Sunday, 11 June 2017

Chuffed: My Next Big Adventure

I have spent the last few months in a frenzied state of organising.

As you all know, I work with Pop-Up Adventure Play, a small UK-based charity that works worldwide to promote the child's right to play. We do this by visiting communities and talking to folks about the benefits of play, giving hints and tips on how to improve sites for play and encouraging the use of the playwork approach when working with children. We also run public play events with recycled materials called loose parts and provide children with time, space and permission to direct their own play within that setting - an ideal platform for play conversation. In essence, we speak about playwork theory and then model the practice in person to folks wherever we go.

The next big adventure is big. I think that I must say this every time I go on a massive trip with Pop-Up. Let me look.... this was the blog about the World Tour, and this was the post reflecting on the USA tour. Okay, maybe I didn't say those exact words, but they were big adventures. Each of these trips took two months to complete and over 4 month to organise. The USA trip took us on a 11,000 mile round road trip of the country, and the world trip saw us clock 37,000 miles literally around the planet. I'm thinking back and realising how ridiculous these plans really are... and I still can't believe that I was part of it!

I'm going to add another crazy adventure to our list: Canada! 

Ladies and gentlemen, Team Pop-Up Adventure Play - which now includes Andy as well as Morgan - will be touring Canada as part of Pop-Ups Tour 2017! Hoorah! It will be a glorious 2-month journey where we will travel from East to West in the little yellow car delivering workshops and play events as we go! Yes - it's awesome, yes - it's mad, and yes - I know how far that drive is. But it's going to be great! 


As it always is with these things, we want to reach the folks in the world which are hard to reach, either literally or financially, or both. If you have followed my adventures enough, you'll know that they are meaningful as well as fun, otherwise we just wouldn't do it. It's hard work driving endless hours every day for days on end just to reach someone's town for a few hours, but if it means that the message of child-led play can get to those folks, then so be it. To ensure that we are able to hang out with all folks, regardless of financial background or location, we are doing some fundraising! 

If you are willing and able, please donate to our Chuffed campaign here and support our work. If you can't donate, please share my link and my story with everyone everywhere! I will be so very very chuffed if you are able to support us in any way you can!

We're not doing this to make money and we are not in it for the glory. Ladies and gentlemen, we are doing this for children and their play - please help us help children across Canada to have more play opportunities.

More details about the adventure soon! :) Please enjoy this photo that I took at the Campference while I do carry on doing more crazy organising in preparation for the tour.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

"This was a journey of puddles - a Puddle Journey!" - Reflections from a day with Hannah and Nina

My little friends Hannah and Nina came round today to have a play. It was raining hard when they got here so they had brought a board game with them along with their wet weather gear.

     "Do you really want to play monopoly, or would you like me to get some stuff out for you to do whatever you want with?"
     "Stuff!"

So for the bulk of the morning, Nina and Hannah were occupied with their own projects, consumed with their own intrinsic desire to create, design or investigate. My mum was quite amused by my laid back approach to this child care (by mid morning I'd managed to do most of my emailing without them noticing) but she could see that they were absolutely fine by themselves.

For lunch, I went with pancakes, thinking that food with interactivity always goes down a storm. I wasn't to know that they'd never made pancakes at home before so this was a real treat! After building their confidence with the stove and frying pan, both girls tried out the making of the pancakes and - to Nina's pure delight - mastered the art of flipping pancakes too. By the time lunch was over, she was way better than me!

When lunch was done and after some thoughtful discussion mainly due to the looming black clouds in the sky, we decided to go for a walk by the river. We all agreed we'd put on waterproofs and wellies just in case the sky did suddenly pour so we kitted up and headed out. The weather held and the sun actually made an appearance as we investigated the swollen river. Going into the river wasn't an option today, so the girls spent some time throwing rocks into the water instead. That was the case until they discovered some excellent puddles and realised they were puddle-ready! And thus began the puddling! Here's a snap I took on my phone:

I kinda love this photo - there is such movement and joy!

They loved the puddling. They beamed during every splash. They needed to step into every puddle and kick the water, and let's face it, who wouldn't. It was a great day for it!

There may have been quick trip to the polling station after this (the conversation from last visit was very helpful) and as we walked, the girls marveled at the puddles we had just splashed in.

     "This was a journey of puddles - a Puddle Journey!" said Nina
     "Let's do it again on the way back. Please can we do it again on the way back?" asked Hannah, with big eyes.

