I’ve struggled to write about Campference, both before and after it actually happened. I had ‘wheelbarrows full of potatoes’ written on a piece of card that I carried around for nearly a year. It was intended as the seed of a blog post on the most recent (and by far, the most international!) Playwork Campference yet.

That phrase was a reference to the vast quantities of baked/jacket potatoes seen at both the previous Campferences (Santa Clarita, 2017 and Houston, 2019). Both years, some excellent folks had donated hundreds of white and sweet potatoes for a delegate meal. We’d wrapped them individually in foil and completely filled all available ovens. They were then thrown them back into a wheelbarrow (or similar transportation) to the toppings bar. Something about that sight seemed central to my understanding of what made Campference so special. The fairy tale shine of so many lumps of silver, the warmth and laughter of those meal. It would, of course, need to be different again for 2021.

With a little help from our friends…

Playworkers might practice skills of flexibility and improvisation but it doesn’t mean we always like it. I’ll admit to moments of doubt and frustration at the thought of doing Campference online. Pop-Up Adventure Play has lived online from the beginning. Suzanna and I have plenty of experience at long-distance. We also knew that Zoom would be far easier for many people to access than international travel and visas even at the best of times. That’s what drove our excitement to reimagine what Campference could be. The first thing we knew was that we’d be working with amazing people.

Our co-hosts Claude and Melissa (of the Children at Play Network) provided all sorts of support and made the patches happen. Jill Wood spoke on her experiences on Adventure Play and the impact of covid – an honest and from the heart reflection. David (of David and Renata of Territory of Play) shared footage of children at play – beautifully and thoughtfully captured.

The most incredible thing was how that original Campference reach grew. With the help of SUPERPOOL (based in Istanbul, Turkey), we collectively made playwork content available in an unprecedented 6 languages.

Feedback and Reflections

Yes, there was a stressful tech shuffling of people. Both Suzanna and myself experienced tech issues that got us kicked out of our own pop up play event! There are aspects, as always, that we want to learn from and do better next time. However, a lot of people got something they needed very much.

“The conversations were so rich and inspiring. Can’t wait for the in-person event.”

“Loved the community, the international representation of playworkers and passionate play people, the kindness emanating through the breakout conversation and willingness to stay connected and keep the conversation going!”

“I feel lonely when I work as a playworker in South Korea, but I feel friendship and warm when I share same concerns during Asia pre-campference zoom meeting and campference break out room.”

“I loved connecting in the breakout group with others who “get” playwork- we had a thought provoking discussion. It’s always so refreshing and inspiring to connect with other playworkers and this was a great experience!”

The last speakers were our co-hosts Claude and Melissa, giving a preview of the amazing site for next year when we hope to do Campference in person, at Bernheim. Melissa spends a moment to reflect a little on her Virtual Campference experience:

“Though we were so looking forward to an in-person Campference here at Bernheim, the necessity of a Virtual Campference in 2021 provided opportunities to reach play workers and advocates from around the world. Many who might find it very difficult to travel to Bernheim, were afforded the chance to participate in real-time with stellar speakers on play and to connect with one another in ways that might never have been possible! It also allowed us to share Bernheim, though in a limited way, to create excitement about the upcoming 2022 Campference onsite here. We were looking forward to hosting play workers from around the world at this unique event here at Bernheim.”

Resilience of Playworkers

Humans (and perhaps especially playworkers!) have an incredible ability to adapt to changing environments and circumstances. Our first and abiding hope with Campference has been to connect a diverse group of people around this specific thing – the reflective, compassionate and collaborative support of children’s right to play. Each time, we have seen how an interest in playwork can build a remarkable community. This year, we saw that happen on a more explicitly global scale than ever before. In a year of difficult compromises and hard news, this gave us hope and a sense of community.  We hope it did something similar for you!

Playwork Campference 2022

The Playwork Campference 2022 took place on 22nd-26th September 2022 and was held at Bernheim Arboretum in Kentucky, USA.

By Pop-Ups Morgan