Hasta Luego, Costa Rica! I was typing this on our flight from Panama City to LA, in between stops 3 and 4 of our grand World Tour.
We three were thrilled about this stop, allowing us to visit Carolina and tour Bellelli Educación. Carolina has been a friend of Pop-Ups since the very beginning, had an online relationship with us.
In 2010, we conceived the idea of applying playwork to benefit and rebuild social networks supporting children’s outdoor play. Our first pop-up adventure playground, part of the Ultimate Block Party in Central Park NYC, received an incredible response! Visitors built houses out of cardboard boxes, sharing stories with us from their own childhoods. They repeatedly enquired, “When is the next one?” This was gratifying, but then came a surprise—an email from someone in Costa Rica who had seen the photos on Facebook. She had her own question, one that hinted at many more to come: How can I do one of these myself?
Carolina became our first independent organiser and is probably still the most prolific. On Sunday, we were thrilled to attend Bellelli’s 27th pop-up adventure playground! An estimated 400 people came to the public park of Escazú, drawn by event listings on Facebook.
At 11 am, after the children’s service, many more people streamed out of the church. They constructed rocket ships, donned cardboard armour, shared snacks on large paper sheets, and created new memories. Suzanna, Andy and I wandered the site, engaging with acquaintances. We also enjoyed shaved ice with syrup and condensed milk from a vendor with seventy years of experience.
The day before, Carolina invited us to deliver a 7-hour workshop on playwork approaches for local teachers and parents. Erin Davis granted permission to screen The Land, sparking conversations about risk, freedom, memory, and truth. Participants posed in-depth questions about playwork practice, rich material environments, supporting open-ended play, and responding delicately to cues.
Teachers from Reggio-inspired schools, like Bellelli, probed the subtle yet key distinctions between their approach and playwork. The Pop-Ups team shared experiences from diverse playwork settings, along with personal reflections on our constant learning processes. Collectively, we discussed the vital importance of trusting children and strategies to make that trust real.
So many of those participants came to the pop-up, bringing their children and friends. Carolina brought her adorable niece, who was hilariously disinterested in meeting her aunt’s amiga Morgan. We held babies and distributed tape and were hugged by people who had the loveliest things to tell us.
“I’ve thought play was important for so long”, one said. “But I thought I was alone…”
“You’ve given me the words to talk about play now”, said another. “I work with disabled children and they need this so badly. Where can I learn more?”
The best feedback, however, was from the 9 3/4-year-old son of Krista (a kind member of the extended Bellelli family who had hosted Andy in her home). At the post-pop-up BBQ, he told Suzanna:
“That was amazing.”
“Yeah?” she asked. “Which was your favourite bit?”
“All of it,” he said. “I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.”
Carolina told us of some of the conversations she’d had with lots of visitors who had said that they would love to be involved in creating more events or in bringing these ideas into their own organisation’s setting. “When”, they kept on asking her, “when is the next one happening?”
This four-day trip gave us a brief but amazing time in Costa Rica, with a visit to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, and lots of delicious food. Costa Ricans seem to eat every 8 minutes, and we were not complaining! It was also a chance to see firsthand the dedication and passion which drives Carolina and her team to such extraordinary accomplishments. Bellelli’s work, whether in the school grounds or off, displays an enormous sense of love for pop up communities wherever they may be built or found.
We were so grateful to have had the chance to see Carolina and her team in their community, and to seal this friendship with hugs – in person! See you again soon, Costa Rica!