We splished and splashed our way back to my house, and covered a genuinely massive range of topical conversations (from "Why do people take drugs?" to "What do you think your mum will vote?" and also "Where's your favourite puddle?") while jumping into these little pools of slightly buddy water. As fat droplets fell from the sky, we got back home and continued playing with all the loose parts I had at home.

Other joyful things happened after too, which I can't completely recall, and soon after the girls completed their marvelous creations, they went home. These two girls bring a lot of light into my world and spending a day with them is always enlightening. They are chatty and spirited and always full of enthusiasm. They remind me of why my job as a playworker is important, and why I love play so much. 

They are full of surprises too, and even if they think that the moments they create are mundane, I think they are truly wonderful. Like when Hannah picked some flowers for my mum and then asked me for something to put them in - I asked her if a glass tumbler was okay and she said yes, stuffed it in and disappeared. The moment was just hilarious to me and made me smile, and for some reason, this glass of flowers is so very beautiful to me. It's like no matter how orderly you want your life, sometimes a bit of chaos in a glass is perfect. It reminds me that no matter how organised you are, sometimes a little play is needed to make things just a little bit better.


Thanks for coming round, Hannah and Nina. It was a really lovely day - thank you for making and flipping pancakes with me, and jumping in puddles with me. I had loads of fun. See you very soon! :)

Friday, 19 May 2017

(Almost) 12 hours in Brussels

"What are you doing on 18th May?"

Now, there are only a few people in my life that I would happily entrust an entire one of my days to, especially because I am insanely busy most of the time. But my friend Andy is a person that I know I can trust a day to, and it just so happened that I was in fact free that day.

"Nothing" I typed, as I walked from my car to meet some friends. "You want to fill my day?"

About 20 minutes later we had booked flights to Brussels for one glorious day trip. It was a super cheap flight, at reasonable times of the day, and we are both experienced travelers so... it seemed silly not to really.

So yesterday, at 6am Andy and I yawned a greeting to eachother and set off to the airport. Here's what we got up to, mobile phone photo edition:

Here I am excited on the flight to Brussels. Eventually I moved from this seat and occupied a completely different row with Andy and All Of The Legroom. Hardly anyone was on this flight.

I was so excited to be in Brusssels, this was the first photo I took - the beautifully tidy streets of Brussels

Grand Place! The square that all the roads seem to lead to! It is embellished with gold, impressively tall and features some intricately designed buildings. We didn't go in to any of them apart from the World Heritage site one. And I'm still not entirely sure what it was about. Haha.

Frites! With a lightly spicy sauce. I've no idea what the sauce's name was but the combination was absolutely delicious. Could just sit and eat them all day long. No idea how they make them so delicious but Andy thinks that chip shop chips and french fries might have had a baby together, bringing the fluffiness of chippy chips and the crispy deliciousness of french fries in one delightful sauce covered package! :)

Tin Tin art! Lots of Tin Tin art everywhere. I'd forgotten that I used to really like Tin Tin as a kid.

Waffles Brussels. Covered in completely optional but quite important strawberries and white chocolate. Very sticky. Totally worth it.

Waffles not Brussels. Covered in icing sugar. Glorious. Icing sugar snow on clothes totally worth it.

Here is the peeing boy! Super small and crowded by loads of people! I still have no idea why it's so famous / popular!

We found some square trees near a statue of Elizabeth and Albert staring at eachother. There must be a story there somewhere.

The Royal Palace. Only lightly guarded. I clearly managed to book in some dramatic sky for this photo.

Weirdly enough, here is a peeing girl statue. Why? Who knows. Not nearly as popular as the peeing boy statue.

Here I am with Andy as the sun shone brightly on our trip. I think that's the theatre behind us. Super happy.

We found a secret viewing spot that looked far and wide over Brussels. So pretty, and so quiet - it felt like we were on top of the world! We even saw the famous Atomium statue from there.

Finally, some mussels. They were yummy. I may have eaten them at such a speed that Andy was mildly alarmed.

It was a long day but it was totally worth it. I had loads of fun saw so many beautiful things and wish I had a bigger belly to eat more food! It was pretty tiring, yes, but I feel like I had such a great adventure! It was really exciting to do something as mad as flying to Europe for the day and much needed too. I haven't been playing nearly as much as I should do recently, so this was a welcome break indeed! Delicious food in a beautiful city with wonderful company made this an amazing adventure - I'm already looking forward to the next spontaneous trip we have! 

