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.