A Rabindranath Tagore quote embellishes the swing set at a playground close to my favourite coffee shop. “The spirit of work in creation is there to carry and help the spirit of play.” As the mom of two children and someone whose paid and unpaid work for the last dozen years has involved lots of play, I love those words.
Work exists to carry and help the cause of play. They go hand-in-hand, just as parents and young children clasp hands to cross the street. A casual observer of children in just about any setting will note how quickly most kids hone in on what is detachable, climbable, nice to touch, interesting to look at, or wide-open enough to support tumbling or dancing. Possibilities for play are everywhere when you’re a child.
The time to make sure it happens, though, doesn’t always feel abundant. For adults who are also busy paying bills, keeping food on the table and taking kids to school, lessons and sports practice, the kind of messy hands-on free play that offers children so many opportunities for social, intellectual and emotional development can seem hard to come by.
For that reason, it was my pleasure to round up the family, pack supplies in our van, and head to our church’s back yard in Wichita, Kansas, for our first-ever Pop-Up Adventure Playground on May 21, 2016. Many folks had donated cardboard boxes to our cause, so we had lots of those, along with packing tape, duct tape, old sheets, candle holders, hammer, nails, boards, ropes, clothespins, ribbons, measuring cups, markers, crayons, an old printer to scavenge parts from, and plenty of enthusiasm for an afternoon of open-ended play.
Four hours of play
About 20 children and 15 adults stopped by during our four-hour afternoon of play. There was the creation of wings, robot suits and shelters. Mulberries were harvested and pebbles were scooped. Kids asked to be pushed on swings, for help in cutting cardboard, and ideas for how to get things to come together in the desired way.
After emailing and Skyping with Suzanna Law of Pop-Up Adventure Play, I was clear that it was important for me to enjoy myself as a play advocate—to be able to stand back, watch and relax as well as get involved. A bit of a compulsive helper, I noticed how difficult it was for me to watch kids solve their own problems. When cardboard walls kept tumbling down, my inclination was to go “fix it” right away, even though the discoveries that were happening through the repeated shoring-up of walls were, I’d guess, integral to the whole adventure play process.
I was pleased by the children’s expressions of surprise and delight when I could answer questions like: “Are these for us to use?” and “Can I have this?” with “Yes. Yes.” The afternoon felt full and good. A volunteer told me she was leaving the playground with a greater sense of calm and groundedness. I could only agree. The time of play, engagement, watching, listening, wondering and enjoying the beautiful green May afternoon left me feeling calmer and more grounded, too. It was a great first adventure playground experience, and I look forward to more!