And yes, I totally think it was worth just going to a city for a day - it was tiring but it was definitely a day I will never forget. Thanks Andy, for suggesting this amazing whirlwind adventure! :)

Thursday, 4 May 2017

"Will you be voting for the people who will make more parks?" - Reflections from an afternoon with Hannah and Nina

      "Our school has closed today because it's a polling station. Have you been to vote?"
      Hannah and Nina had come to visit. I could see two pairs of sparkling eyes looking back at me through the reflection of my rear view mirror as I drove us to a nearby country park. The last thing I had expected was to talk about today was politics.
      "I haven't been to vote yet, but might do after you two go home."
      "Why do people have to vote?"
      "It's very important. It's an opportunity for us to tell people what we want. When you two are old enough you have to go and vote, okay?"
      "Why's it so important?"
      I paused here. Do I go down that women's rights wormhole? Do I touch on how some people in this world still don't have a say? Do I know how to explain democracy or communism to an 8 and 12 year old?
      "It's important because a lot of people had to fight for our right to make choices. A lot of people had to do a lot of things in order that every person in this country has a chance to say how they want things to happen."
      This seemed to stem the flow of questions for a little bit. We arrived at the country park and the sun shone brightly. I let these two young ladies take the lead as we explored the space. We followed the river around to an area where we could wander right onto the riverbed and do some gentle river-bed combing. We like looking for treasures.
      We ended our park exploration at the fixed playground where there was the usual fare. Having done the swings and the slide, I asked the girls if they wanted to come and vote with me. They were interested to find out what happened at the polling station since their school had been turned into one, so this was an awesome opportunity. On the drive out of the park, we noticed an area that had been recently flattened.
      "Oh look, it looks like they're preparing to build something here"
      "It's probably houses," said Hannah with an air of nonchalance, "it's always houses".
      "Well, what else would you want to see built?" I said, with a smirk.
      "A park or something. But it's never that."
      "Well why do you think they don't build parks?"
      "Maybe they think people don't need them. Maybe they don't have fun."
      The subject changed, and other things were pointed at, and soon we reached my designated polling station. I parked up, and the girls quizzed me some more as we got out of the car.
      "What do you vote for when you vote?"
      "We can vote for people who make promises to us, like less homework, or more school dinners..."
      "Will you be voting for the people who will make more parks?" said Hannah, with genuine concern.
      "I really hope so." I was touched that this was the priority for her, and also quite sad that this was unlikely to be a priority for any of the candidates.
      "What other promises would you want to vote for?" asked Nina.
      I paused for a moment to think. I hadn't really looked at any of these promises that the candidates for the brand new Manchester Mayor had put across, and actually not being a very politically minded person myself, I actually wasn't really ready for this question. What did I want?
      "I would really like if someone could just promise to be nice, if I'm honest."
      "Well, that's a very important promise," Nina said to be quite earnestly, "it's important to be nice."
      We walked on and I explained that the voting inside the polling station is a bit of a secret so people don't talk very loudly inside. I also explained that I'd be happy to show them what I voted, but not for them to loudly broadcast it to the rest of the room. They nodded solemnly and then we went in.
      I whispered explanations for everything to Hannah and Nina as they looked on, wide-eyed at the volunteers helping at the polling station. After I carefully made my marks on my ballot paper, Hannah put my vote into the box and we went back out into the sunshine.
      There were more questions which required me to explain the merits and drawbacks of each of the parties. I tried to make these explanations balanced (and goodness, I had to dig deep sometimes) and eventually they seemed satisfied with my answers.
      There wasn't much more talk about the voting after this. We went home and admired our treasures while sat outside in the sun. I reflected on how funny our conversations were today, and how of all people, I was explaining the voting system to two interested children. I really don't know the first thing about politics so answering some of these questions took a lot of deep High-School-Lesson excavation, so I hope that it made sense.
      Today's conversations really meant a lot to me. Having talked to these young people about so many things today including health, education and even suitable phone usage (they brought it up, not me!) they chose to prioritise parks because they knew that there really weren't enough of them, and it was an important issue to them. They wanted me to vote for the people who will help build more spaces for them to play but I didn't know how to tell them that political parties of the UK don't really prioritise play, don't really think about the leisure time of children and are not in the business of play. How do I tell two members of our society that their needs are basically being ignored, but in the same breath encourage them to exercise their right to vote?
      Ultimately, these two young ladies know where their priorities are. And I have made an important decision and promise: whenever possible, if it is in my power, I will give these two the right to make their own choices, and to play. I may not be able to change way the world treats children, but I can make a difference to these two little ladies.

Thank you to Nina and Hannah for a lovely day of treasure hunting and political discussion!

