big hit. Next, we staged the loose parts into separate areas, creating visual invitations to come and play.

…and then the magic happened!

The children started to arrive wide-eyed and curious. There were toddlers, preschool and school age children and even a few infants. Some children came in groups from child care centres or day camps, and some came with caregivers or parents.  Some came because they had seen the event notice, and some were driving by and stopped to see what it was all about.  Some children dove right in, but some children were a bit hesitant. Message to the children, “play and have fun.” Message to the adults, “The beauty lies in allowing the children the freedom to explore the materials, use them as they wish, and take them to any area of the play area they feel the need to.”

We observed the children playing with the loose parts in many different ways. Physical play was happening as children immediately began reorganizing, picking up, or dragging the loose parts to other locations. Often when the loose part was heavy or bulky the children had to adopt a collaborative plan to make this happen. Even though there were lots of materials and lots of children, the Commons provided spaces for children to practice balancing skills, to throw and catch balls, and to move their bodies. We observed balancing structures created with wood planks and tires as well as throwing games with balls and buckets. The children demonstrated confidence, motivation and competence; all of the elements of physical literacy.

Construction play was a theme throughout the day, with the older children having a specific goal “we’re gonna build a fort”, and the younger children simply working organically with the materials and somehow some of those turned into forts too. The children also engaged in dramatic play as they assumed roles to match their structures. One group mixed water and crushed chalk to make a secret potion.

Loose parts play can support collaborative group play or be used by one child engaged in solitary play, or two children playing side by side in parallel play. We observed younger children playing with older children; friends playing together; children playing with other children they had just met.  They were recognizing and appreciating the talents, skills, abilities and capacities to contribute to the play community. They were learning from each other and functioning in a cohesive, respectful, and responsible way.

The use of open-ended materials like loose parts can also lead to risky play. Good risks are those that engage and challenge children and support their growth, learning, and development (Play England, 2007). We observed children carefully assess their own capabilities and without adult input make thoughtful decisions. We also observed older children offering support to younger children.

An interesting statistic…PLEY team members had bandages in their pockets.  Final tally – zero bandages handed out. Thank you for the generosity of the community in supporting our Summer of PLEY Pop-Up Playground.

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