Making serious business out of play

For an entire day, Jennifer Arnold Brevoort ’00 (middle, above) and her cofounders at Pop-Up Play transformed Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia into a festival of pre-designed play for children. It was a kid-sized wonderland, with kids of all ages creating the games and activities they wanted to play. All Brevoort and her cofounders provided was the structure and resources that allowed them to play creatively.

The goal was to bring Pop-Up Play’s mission of facilitating natural learning and connection building through play to the children of Philadelphia in their largest event to date.

“We help kids discover what they are good at. Play is our vehicle because all people have an expertise in play—everyone can do it. In the process, we are creating opportunities for kids to share their expertise with their communities,” Brevoort said. “It is a powerful thing for kids to be able to build connections within their communities. They start to see ways to make change, and through our pre-designed play, realize they have the potential to make change now instead of waiting until they are older.”


Brevoort’s work with children started long before she founded Pop-Up play. In fact, she can trace the foundation of her current work to her years as a student at Gettysburg.

A Psychology major, Brevoort studied and worked with Prof. Steve Siviy, who’s primary research involves the play habits of rats. The two even published a paper on the subject, exploring the connection between play and stress in young rats.

“He is the first person I knew who made a career—a serious academic career—out of play,” Brevoort said. “I thought that was really inspiring and interesting to see something so important come out of something so simple.”

Play has been a central force in her life after graduation, first running experiential youth programs at Please Touch Museum. A few years later, she joined Foundation, Inc.’s Special Projects Initiatives in the Center for Afterschool Education where she traveled the country training Out of School Time educators how to create playful, youth-led project based learning spaces. It wasn't long after that she worked with the Philadelphia Youth Network and The Graduate! Network where she explored how to bring play into educators’ professional development.

It was her work at all levels of youth programming—and her cofounder’s work, too—that opened her eyes to the market for a program like Pop-Up Play.


“We could see patterns in what made youth programs work, and consequently, what made them fail,” Brevoort said. “We would talk a lot about these patterns and our own ideas, until one day we got tired of talking about it and decided to actually do something.”

What they did started small—a program that the three women could more easily fit into a schedule dominated by full time work and family life.

“The idea that we could do something we cared about outside of our jobs without it having to financially support us right away was instrumental in getting this started,” Brevoort said. “I never could have done this without the help and support of my cofounders. This project became a reality because we just started without waiting for enough funding.  We cared enough to try and we’ve made something special happen as a result.”

Since their early days, Pop-Up Play has turned into a fully-fledged company, offering events from single-day to week-long play in transformed public spaces to partnerships that bring blended coursework to educators and youth programs across the city. Beyond that, the company has even competed in a global non-profit contest, ultimately placing as a semi-finalist, all the while generating funds, raising awareness, and building partnerships that have propelled its mission beyond what any of its founders originally imagined.

The work has also had one positive—but unimagined—impact on Brevoort’s personal and professional life as well. It’s an example that Brevoort would encourage other budding entrepreneurs to pursue.

“Whether it’s consulting or volunteering or starting a business, you shouldn’t be afraid to build a diverse platform of professional experiences,” she said. “I never could have predicted how I would build a career around play as a college student, but because I followed something I cared about and capitalized on the many different opportunities that came my way, my work life is all the richer for it.”

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Contact: Kasey Varner, assistant director of communications, 717.337.6806

Posted: Fri, 18 Mar 2016

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