Ship to Shore on Canada’s Magdalen Islands

Years ago I was one of about 15 people in communities across Nova Scotia documenting the province’s built heritage. We took photos, did title deed searches and wrote up architectural descriptions for all buildings erected before 1914 in our respective towns. This was the first time I heard the word ‘vernacular’ associated with something other than language.

DSC07545Acadian colours fishing boat – L’Étang-du-Nord

Vernacular architecture is based on local needs, uses local materials and reflects local realities. It is of the place. Vernacular was on the tip of my tongue when the kids and I first went to the playgrounds in the Magdalen Islands (Les Iles de la Madeleine) in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Our first trip we discovered a couple of these gems – the antithesis to off the shelf play solutions. In subsequent trips we found more. Invariably the construction material is wood and not surprisingly on Les Iles, boats are the dominant theme. These are the playgrounds we fell in love with, the ones we rush to each time we visit. I hope you’ll enjoy our photos from the beaches, schools and fishing ports of the Magdalen Islands in this Storehouse collection

DSC01627Plage de la Grande Échouerie – Click through on pic for Storehouse photo collection.

We had an old boat, The Halcyon, on the Halifax waterfront for close on 20 years before it had to be removed. It was in the same league as these Magdalen Island playgrounds – sturdy, simple, well built and packed with adventure for kids.

DSC08352The Halcyon, Halifax waterfront, circa 2010

I’m interested in hearing more about vernacular playgrounds. Give me a shout or send me some photos if there’s one in your neighbourhood.

Adventure: playing out in Telford Road

PlayGroundology:

Just love this photocentric post from The Library Time Machine. Thanks for sharing these images. I’m sure PlayGroundology readers will enjoy them. Hey Canada, what do you say, don’t we need a few adventure playgrounds sprinkled across the land?

Originally posted on The Library Time Machine:

Adventure playgrounds were a feature of childhood/adolescence which passed me by really. I wasn’t brought up in London and they were mostly I think a phenomenon of urban life. I saw plenty of them when I first came to London in 1973 – brightly painted constructions of wood, behind fences, teeming with kids and I had the vague sense of having missed out on something. If you come from a small town, urban life, even the life in what might be called “deprived” areas looks exciting.

So when my colleague Tim showed me a packet of photos of the Notting Hill Adventure Playground in Telford Road that he’d retrieved in the course of an enquiry, I was fascinated by these scenes of communal play. The blogging cells in my brain immediately recognised them assomething you had to see.

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Most of these pictures come from a large packet of photographs donated…

View original 519 more words

Whose woods are these?

Each summer we trek a couple of hundred kilometres to camp at Kejimkujik one of Canada’s east coast national parks. For the kids it’s an unparalleled play ecosystem – woods, water, wildlife, wonder. They always have something close at hand in the natural environment that is readily transformed into adventure.

This trip, we are tucked away in the far corner of a walk in area. The cozy comfort of familiarity is all around us. We’ve tented here several times over the years on solo family excursions and with friends. A small inlet is just down the path where rocks, a mighty old tree and gently rippling water beckon.

DSCF9583Gathering moss and lichen from old man tree

Since our last stay, old man tree is no longer reaching skyward. Cracked at the trunk and toppled, its growing days are over. But like the tree in Shel Silverstein’s story (original animation video) it continues to give. Now, it’s a in situ natural playscape – jungle gym, balance beam, bouncy ride.

In past visits when the tree was still stretching its branches and popping leaves to catch the sun it was ‘the’ climbing place. The two older kids risked their first unaided climbs here getting purchase on the rough bark as they inched up the trunk’s steep incline and made the tricky transition onto the primary branch that pushed out almost parallel to the ground.

GOnV8NDIFf_1386290135937From ‘The Book of Play’

There is a sadness seeing this green friend prone and broken down. It’s a tree that will stand tall in my memories as the kids’ starter climber, the bridge for their first magical trip from earth to sky.

As I walk to the playground to get the kids for a meal, they are shouting excitedly about their latest discovery. They’re juiced, bouncing around their find, poking about inside, adding branches to a rootsy, vernacular space.

DSCF9648Found shelter/den

For a few minutes this is the jackpot. All energies are devoted here as plans are hastily conceived to create a similar treasure. The rapid progression of seeing, touching and doing makes the possibility of actually being den makers all the more real to them. The den is perfection. It is cozy and built to their scale with branches and sticks gathered from the forest floor.

