Peas in a Pod – Playworkers and Adventure Playgrounds

The Pop-Up Adventure Play crew are present day ambassadors of a tradition that took root in the UK at the conclusion of World War II. Adventure Playgrounds, Venchies or Junk Playgrounds as they are variously known came on the scene in wartime Emdrup, a district of Copenhagen, Denmark.

Emdrup got rolling in 1943 under Nazi occupation. It would have truly been an oasis for kids. John Bertelesen, the first staff person at this playspace had definite ideas on what an adult’s role should be.

« I consider it most important that the leader not appear too clever but that he remain at the same experimental stage as the children. In this way the initiative is left, to a great extent, with the children themselves and it is thus far easier to avoid serious intrusion into their fantasy world. »

Fortunately for kids in London and other parts of the UK, Lady Allen of Hurtwood visited landscape architect Carl Theodor Sørensen’s Emdrup junk playground. She played a pioneering role in introducing the concept in England with adventure playgrounds initally located in bomb sites. Lady Allen became a lifelong champion and advocate promoting the importance and value of children’s independent play.

And there’s the rub, how do we as adults do our best for kids in play environments? The adventure playground ethos argues that it’s about giving kids space, supporting discovery, curiosity and exploration without dominating or directing what’s going on.

Notting Hill Adventure Playground – circa 1960s

Left to their own devices, kids will take an unscripted, organic, meandering journey along the path of play. At pop-up play events overflowing with loose parts, there’s a natural mystic blowing through the air. The atmosphere is charged with squeals of delight and eureka moments as the creative and sometimes anarchic machinations of kids at play lets loose. This kind of play is invaluable.

There have been short-lived adventure playgrounds in Canada – notably Montreal and Toronto. We’ll take a look at these in a future post.

For more on playworkers and adventure playgrounds, please click through here, or on the photo below for a Storify compilation of videos, photos and other resources.

Ed’s note – notice the absence of adults in most of the images above.

If you’re in Nova Scotia, please join us on Sunday, July 23 for Pop-Up Adventure Play‘s Public Talk – The Wonderful World of Adventurous Play in the Paul O’Regan Hall of the Halifax Central Library at 2 pm.


Pop-Up Adventure Play ✧ July 23 ✧ 2 pm ✧ Public Talk ✧ Halifax Central Library

We’re looking forward to Pop-Up Adventure Play’s arrival in Nova Scotia. One week from today, we’ll be rolling out the welcome mat for them and getting ready to take in their presentation, The Wonderful World of Adventurous Play at the Halifax Central Library. Play at the Heart of Communities, the Pop-Up credo says a lot about their approach.

Morgan Leichter-Saxby and Suzanna Law will lead the presentation sharing their knowledge on the benefits of adventurous play for kids. Their insights are based on academic research and practical experience they’ve acquired over the years working with children and communities in the UK, the US, Australia and parts of Asia.

Now if you want to take your kids to the adventure playground closest to Halifax how far down the road would you have to go? Well the trip has got a whole lot more manageable in the past year. There is no longer any need for a transatlantic crossing to London or Berlin, or a cross-continent trek to Berkeley, California. As of last summer, you’d have to log approximately 1400 kilometres before arriving at your destination on Governors Island in New York City.

The folks behind play:groundNYC worked behind the scenes for over a year to realize their vision. This addition to the international adventure playground canon embodies a new mantra where risk, resilience and the renaissance of play appear to be gaining traction amongst parents and caregivers, communities, the halls of academe and within the recreation departments of municipal governments. On their journey to a full blown site on Governors Island, pop-up events  featuring loose parts play were important building blocks to socialize the adventure playground concept.

Suzanna and Morgan have both provided onsite support for play:groundNYC since its official opening. This article in The New York Times is worth a quick read and check out this pullout with Morgan.


“If we want our kids to be curious, motivated, resilient, brave,” Morgan Leichter-Saxby, the summer camp’s director, said, “we need to give them opportunities to do that.”

I hope you’ll join the adventure play troubadors for an international perspective on developments in the world of play. Tell a friend, bring a friend. The event is free and you can register on eventbrite here.

There will be a Q&A session and discussion following the presentation. Here’s a little treat from one of our mutual friends Penny Wilson, The Playwork Primer. Every pursuit or discipline has its language and play is no exception. This resource is chock-a-block full of definitions and concepts.

CanadaPlays wants to recognize the support of the Province of Nova Scotia. We are pleased to work in partnership with the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage in presenting these activities to the public. Thanks also to Halifax Recreation for their assistance with logistics and to the Halifax Public Libraries for the use of Paul O’Regan Hall at the Halifax Central Library.