Play, the Important Work of Children

Play, the Important Work of Children

On a Monday evening two professional play-workers intrigued a group of curious community leaders to learn about encouraging free play through adventure playgrounds. Morgan Leichter-Saxby, of Vermont and the UK, and Suzanna Law, of Manchester, England, both professional playworkers, talked and played at Bataan School in Port Clinton as one of 16 stops on tour of the United States. Suzannah is the organizer of the tour and is working on her PhD in play work. Morgan has been in the lead on play work training since Pop-Up Adventure Play’s inception and has spoken at over a dozen international conferences. 

Adventure playgrounds are new to the United States and to Port Clinton. Last fall Tricia O’Connor and Melissa Bayer, who did not know each other at the time, separately called Chris Galvin, Area Director of United Way in Ottawa County, with the idea of using adventure play to engage and involve local children and adults, to help revitalize the community. 

The history

Adventure playgrounds were begun decades ago in war-ravaged areas in Europe. It was discovered that children were playing in bombed-out abandoned lots, inventively making them their own playgrounds. Concerned adults helped clean up glass and un-exploded bombs and other hazards, leaving debris and materials that the children used for play. The adults found ways to say “yes” to the inventiveness of children, an important premise of pop-up and adventure play in a world where children often hear “no” too often.

The need

Most of us that are adults today grew up playing outside, in vacant lots and the streets, with stones and dirt, using empty cardboard boxes to build forts, building our creative and problem-solving muscles and inter-personal communication skills along the way. Many of today’s children have little of that, and many adults have forgotten how to enjoy or demonstrate unstructured play. 

According to Dr. Peter Gray, psychologist and research professor at Boston College, since about 1960, “There has been a continuous and dramatic decline in children’s opportunities to play and explore in their own chosen ways.” 

Kyung Hee Kim, professor of education and author of “The Creativity Crisis” states, “[Based on TTCT test results] children have become less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, and less likely to see things from a different angle.” America’s Creativity Quotient has decreased each year since 1990. 85% of children in 2008 scored lower than an average child in 1984.

In Ottawa County, 20% of children are not kindergarten ready and more than 18% are living in poverty. Businesses report that high school graduates are not job force ready and lack life skills. Play is a crucial factor in building tomorrow’s creative thinkers and innovators.

Creative play

“Supporting children’s play for its own sake” is the purpose of adventure playgrounds. Respecting and supporting children’s freedom, pop-up adventure playgrounds reach out to schools, public parks, festivals and anywhere that children are already gathering. When events are held in public places, new ways of connecting children with each other, children to the community, and adults with each other are experienced. 

“It is never too late to learn or to remember how to play,” said Morgan. That was demonstrated as the attendees at Monday’s meeting were invited to play. Flower pots became a Rastafarian; buttons were formed into a painting; ropes became the base of a web decorated with yarn, netting and streamers; and foam tubes were used to play floor hockey.

Bringing adventure play to the US and Ottawa County

Morgan and Susanna have delivered events and training in locations around the world, including Cairo and Bogota, and with partners including the Providence Children’s Museum, Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City and Sarah Lawrence College. At MOMA, as is often the case when the team takes play to a guest location, they tailored the materials to the situation (no paints were allowed that might damage museum walls). 

“We need to look at play as a need,” said Morgan. “If children don’t have outlets, and stuff to play with creatively, that is when fights start over what is available.”

Melissa and Tricia, working with United Way, have hosted and are planning several successful adventure play events in Ottawa County. Parents and children have frequently expressed their delight with the experiences they have had there. 

Play opportunities in the county

On Saturday, April 26, the first Pop-Up Talent Show, a fundraiser showcasing local celebrity talent and sponsored by Leadership Ottawa County to benefit United Way’s Pop-Up Adventure Play Program, will be held at the Elk’s Lodge, 231 Buckeye Boulevard, Port Clinton. The play begins at 6 p.m. with cash bar, silent auction and 50/50, followed by dinner and entertainment by the Naked Bacon Band and the Talent Show. Tickets can be purchased at Mary’s Blossom Shoppe in Port Clinton, Danbury Zoning Department in Marblehead, Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, and the Crafty Needle in Elmore, or by contacting Kathy at 419.734.6120 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Three ingredients for an adventure playground:

1.A SITE that is welcoming.
2.STAFF that is non-judgmental, that may come from many different backgrounds 
3.STUFF that is safe and stimulating

Seven principles of adventure playgrounds:

1.Free for anyone to attend
2.Free for participants to come and go
3.Free to participate as they please
5.Stocked with every-day items
6.Safe from hazards, with space to grow
7.Commercial-free play

Chances and places to play:

Pop-up playground, April 26, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., at St. John’s Lutheran Church, 207 Adams, Port Clinton  

Pop-up playground, May 22, 5-8 p.m., downtown Port Clinton Art Walk

“Where Do Children Play?” film and discussion, Ida Rupp Public Library, Port Clinton

For more information, go to, or on Facebook at Pop-Up Play-Port Clinton. To volunteer or learn more about adventure playgrounds in Ottawa County, call 419.

United Way in Ottawa County unites the caring power of people to change lives. United Way is focused on the building blocks for a good life: education, income, and health. Starting at the root, United Way addresses the circumstances that destabilize communities. United Way recruits people and organizations that bring the passion, expertise, and resources needed to get things done. You can give, you can advocate, and you can volunteer – that’s how to LIVE UNITED. For more information, visit

back to top