Back on the inlet’s rocky shore, Nellie-Rose starts floating leaf boats. Before long, the three kids are marine architects constructing moss boats with twig masts. An impromptu regatta gets underway with seven or eight of these ‘mossies’ getting launched into a lazy current and meandering out into open water. Two or three are crewed by tiny toads – Nellie’s touch – who sit transfixed on their small islands.

DSCF9850Mossie crewed by a toad

These moments of fun and inventiveness, of laughter and togetherness are timeless, a kids in nature blockbuster story in the making.

At night above the canopy we can see specks of shimmery light as stars flit about and satellites skip across the sky. There is something about natural open spaces that buffers the daily chaos, soothes the city’s madness and sparks delight like magic embers arcing in the night.

Whose woods are these I think I know
Their laughter’s sweet enough to sow
Lost in play they do not see
The lengthening shadows as they grow

These woods are airy, light and sweet
But I have miles to go before we meet
Miles and miles before we meet
The ones whose love makes us complete

(Apologies to Robert Frost)

A day played out to a natural rhythm and tucked in with the best night sky viewing Nova Scotia can offer.

Keji Night SkySource: Frommer’s

Thanks kids, thanks Keji – we’ll be back.

Many Hands Make Great Play

The kids are smiling, laughing, shouting, jumping, building, making, exploring, wondering. They’re active physically, mentally and socially as they create their own loose parts play zone at the ‘Wear Pink’ MET Track event.

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I’m not sure who is more exhilarated, the kids or we three amigos who pulled this together as a pilot project hosted by Nova Scotia’s Youth Running Series. I think the kids have a leg up on us, just barely though as the perma press smiles are pretty equally distributed between them and us adult types. Click through here for a photo montage of the event with video and let the pictures do the talking.

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Our role is quite simple. Provide a space and ingredients – let the kids do the rest. It’s a wonderful recipe for spontaneity. The kids intuitively understand that permission is being given to play with the stuff – ‘loose parts’ in tech speak – in any manner that they can conceive. It’s a freewheeling, dynamic playscape fueled by the power of imagination. In short order we see cardboard castles, obstacle courses, balancing on planks and hula-hooping bike tires.

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Inanimate objects seem to come to life as they are re-purposed in a metamorphosis of play. Milk crates become pathways, steps, towers – bales of hay are launching pads into unforgiving gravity, tires and planks are transformed into a catapult’s working parts.

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On this day all paths are leading to play. By all accounts the event is a success. Kids have a blast, adults reminisce about childhood, PhysEd teachers there with students participating in the running series are enthusiastic, our hosts are eager to have us back. A sweet blast of euphoria courses through me as I watch the kids having fun with simple treasures, making their own worlds of play. The three of us – Dean, Luke and myself – check in with each other. We’re all in agreement, ‘it’s awesome’.

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Social media gives us the thumbs up too. I’m starting to think of what we can do next year. Where else can we take this traveling playshow? If you’re reading this in Halifax and have any suggestions, give us a shout, we’d love to hear from you….

Loose Parts Stats - Sept 23

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Thanks to all the folks who helped with and inspired this ‘loose parts’ play session. It would have never happened if I hadn’t crossed paths with Suzanna and Morgan and at Pop-Up Adventure Play, Sarah and crew at Stepping Up! Halifax, Robert at Glasgow’s Baltic Street Adventure Playground, the fine folks at London’s Assemble who along with Baltic put on a great outdoor play event on Glasgow Green during the Play Summit in April, Brendon P. Hyndman and his loose parts research in Australian schools and Mairi Ferris who brought me to a forest in Fife, Scotland in July to share an incredible play space where kids as young as six-years-old make their own dens with branches, learn to use tools, to make fires and are able to explore the woods in safety.

Run Jump BuildClick here or on this pic to link to a photo riff of the event.

Thanks also to the businesses who helped us with materials for the day – Enterprise Car Rentals, Valleyfield Farms, Canadian Tire, M & R Enterprises, Farmer’s Dairy and Novabraid.

My biggest thanks to Luke and Dean the other playmakers on the team who helped make it all possible. Two weeks later the goofy grin comes back to my face along with a ripple of laughter every time I picture the kids making their own thing….