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Little Visitors

We stood at the door and waved goodbye to my nephew, my sister and brother-in-law, signifying the end of two very busy weeks in my house. I'm typing this as I get ready to go to bed, exhausted!

Week 1
My little niece came to visit me with her mum and for a few days, her dad too! We ate a lot, ran around a lot, did all the stairs multiple times, went for a lot of walks and argued over clothes a lot. She's using so many words now and it's so very wonderful to hear her shout "DAN!" knowing that she's asking for me!

Here she is, wearing a shirt I bought for her!

Here she is, looking at Auntie Dan and wearing the shirt that took us an hour to get on her.

Week 2
The second week brought my little nephew with his mum, and also for a few days, his dad too! We played a lot, talked a lot, did the stairs a lot, talked some more and found a new favourite TV show together. There are so many words now for this little boy, in both Chinese and English! His version of my name is "THAN!" and it makes my heart sing so!

Here is a very thoughtful photo of my little nephew. Always very focused.

Here we are, having a whale of a time as usual!

Having them around has been a great blessing to me. It's been a tough couple of weeks for us as a family so having these two little people around, giving me random objects, little hugs and the occasional snotty kiss has been fabulous. Their little voices great relief in a time of big feelings, keeping us all grounded and seeing the positives in life. Hope to see you little people again very soon, your Auntie Dan/Than loves you so!

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Planes, Storms and Automobiles

I've been back from the USA for 2 weeks now and the scale of my trip has only just settled in. Okay, so it wasn't an around the world adventure, nor was it 2 months in a car, but it was definitely epic. Here are some photos in chronological order to help you go through this journey with me:

This is Times Square in NYC. I spent a week there with my awesome Mr E.P.

Mr E.P. and I made this rather awesome snow dinosaur during the first snow storm of this trip. Everyone, please say hello to Tiny the Dinosaur. 

Next I flew to Los Angeles. We were super busy there and it wasn't until the 5th day I was there that I realised I hadn't taken many photos. Here is a walk on the Venice beach before the Campference.

Here is the Playwork Campference on the first day. It was awesome - you can read more my thoughts here.

Here is the Campference on the second day - a rainstorm! There was so much water the streets turned into rivers and all the children could do was dance in it. I could have cried that day, but didn't - it all turned out okay!

Here is the Campference on the third day and this is one of my favourite photos of this trip. So much awesome: so much play.


Here is a walk on the beach after the Campference. Not so warm here - but we are happy! So pleased to spend time with Morgan and Andy!

After LA, we drove to San Francisco for a workshop and Pop-Up.

We were only there for a short time but we managed to sneak in a little bit of tourism.

I had a break from work after that and hung out with Mr E.P. We didn't do much and this is probably my most interesting photo - an old bit of hive!

Refreshed, I flew to Chicago to meet Morgan where we looked out onto Lake Michagan and found out that we won an award! It was a very surreal moment which we will never forget.

We ran a workshop in Evanston, IL where the adults really got into their play.

We hung out with some lovely people and this young man and I did a lot of adventuring by the lake.

Morgan and I then drove to Springfield, IL where we did a keynote to 300 librarians, and then borrowed a lot of their spoons to play with. It was amazing.


And of course, I had to finish off the trip with one more snow storm. Two feet of snow happened overnight and I think that by the time I had gotten to this feat of weather, I had just stopped worrying and just started enjoying it. Here's me - happy! :)

During this trip I have been on 8 flights, driven 6 different cars, completed 4 presentations, experienced 2 snow storms and survived 1 epic rain storm. At one point, I looked around and started laughing at the sheer madness of it all. We did so much as Pop-Up Adventure Play, and I feel like I overcame a lot as Zan. And it was so great to be able to share the adventure with some awesome people too. It was an incredible journey, and I am excited for the next one: Canada! More soon!

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Mother's Weekend

I am back from my travels (which I will talk more about later) and right in time to celebrate Mother's Day. My mum's been through a lot recently - and there's more to come too - so we decided to make a whole weekend of my mum.

On Saturday, we went for a walk around a local reservoir. It was a beautiful day and when we got there, we found ourselves transported to somewhere that didn't look anything like Manchester - it was a little breathtaking:

Here's mum and dad, delighted with the location for our wanderings.

And look at this! The stillness of the reservoir and the reflection of the blue sky. It's so beautiful, my heart could burst.

And here we all our. I'm clearly super happy! :)

Later in the evening we went to see Beauty and the Beast as well! A great film and an awesome end to a fun day!

