Monthly Archives: September 2017


I have been really  interested in the medium of ‘playscapes’ of late. Creating a setting, that participants can play within, in their own way. The ‘activity’ is self guided or at least very free and loose. There is an invitation into the setting and activity that frames the context and gives people the permission to get involved and play.

Bocadalupa have been creating playscapes for the Harbour Festival for several years now and I invited them to share their ‘Bee garden’ with an adoptive families group I work IMG_6370with. The Bee Garden consisted of some loose ‘fencing’ to guide people into the space; a teepee containing loose parts objects- painted pebbles; bee costumes; ‘fairy doors’ containing bee facts and a space for making miniature gardens and seedbombs. A wheelbarrow contained soil with trowels and small bee friendly plants were provided along with other natural materials and Clay was also provided. IMG_6367




From the outset the space created was welcoming, calm and warm. It was a quiet setting by it’s very nature and throughout the afternoon children and adults came and created miniature gardens, read about bees and biodiversity, pottered within the teepee and enjoyed a relaxing, creative time. The gardens were a superb focus, each ‘gardener’ given a small cardboard box- a  3D picture frame to fill with their own unique little worlds. The bee costumes were quickly filled with small boys who spent the afternoon buzzing around on bikes to great delight, expanding the world of the bee garden to fill the whole outdoor space. Amy Rose, from Bocadalupa told me that even at Harbourside Festival, with thousands of people around, the Bee Garden was a calm, quiet space.  A wide variety of play experiences took place in our afternoon and that is the joy of playscapes- a few suggestions are made and the players will create their own content.

I was recently invited to run a workshop for a local youth charity. I was given free range with what the session might be so I decided to use it as an opportunity to develop playscapes with adults as a creative team-building exercise. I want to make my playscapes more overtly themed, or situated in a specific world, so I chose to work with a storybook maritime landscape. I arrived with a car load of junk from Scrapstore, split the group into small teams and handed out titles that fit the theme: Pirate Ship, Desert Island, Sea Monster, Galleon, Harbour, Whirlpool. Each team then set about creating their thing. Once everything was builtIMG_6404 the invitation was given. “What happens now?” I had hoped that a wonderful story would immediately unfold but the invitation did need a little more steering. “We have a pirate ship and a galleon. Who…” “The pirates attack the galleon!!” came the interjection, and we were off. A game unfolded between the different areas. Sailors were left on desert islands, treasure was robbed and sea monsters were fed with pirates. A final few made it to the harbour alive and started a new life, free from the terror of the high seas. It was a fun morning and the level of making from the players was brilliant. They were a very open, creative group and they really committed to the play so I’ll be interested to develop the ideas with less naturally outgoing participants. The play was less free flowing than I had imagined however and I’d like to run the same exercise with children and see if it is adult inhibition that creates obstacles or if other invitations are needed. Creating the space that we played in felt like a good thing, but I want to give much m
ore time to the playing within to allow for free, open play experiences to happen. I’m also considering supplying a loose maritime set and inviting people to play there for an afternoon.


ROMANS! features a Mini Colosseum playscape and I’m looking forward to seeing how people play within that world and physical invitations can be developed over time.



(re)play box

Knock knock goes the door. Who can it be? What can it be? A box? This looks odd. Baby Unicorn? Curious. Turn the box over…….


Oh my goodness, can it be, can it finally be…….?



Some context: I attended Counterplay Festival in Aarhus, Denmark earlier this year. Its a wonderful 3 day event celebrating and investigating play. The conference has grown year on year and I was lucky enough to volunteer there this March. A discussion took place on the final day- how do we continue to play in this collaborative way, with each other when we are spread around the world? The answer was (re)play box, a simple box, full of playful starting points. It is send to different players the world, all of whom get a month to play with the items, record their time, regenerate the box and pass it onto the next person. All is asked is that you add an article to the blog at So to continue with my posting….

In my (re)play box I got:

Balloons, party blowers, bubblegum, lego, set of Jacks, material bits, rice, medals, kaleidoscope, modelling balloons,  a toy beaver, chalk bunting.

Immediately, my son and I got stuck into the box, it’s items and its possibilities. After taking everything out and spreading it around in a chaotic and mildly unnerving way we focused on the lego as our first task. Given that my son has a huge box of Duplo, I appreciated us being limited to a few pieces. The wheels led the way and unsurprisingly we built a futuristic space buggy.


It was fun to keep the beast off centre and I enjoyed playing with the weight distribution. Special parts bush as aerial and ‘lights’ also added to the fun and my son B made sure the thing could fly, wheels or no by shwooshing it around the room wth expert skills. Coming back to the lego play a few days later, we added some ‘ramps’ from a box of loose parts and raced Mark II (a simpler contraption) around a mini skatepark.


I was surprised to find my favourite ‘exercise’. The invitation was there from the start: ‘make your own stress ball’ and we were supplied with rice and a balloon but it took a while for me to take the offer up. We loved filling the balloon with rice, in particular expanding its mass when we thought it must already be full. We squished and stretched, pulled and poured. The textures were great and a four-year olds tiny fingers were perfect for adding one grain of rice at a time.



The young beaver reminded me of a game my friends and I used to play with a squirrel. Based internationally, we would post the rodent around and photograph it in exotic, (or not-so-exotic) locations. This was before social media so we’d share the photos between us on rare trans-global meet ups. I thought I would relaunch this game so here is the young fellow schmooozing in Warwickshire.


I was in Stratford- Upon- Avon with ‘Roman Games’- a set of ancient boardgames and playscape for the public to play on the street, inspired by the ‘Rome!’ season at the RSC.  Knucklebones is one of the pastimes we share as part of the project, so it was apt to receive its descendant ‘Jacks’ in the (re)play box.


Knucklebones- Tali in Latin, were played by children in Egyptian and Roman times, possibly long before that too. Originally they used the ankle bones of goats. Rules have varied over time, but the play is especially the same, you complete tricks by throwing, sweeping, knocking and catching the ‘bones’. Jacks came into being sometime in the 20th Century as far as I’m aware, and in the 1990’s a Spanish company released ‘Crazybones’, a plastic, character based version. We were gifted a set of Crazybones during our (re)play box time so we had 3 versions of the same game, spanning thousands of years!

I was interested that the box I received featured mainly items that had been created with a set purpose. I use a lot of loose parts play in my work and have boxes of junk for playing and making in my office. One item that gave wonderful free rein though was the material scraps. We played ‘paths and maps’ and expanded around tables and chairs.


My final play was the joy of sending the box on, a month later. I wanted it to be as safe as possible, so wrapped it in sticky back plastic. The material was pretty heavy-duty and it took on a life of its own.



Farwell (re)play box. We loved having you in our lives this summer. Go well and prosper in play.