Simple Treasures

There is nothing quite like stumbling across a new treasure. Sharing the find with an appreciative audience like PlayGroundology readers makes it just that much sweeter. When the kids are with me too to revel in the discovery then we’re pretty much wallowing the nirvana zone.

Play opportunities are always top of mind when we’re on the road. We frequently hear a three part harmony from the back seat of the Orlando, “can we go to a playground here?”. In Edmundston, New Brunswick we hit gold in a municipal park located next to our campground.

DSCF7486Four tires, three kids and some chains

In my five years of visiting playgrounds, scouring the interweb and receiving photos from other play enthusiasts, this was the first time I come across this particular piece of equipment, truly a simple treasure.

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In the course of 15 minutes the kids were rodeo cowboy bronco riders, firefighters scaling a ladder to fight a blazing building, aerial daredevils manoeuvring around the perimeter just a stumble away from falling into boiling lava.

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The apparatus was also well suited for balancing, sundry acrobatics and gyrations, mountaineering, gale force laughter and slowmo tag.

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Bravo to the designers for the countless hours of fun they have made possible. Kudos to the local authority for retaining this wonderful piece for the kids.

Readers, what are your favourite simple treasures from the world of play?

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Chasing the Dragon

The mission starts with a brisk morning walk along the Gourock esplanade. We’re heading across the Clyde River to play in Argyll and Bute’s rolling hills and sea lochs. Our first destination is dockside for the passenger ferry to Dunoon. On the other side our independent garage car hire picks us up then it’s off to Argyll Street where we dine like kings on meat pies and beans at Black of Dunoon Bakers (5 stars for service and food in our books).

DSC08742Dunoon’s Victorian era dock, possibly the last on the Clyde River, is now in disrepair.

The Home Hardware just across the street from Black’s has all the items on our checklist though we’re a little disappointed with the lack of variety. For July in Scotland it’s baking hot and with arms full of supplies we walk up past the old church en route to a touch of guerilla fun and adventure.

Skirting tidal lochs, we wind around the base of hills thick with sky stretching firs before climbing steadily then dropping again through the valley of pheasants. The countryside is lush, dripping green. We’re on the lookout for a legendary quarry we last saw months ago. As we try to recall the location of a particular clearing, we stay alert for oncoming traffic on the long, narrow strips of single carriage roadway.

DSC08648 - Version 2Sky stretching firs

We’ve been bantering about this day for a few weeks. This is the one window we have to add our pastiche to a distinctive roadside attraction. As we slow down for road construction at the Tighnabruaich look off, we know we’re getting closer to our destination.

DSC08653View south and east along the Kyles of Bute from the Tighnabruaich look out

Then a few kilometres further on it’s upon us, a sculpture of stones ripped from the ground – bold, rampant, mythic – a greyish dragon partially encrusted in dried earth.

DSC08623Prepping the canvas.

Emerald green and sunburst yellow are absent as adornments for the beautiful beastie. The Dunoon hardware offers a limited selection of masonry paint. We toss about a few colour schemes and liberally begin to apply our palette of ochre red, pale yellow, black and white. I feel like a kid again creating something new, fresh, alive.

The air is heavy with the buzz of horse flies feasting on our legs and arms. It’s a three hour paint job in the salty, dripping sweat, afternoon sun. Quiet laughter, lighthearted complicity are the order of the day. With our hands caked in paint, there is contemplative appreciation for this new version of the rockin’ dragon of Tighnabruaich. We give a high five to the originators who brought together this magical combination of rocks. I think of the dragon as being under a creative commons license and of our daubs of paint as something building on and enhancing the original.

cIMG_0623compThe Dragon of Tighnabruaich casts a toothy grin on the Bxxxx

Traffic on the road is sparse as we go about our business but those who do notice us – lorry, delivery and post office drivers, tradespeople and families – give a wave as they zip past, a thumbs up, or a quick parp of the horn. Now I have to give credit where credit is due. This painting adventure is 100 percent papa’s idea. As the willing accomplice, it’s great to share this playful experience, a first of its kind for both of us.

