Category Archives: Think play. Do play

Heritage workshop

I have been working with Bristol Old Vic to devise outreach workshops engaging groups with the theatre’s history. The work is part of a Heritage Lottery Funded programme. We have started by prototyping workshops with family centres that are within walking distance and today we ran a session with St Paul’s Family Centre. The workshop was aimed at pre school (under 4) and their parents.

We wanted to engage people with the heritage of Bristol Old Vic so we wanted to play with the concept of Theatre- both as a building and a format- and history. History is particularly tricky with such young children as time is such an abstract concept. Essentially we played with ‘the olden days’ and ‘theatre’.

We used a variety of play tools and theatre practice in the workshop including role playing, imaginative play, loose parts within a context, craft, dressing up and investigating unusual objects.

We were fortunate to have been able to raid the BOV prop-store and started by inviting the children and parents to investigate and play with objects including an old fashioned phone, bones, candles, a toy trumpet and bellows. This allowed us to think about what the objects were or could be and how they relate to objects today. The phone was a big hit. The bellows proved fun as a movable contraption, also feeling the air. A father talked to us about the bellows he used as a child in Somalia- the size and shape of them and remarked that he hadn’t seen bellows for 27 years! He is going to Somalia soon and has offered to bring some back to the children’s centre so they can use them at the fire pit. It was a wonderful unexpected link into someone’s personal history. The toy trumpet and the telescope were utilised a lot and some children used all their senses to explore the objects. On our next visit we may explore the objects further and leading into stories inspired by them.

We played with the notions of a theatre set and costumes by creating environments with our bodies- the ocean today and then exploring a theatre model box. Using wooden blocks we created our own ‘theatre sets’ including a cafe, a mountain and a volcano!

We made tall hats to wear to the theatre and went on a walk to the Vic, being careful not to step in horse poo along the way! Once ‘inside the theatre’ we distributed tickets, bought sweets (and cockles and pigs trotters!); chose our seats and took turns on the stage. We had animal impressionists, singers, an orchestra, performing horses and dogs, string people and balancers. Great acts, and a brilliant reflection of the Bristol Old Vic programme in 1770! We all enjoyed giving rounds of applause, next time we might do some booing too!

It was reassuring to find that by using playwork and devised theatre tools in a specific context (in this case heritage) worked really well. The different context allowed excitement and wow factor and the embedded interactivity of the methods, plus the fluidity of exercises meant that we could respond quickly to individual needs while also holding the whole group. Next time we’re going to create more ‘stations’ to play in and enjoy revisiting the now familiar objects and format to deepen the exploration in ‘Ye Olde Vic’

Pictures to come soon…..

Pirate Playscapes

I ran the playscape workshop again recently, with our adopted families group. The sessions are always drop in and participants will come and go. The activities are designed for children and adults to do together whether that is parents and children, or prospective adopters who are volunteering at the sessions.

I stuck with the maritime theme again and focused more on pirates and pirate stories. We started small, making boats, eye patches and a desert island. We also played with maps and through about places you might find in a pirate story. Shipwreck was my favourite new addition!

Starting small allowed us to contain the exercise and allow our imaginations to roam in a contained space. Quite quickly we took the boats on an adventure and began to explore the outdoor space through the eyes of the boats. A bottle appeared and we wrote a message for it. Pirate R wanted palm trees so a request was put in the bottle, a stash place for the trees outlined and the bottle hung where passers by might find it.

As the number of participants grew, and the sun came out, we moved outdoors to build a pirate ship in the playground. As with earlier exercises we adapted the built play-space with scrap to make something new. Children identified an area with upright logs and we set-to creating a ship. Using tubes and sheeting we made the sails, we decorated the masts and people made a mask and a really brilliant hammock. One child made a telescope with stand, another noticed we had no wheel so arranged steering, we even had a treasure hold.

Once we focused on making the ship, all kinds of play evolved from the central space. Climbing, sailing, more messages in bottles, building, tying, swinging on hammock, lookout games, searching for new look outs, treasure burying and map making, different kinds of seascapes: a 2D one on the ground giving different perspective. The musicians came out too and we sang sea shanties on the ship. It was fascinating to see how easily so many different styles of play came out of the one space with just a few simple starting points. I also enjoyed the fact that things didn’t have to fit, size and perspective was irrelevant and the space shifted and changed to accommodate all the games and play.


Initial suggestions to built a world at the outset were really useful: pirate names, boats, places, modes of travel and communication, after that that the evolution felt quite free and natural. Having a starting point tool kit is useful and enough materials then to build a wide variety of landscapes and props. Built levels in the playground were useful, as opposed to a blank space.

I would like to try this as a durational piece next over a day or a weekend. I’d like to try to keep track of what was suggested by adults and children and what was suggested by me initially.



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.







Playing and worrying about playing.

Spent the day in central Bristol today with my four year old son. I’m always very observant of his play, my reactions and my play that is in response to him. We started off in Clifton and at his request, played on the travelaters in Clifton Down Shopping centre. ‘This is brilliant fun’ I thought. ‘We’ll probably get told off soon, but for now its great’. My son, B loved trying to walk in the wrong direction. I found myself really bound to the rules of shopping centres, and although I didn’t stop him, it took a while for me to relax. ‘Is this OK?’ ‘Will we get told off?’ ‘Will people see me as a bad parent?’ These were questions that bounced around my head throughout our day.

Next we hit the RWA where a 100 year old ‘Bristol Scout’ aeroplane was stationed for the day. I was popping in to see Hugh Thomas from My Future My Choice– a brilliant Bristol organisation who create educational resources. Today Hugh was running a workshop building model aeroplanes.

We had a wonderfully playful encounter at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, during the Pliosaurus! exhibition. Doris, the life-size pliosaurus had a wound on her flipper and B wanted to help her. We mentioned this to a volunteer. “Wait here” she said and promptly disappeared, returning with a doctors kit and lab coats! The set was new and they had obviously been waiting for this opportunity. Another volunteer joined us with felt for bandages and we and lots of other children were quickly playing dinosaur vet games. It was a brilliant response and really made the exhibition for me and B. Well done that team.

We found ourselves at College Green shortly after where B, seeing the ‘moat’ and fountain by the council house wanted a paddle. Back came my worries. ” Is this OK?” I accepted that of course it should be. “If a 4 year old can’t then…”. B then invited me in and I really held back. It took a while for me to accept this was totally OK and we had a great time splashing and playing. I couldn’t completely relax, but on entering Millennium Square later, I remembered that Bristol has many water spaces to play in- it was simply that we were the only ones in front of the council house! I hope that children (and parents) at National Play Day tomorrow paddle to their hearts desire! I was confused by and am still finding my stance as dad, citizen, playmate and playful person.

Onto At-Bristol next for their What If….? Festival. We had a great time looking around the exhibits. Highlights included dressing up as a bee; eating mealworms and ‘cricket flour falafel; Luke Jerrom’s beautiful and at points, heart wrenching Glass Microbiology; and building a den from inflatable seats in the central gallery. I’m really looking forward to events for ‘What if’- in particular  playing with robots on Friday.

It’s an interesting conundrum playing as a parent in public spaces. I want to be as playful as possible and engage on the same level but his safety only allows me to do that to a certain degree. I’m really aware of my own rules, concerns and anxieties about the rules of play in public when I’m with B. I don’t have these worries when I’m on my own or with peers and don’t worry when we’re playing in our own spaces. My role and my identity create clashing feelings and I’m aware that self awareness bubbles up far more than it should. Ongoing work there……