On Sunday, September 29, Anna’s friend Jane ran a Mini Pop-Up Adventure Playground at a park in Los Angeles, CA. She had just over a week to plan, collect materials, spread the word, and make it happen. As far as we know, this is the first LA Pop-Up and we are excited to share Jane’s story and photos here! 

By Jane Park Woo

As the room parent for my daughter’s preschool class I was responsible for organizing a back-to-school play date for all the children and their families.  I approached Anna because I wanted to do something different. Most special occasions in our neighborhood are held at the usual children’s gyms or indoor playgrounds with the typical adult-led games and activities.  For this event, my hope was for children to be completely free to use their imaginations and just PLAY!  So with her guidance we hosted a mini popup adventure play date at the park…and it was a huge hit!

We began by laying out all the materials on a wide open lawn.  As children arrived, they immediately ran towards the swings and slides.  They did notice the materials but they didn’t dive in right away. As one boy said, “What a mess!” and walked away. They just didn’t think these materials were there for them.  So I walked my daughter over to the materials and told her she’s free to play with whatever she wants and build whatever she’d like.  

She started by grabbing a crayon and drawing and scribbling on one of the boxes.  Her friend Jack joined in and discovered that his body fit perfectly into the box she was drawing on. He made a connection and said that this is kind of like his bed so he hopped inside and pretended to take a nap. He also grabbed the green bubble wrap and covered himself with it like a blanket.  He found his perfect resting place.

Other children started to notice and walked over with curiosity.  A group of three girls were drawn to the roll of hot pink Duct tape.  They kept asking for small pieces of tape to just stick on the box.  While placing their “stickers” on the box, one of them realized that the box was big enough to fit inside!  She asked my husband to cut out a door.  Only two of them actually fit inside but there were three friends so they figured out a solution – combine it with another box to make their house bigger!  They expanded their house so all three were now able to fit inside.  I walked over and knocked. “What are you doing in there?” I said.  One girl shouted, “We’re playyyyying!”

Over time one box was transformed into a supermarket while another box became a pirate robot head with a big pink mouth.  It was sweet to see my daughter’s friend who turned a small box into a barn.  She took a crayon and drew a picture of a cow on the exterior of the box.  She then said, “The cow is hungry!” so she picked a few blades of grass and fed it.  A small, plain Amazon box sparked this wonderful moment filled with imagination, drawing, and a sense of care for animals. The tensest moment came when two girls were arguing over a circular piece of cardboard. It became a fierce tug-of-war.  “Mine!” “No, mine!” “No, it’s miiiiiine!”  It was refreshing to see how a small cardboard circle could be such a treasured item!  My husband rushed over to a large piece of cardboard and starting cutting out more circles which made everyone happy again.

The beauty of this event was that family members of all ages were able to have fun, play, and create.  It was a rich sensory experience for the baby siblings who giggled as they waved strips of plastic or poked their tiny fingers on bubble wrap.  Older siblings engineered and constructed more complex structures like a rocket ship.  Even parents started to make up their own games like rolling the Duct tape to see which one would travel the farthest.

As the families left they all expressed how much fun they had.  There was also a genuine sense of surprise that these everyday materials can spark so much creativity and excitement. One of the parents said, “Who knew? If my daughter gets bored, I should just give her a box and tape!”  Another parent said she plans to replicate this for her son’s upcoming birthday party.

The morning after the event, a mom even emailed me.  She said her daughter had just Skyped with her grandmother who lives abroad in Romania.  She said her daughter was so excited to tell her grandmother that she was in a box for the first time ever.  I hope this was the first of many times!

Jane Park Woo

If you’d like to host your own Mini Pop-Up, please visit www.popupadventureplay.org and sign our guestbook. You’ll receive your own free Mini Pop-Up Kit via email and can go from there! If you’d like to join the movement to promote play for all children, please share your stories with us and we’ll feature them here. Hope to hear from you!