Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Spotlight On: Pop-Up Adventure Play

Pop-Up Adventure Play. Those words combined together evoke so much excitement! How could they not? Pop-Up Adventure Play is a non-profit dedicated to creating public opportunities of spontaneous and child-directed play. I first learned about them while reading a piece about the Century of the Child exhibit at MoMA. They worked with the museum to develop a family workshop experience for visitors. I was desperate to know more about the group, and was fortunate enough to sit down with Sharon Unis from the organization.

Adventure play is not just a modern movement, it’s steeped in history. To my surprise, I learned about the adventure playgrounds developed by children following World War II. They created their own spaces out of neighborhoods that in some way had been damaged. Leave it to children to create joy and beauty from rubble. The movement gained more formality in the UK, and play work is a recognized career. Second Masters degree anyone?

With the other founding members, Sharon has helped develop an organization dedicated to spreading this work throughout the States, and internationally. They decided their playgrounds would be pop-ups, similar to retail establishments that might spontaneously open for a limited time. The play is determined and directed by the children who participate. Sharon emphasized the importance of play in kids’ lives, and the evolution the playground could experience throughout an afternoon. “Every kid brings something different for what they need from a play situation,” Sharon shared.

The biggest question I had was about the materials. Do they ever run out and what kinds of materials do you use? With a big smile, Sharon told me that they haven’t run out of materials, that people work well with what’s provided. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that children don’t need glitz and glam to have fun. That fun is created with a few materials and a big imagination. Pop-Up Adventure Play has provided all different kinds of materials, from newspapers to bamboo.

In New York, they’ve shared pop-up playgrounds in Brooklyn Children's Museum, the 14th Street Y, MoMA, and Governor’s Island, just to name a few (these people definitely get around and can create a playground just about anywhere). I can’t wait to check out the Pop-Up Adventure Play team in action! Sharon spoke so highly of the work that she’s doing, and you can tell she really loves this organization and its mission. Judging from the great pictures, videos, and quotes on the organization’s website, it sounds like the whole team is this passionate!

The organization is not only committed to celebrating play in public spaces, but also to helping parents and educators extend those experiences in their own homes and classrooms. I’m ready to play…who’s with me?


  1. Nice piece, we need more pop-up play for our kids. Morgan et al are doing great work

  2. I absolutely agree. They're a great team doing great work. Thanks for reading!