Enjoying pop-up play Photo from Yulia Borisova

Evanston kids who want to build with sticks, branches, cardboard, tape, fabrics, and “found objects” should be sure to come to Baker Park from 1 to 4 p.m. this Sunday afternoon, Dec. 8.

Overseeing this unique family-friendly event, now in its fifth year, is the nonprofit Purple Line Adventure Play, an organization dedicated to bringing more child-directed outdoor play to Evanston young people.

The Purple Line pop-up adventure playgrounds, where kids choose how to play and use all sorts of materials to build and decorate their creations, grew out of the commitment and enthusiasm of Yulia Borisova. Described by her colleague, Rick Kinnebrew as a “champion for free plan,” Ms. Borisova, who holds a master’s degree in Slavic literatures from Northwestern University, has been the director of Purple Line Adventure Play for more than four years.

The website for Purple Line Adventure was started more recently when the organization became approved as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. 

 As a “playworker,” Ms. Borisova originally became interested in “free play” when she moved with her family from one neighborhood where the kids were all outside without supervision to another neighborhood, where they were not. 

Wanting to get her kids outside more, she connected with other families by starting a Facebook group called Evanston Games in the Park.  The group drew lots of interest and is still active several Saturdays a month. 

Play work is a separate field from play therapy, although they can overlap. Play work is an approach where the child’s agenda is prioritized. Barriers to play are removed, and the environment is enriched. The play “agenda” is Intended to come from the kids and is controlled by the kids.

Born in Kazakhstan and having then lived in Russia, Ms. Borisova was used to the tradition of informally organized games in those countries. She often encourages games along with the construction activities, and she is a fan of “Red Rover.” 

The concept of an “adventure playground” was developed by the Danish architect Carl Theodor Sorensen in 1931 when he observed that kids were choosing to play everywhere but on the playgrounds he designed. He is known for the concept of “junk playgrounds … “in which children could create and shape, dream and imagine a reality.” These playgrounds were especially important for kids in cities during World War II. They could create their own worlds. There are still many adventure playgrounds in Europe, especially in Denmark, Germany, Scandinavia and the Netherlands.

Ms. Borisova and Mr. Kinnebrew (aka Mr. Rick from the Evanston Public Library) volunteer their time and solicit donations on social media for their materials, such patterned duct tape, masking tape and paint rollers.  They also need donations to cover the occasional rental of  U-Haul trucks to pick up giant cardboard boxes from the appliance store Abt, take them to storage and then to deliver them to the events.

Ms. Borisova and Mr. Kinnebrew believe in providing kids with opportunities for “creative, explorative, healing, rejuvenating and empowering play.”  They believe in the statement by Charles Schaefer, psychologist and writer about play therapy, that “We are never more fully alive, more completely ourselves, or more deeply engrossed in anything than when we are playing.” 

Purple Line Adventure Play is “Evanston-focused”, and its events are often in neighborhoods where there are primarily apartment buildings, and in neighborhoods that need more informal play opportunities. 

The organizers look on the events as opportunities to “improve social cohesion.” There have been more than 30 Purple Line pop-up events over the last four years, at Elks, Brummel, Leahy, Penny, Baker, Grey, Eiden and Elks parks, as well as at the Streets Alive festivals.

The “stick” pop-ups, as the name suggests, are a unique type of pop-up.  For the upcoming Baker Park event, the City of Evanston will donate a truckload of sticks and branches the day of the event. The City will also provide cookies and cocoa in the field house. Bathrooms will be open.

Baker Park is at the southeast corner of Keeney Street and Forest Avenue. Despite the wintry weather, Ms. Borisova says that the kids will be warm and on the go with the vigorous winter play planned.  

Looking ahead, Ms. Borisova says she and Mr. Kinnebrew intend to do more than 20 events in 2020, including another neighborhood play project at Elks Park in June. They are eager to continue to provide these unique outdoor kid-directed adventures in Evanston’s many parks – there are 90.

Ellen Galland

Ellen Galland has had an architectural practice in Evanston since 1983. For more than 20 years, she has written articles for the RoundTable, including the column “Ask An Architect" and "The Green Column"...