We co-hosted the Playwork Virtual Campference 2022 on 15th October 2022 @12pm-4pm EST.

It’s good to ask yourself every so often, why were we doing this? Why were we doing it this way? Of course, these days I’m also often asking myself ‘what did I come in here for’ but hey! We’re all doing the best we can.

Campference is just about the biggest thing we do and that year it was virtual. Staying online again wasn’t going to meet everyone’s expectations. We were also very sad not to be in person, sitting around a fire together and eating wheelbarrow potatoes! It wasn’t an easy choice to make but we believe it was the right choice to make.

Why Campference?

A key aspect of our original idea with Campference was to help welcome playworkers from all over to visit an amazing site. Folks in the UK and other countries might take it for granted but so many playwork practitioners and students have never seen (likely will never see) a great adventure playground for themselves or hang out casually with highly experienced playwork mentors. That had been true in the USA for decades. Bouncing Campference regionally helped change that for about 100 people. Eureka Villa in Val Verde, CA (2017) and Adventure Playground at The Parish School (2019) were fantastic co-hosts and helped showcase some of the many ways that good adventure playgrounds look and feel.

Folks travelled from far further afield than we’d imagined, including Iceland, Portugal, and Australia. Together we camped, laughed, made food together, made new friends and really talked. We did it both times on an absolute unfunded shoestring, turning no one way for inability to pay. Everyone was well fed brilliantly because people just kept on pitching in. It was magic. We promise that it will happen again!

Why Virtual?

At the same time, barriers of travel costs and visa paperwork were always enormous. We were troubled to see how many people they kept out. The privileges of such an event became infinitely more stark during COVID, and that’s still true. What’s also true is that going online has offered an unparalleled opportunity for the most international and accessible playwork conference ever. We were so proud to work with Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest the previous year, even if at arm’s length and highlighted the great work they’re doing in the city and arboretum. Always, we wanted to be building community around playwork and children’s play.

The Internationality of Playwork

Folks often complain that resources on playwork theory and practice are hard to find online, as websites crash and documents disappear. Imagine how true that is, if you need that information in any language other than English. Last year, thanks to Superpool, we were able to provide simultaneous translation in 5 languages. We worked with the translators (as best we could) to identify metaphors and idioms which suit the spirit of playwork. We know that translation is a far more nuanced issue. However, this made crucial playwork concepts available to so many more practitioners who had never had access before.

That year, we wanted to step a little further back ourselves and highlight great projects in Costa Rica, Hong Kong and Turkey. This Campference was different because it demonstrated the incredible reach of playwork and richness of its application. Its theme was the ‘Internationality of Playwork.’ Our keynote presenters spoke in any language they preferred and simultaneous translation was provided in English, Turkish, Spanish, Portuguese and Cantonese.

We also co-hosted this event with the Black River Innovation Campus, a dazzling resource in Springfield, Vermont that welcomed us into their Actuator program. To hear Suzanna’s theory on how this organisation is like an adventure playground for the internet, stay tuned!

More than ever, we want people to participate and help us build the pop up play work community we all need! Accessibility and collaboration are central to that process. Unless we’re all here, it isn’t nearly as much fun. All together is way better!

By Morgan Leichter-Saxby