On Sunday, we decided to make our evening meal interactive, so we did an electric barbecue outside! We have a little electric raclette (like a grill thingy) which we plugged in and enjoyed the first beautiful evening of Spring.

Here's mum, looking mightily pleased.

Dad was feeling a little silly - this was an awesome idea!

Isn't this a hilarious two-person meal photo? Haha. I was there too, I promise!

It was a beautiful evening and we had simple food, simply. With bellies full and moods happy, we finished off the weekend - happy mother's day mum! You are awesome - may there be many happy mother's days to come!  

Monday, 23 January 2017

Taking Time to Breathe

Things have been quiet on the blog front because of all the busyness I have been involved in. Top of the list of things to do is the Playwork Campference, the first ever conference I've helped to organise. It's happening in February and is based in California and you might think "Wow, such a beautiful location" but actually it's been oddly stressful to be so far away from the project you're working on. I literally have no control over what happens! But everything will be fine - I have a great team around me.

Weirdly enough, the busier I am, the more I seek out ways to not work, to get outside, or to unwind my brain. I have noticed that I watch TV less, but go for walks more. I have less fast food, and spend more time making stuff from scratch. It seems counter-intuitive that with an ever increasing list of things to do that I might be playing more, but I am. I can more effectively tackle the list when my play needs are met first. It doesn't make any sense, but it really works.

I've been walking everywhere. To the shops, to the park, to the post office, to the post box. I've also been wandering in the woods, through all the puddles, in the river and across vast fields. It's been lovely just to walk. One foot in front of another in a predictable, methodical way, discovering unknown views, never-seen-before mushrooms or previously unnoticed architectural features. I've walked for hours and hours since Christmas. It's been awesome.

What I haven't done much is bake, but that hiatus was halted with these scones! I did 4 plain, 4 raisin and 4 cheesey ones, all be request of various members of the family :) They were wonderful.

And here is a sample of the biscuits I made the day after the scones. They are lovely vanilla biscuits and there ended up being 50 of them! So many yummy business :) Yay! :)

I'll be off to the USA very soon and will be hitting the ground running. Having these moments to myself - to breathe - really makes a difference! It makes me more efficient, less scatterbrained and far more focused on what needs to be done. To me, this makes perfect sense. Just as a runner's arms needs to pump the legs along, our work is pushed along because of our play. 

Without play, my work gets really difficult. I find it hard to sit still, to stay focused and to come up with new ideas when I haven't first had some time to play. If this is the case for me, an adult who's supposed to be responsible and mature, a person who's supposed to be above the childishness of frivolous activity, then what of the children? I feel sad that children who are programmed to play are being asked, almost forced, to sit down and focus on things they're not interested in. I have enough trouble doing that as an adult. 

Another ironic twist in this busyness is that when I spend too long typing too fast, my wrists begin to hurt. I reckon it's mild repetitive strain injury - nothing serious - but a massive part of me is attributing pain to my hands doing the wrong types of activities. Sure, my fingers have always been pressing keys - I grew up playing a piano for hours at a time - but I guess nowadays I spend days at a time typing, and humans hands just weren't designed for that. Time for them to do a little kneading, mixing, doodling, chopping, photographing and making.

So I'm going to go off and do a little doodling before bed. Hope you find a little time to play today too. More soon!

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Hello 2017 :)

Seven days of 2017 has almost passed and it has gone past quickly! I have busy working on Pop-Up Adventure Play projects, and getting some much needed Zan time in. I've started up doing year 3 of daily postcards - and am extremely excited for some reason. I'm not sure how to document them yet - should I add it to the existing map?

Anyway, maybe people are catching on to my postal enthusiasm, or maybe people just like me enough to send me post, but I have received a bumper crop of postal surprises this week!

Four pieces of post! Hoorah! :)

From left to right clockwise:
1) My nephew sent me some of his artwork that he made with the stuff I bought him for Christmas. My sister also sent me a video of him enthusiastically prodding paint onto paper. She tells me that the paint has been sampled and that despite it not tasting very nice, he still keeps eating it.
2) My lovely friend Ric sent me an encouraging card with some much needed stamps - so very thoughtful - I hadn't realised how expensive these postcards would get.
3) My cousin Karen sent me a little surprise - a personalised notebook with accompanying note. The words "Zan is happy happy" has made Zan very happy happy.
4) My lovely friend Lee sent a lovely postcard from his travels.

These pieces of post have already made my year. It's so lovely that people have taken a few moments out of their day to write to me - thank you so much! :) I feel very much loved and completely blessed. Yaaay! :) More post for everyone this year!