Mapping The Places You Played Outside as a Kid

I love this project. You may, too (boldface mine):

Dear Free-Range Kids: I’m a photographer and an interdisciplinary community artist, and I’m transforming people’s childhood play memories into art for my new project called Play Passages. 

To start, I’m inviting people to share a vivid outdoor play memory from their childhood, and then draw a map of its location with their eyes closed. Believe it or not, it’s actually easier for many adults than drawing with eyes open—it short circuits the inner critic and invites people to play again. 

After making the drawing, then people use watercolors (with their eyes open) to color in and flesh out their map however they want.

Inspired by the stories and the maps, I rephotograph the locations of the memories by visiting them through online photos and satellite images and creating new abstracted images.

There have been many inspirations for Play Passages, but one of the primary ones is that after I had kids (I have two of them, they’re 8 and 5), I’ve became increasingly frustrated (like so many other readers of this blog) that it’s so difficult to give them the same freedoms and play opportunities that I had. And I don’t think it needs to be that way.

Fear in many forms seems to have trumped remembering what it felt like to really play, to take risks, to sometimes get hurt, to have a sense of wonder and possibility that isn’t necessarily “productive”.

I found myself wondering what would happen if I started asking people to remember, what stories would come up? And if I asked them to play a little bit, take a small artistic risk, what would that process be like for people?

It’s not just about nostalgia (although of course thinking back on our childhood play can be very nostalgic). I don’t want to look at childhood play through rose-colored glasses—play is complex and it isn’t always a positive experience. 

I’m just extremely curious about so many things: what are our most vivid memories of playing outside and why do we remember them? What is the relationship between how we played as children and who we became as adults? How do we stay in touch with play over the course of our lives? And how do we give those same opportunities to our children?

I’m hoping Play Passages will spark some of those conversations. 

People can get involved in the project and share their own play memory stories through my website (link to: http://www.mindystricke.com/playpassages/). I just released the first five photographs from the project, and I’ll be releasing more as I make them. I look forward to hearing people’s stories and seeing their play memory maps from all over the world!

Here’s my contact info:

Mindy Stricke
Photographer/Interdisciplinary Community Artist
Art That Connects Us

And here’s an example of a story, play memory map, and the image of the location of the memory:

“Every summer, all summer, between the ages of 4 or 5 until about 10 years old, we played in the bamboo along a creek that ran through my family’s property and through many yards in our neighbourhood.

The creek, which we called “Chicken House Slough”, was shallow and muddy. We hid in the bamboo along the banks and pretended we lived there. We made up a religion with altars and figurines made of bamboo, string, picantha berries, vines and sticks. I felt free and powerful, as if I could build a society with my friends from whatever we wanted. We made “food” in tiny cups that we got from slicing a bamboo stalk between its joints. We stalked the creek, threw berries at an angry crawdad, and snuck into strangers’ backyards. It felt exciting and illicit.” – Erin Koshal

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Map of Winding Creek Road, Sacramento, CA, by Erin Koshal

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Winding Creek Road, 2017

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9 Responses to Mapping The Places You Played Outside as a Kid

  1. Tim Gill July 7, 2017 at 8:01 am #

    Love the sound of this. In my talks i often invite adults to recall their favourite childhood places to play. Almost without exception the memories are powerful and resonant. As you say Mindy, they are not mere nostalgia (and yes, not always positive – there is a dark side to play which we adults need to reflect on). Good luck with it!

  2. Mindy Stricke July 7, 2017 at 12:05 pm #

    Thanks so much Tim! I’m a big fan of your work. And I was definitely inspired by the exercise that many play advocates use in workshops to get people to reconnect by discussing play memories. I hope the project can open a wider conversation about them too.

  3. Amy July 7, 2017 at 12:52 pm #

    The problem I have is my place has completely changed. The PTB have taken everything I loved and gotten rid of it. 🙁

  4. Crystal July 7, 2017 at 4:27 pm #

    Very cool!

  5. Robin July 7, 2017 at 4:34 pm #

    Sounds like a wonderful idea. Not sure what Mindy would do with my place though. It was a slightly swampy area about 10 minutes away by bike where we would go to catch frogs, try to see turtles, make things out of the pussy willows and milkweed frothy seeds and whatever else we felt like doing since between the ages of maybe 8 and whatever we had no adult supervision. Now it is gone, vanished, covered by apartment blocks and asphalt with not even any lawn to see. Sorry frogs.

  6. sexhysteria July 8, 2017 at 11:06 am #

    Great project idea!

  7. Diane July 9, 2017 at 9:49 pm #

    So cool.

  8. Mindy Stricke July 11, 2017 at 3:47 pm #

    @Robin, I agree that one of the challenges with the project is what to do with play spaces that are completely gone. I’m open to suggestions! One idea I have is to try to track down an old photo of an area, but it wouldn’t be easy.

  9. Anna July 11, 2017 at 7:19 pm #

    My favorite play space was deep in the woods, behind a housing development. Fortunately, I live near enough that I can still go visit it occasionally. Some people might give me odd looks for being an adult tromping through a dry creekbed and staring longingly at patches of thorns, but those places were my home for many years.