New and freshDragon all dressed up with a fresh coat

Now some will say, like one of my colleagues, that this sculpture is a rendition of a rabbit. Looking at the teeth as the ears in the photo above, a rabbit’s head does look like the order of the day. But don’t believe it for a moment. This is just the result of a particular angle. This is a stone cold dragon that we’ve warmed up a wee bit with colour. Now I ask you, does this look like a rabbit?

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We survey our work one last time before we start back down the road to Dunoon. We hope it will be a little bit more noticeable now to passersby and that it will give kids and adults alike cause to smile and maybe even laugh. We’re both well pleased with this play that had a few elements of work associated with it. Although it is broad daylight, I feel we are living moments of campfires burning bright with dragon breath in dark of night.

If I’m ever back that way, I’ll pull over and remember this afternoon when papa and I were kids again.

20140710_104941Selfie with Dragon

Glasgow Green is Calling

Later today I do the Halifax – Heathrow jet skip with a final touchdown in Glasgow just a couple of weeks shy of the XX Commonwealth Games kick off that happens to fall on my birthday. It’s the second time this year that I’m a guest at a cousin’s wedding on Scotland’s west coast. Joyous days for the couples walking down the aisle and wonderful occasions for all of us to make new friends and reconnect with family on both sides of the Atlantic.

DSC06197Glasgow Green – Play Summit Pop-Up Adventure – April 2014
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My April trip coincided with the Play Summit spearheaded by Nils Norman (check Nils’ great photobank of playscapes here) and London’s Assemble. The Summit symposium featured leading play thinkers, advocates and activists in the People’s Palace and adventure play shenanigans for kids on Glasgow Green.

I was able to pop in for a couple of hours and immerse myself in conversations and presentations about adventure play. It was exciting to meet and chat with people like Hitoshi Shimamura who flies the adventure play banner in Tokyo where, he told me, there’s an aversion to fences around playgrounds. The goal is to offer an inviting, open space that presents no boundaries or barriers with the surrounding community.

Tim Gill and I sat down for lunch and a chat. Early on in my exploration of playgrounds I had sent Tim a few questions on the possibility of developing a play index that could capture how local authorities were measuring up to enabling play opportunities for their young citizens. He sent me a thoughtful and informative response that included suggested contacts and the friendly pointer that an undertaking of this nature would present unique and complex challenges.

No FearClick photo for free download courtesy of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundtation

True to form when we lunched under the glass dome of the People’s Palace, Tim was generous with his time and gave me a broad overview of the UK play landscape from his vantage point. PlayGroundology reblogs some of Tim’s work from rethinking childhood and I never tire of referencing his book, now in its third printing – No Fear – Growing Up in a Risk Averse Society – to parents, educators and the media.

Over the years, I’ve seen some great photos and video from London’s Glamis Adventure Playground. It was a thrill to be in the audience for Mark Halden’s presentation on some of the problems Glamis is encountering with fundraising. He bemoaned the significant time and energy that had to be dedicated to this activity. In an environment with small teams and already parsed budgets, the effort associated with financing can detract from programming for the kids.

Mark has a Canada connection too and has spent time in BC. He made me aware of a well loved and regarded play advocate, Valerie Fronczek who passed away last year. Many people spoke her name when they heard I was from Canada. Valerie was a respected and engaged member of the play community and worked tirelessly for kids. From what I heard, it would have been great to have known her.

What struck me during my brief interlude at the Play Summit was the sense of community and camaraderie amongst the participants. It was one of those gatherings where there was a lot of information flow and the delineation between presenters and practitioners was very porous. Many of of those in attendance had dedicated much of their working lives to help kids and play.

Just before I hopped into a cab to take me back to Central Station, I came across a playground with huge slide structures. I had to grab a few shots while the taxi waited. They sure looked like Spielgerate designs to me. When I visit again in a few days, I’ll give them a test run if I’m not chased away by parents.

DSC06992Towering, twisting slides on Glasgow Green
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April’s pop-up adventure on Glasgow Green was an early days event for the Baltic St. Adventure Playground which is located nearby in the Dalmarnock district. Their official opening weekend is on for July 19 and 20. I’ll be back in Canada by then but playworker Robert Kennedy has kindly offered to give me a tour during my visit. It will be the first time I set foot in an adventure playground. It would be perfect if I could have our three kids with me – another time…

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I’m hoping to get over to Fife too and learn a bit about some of the play happenings there from twitter friend @MairiMo. Mairi was a great help during my April visit and set up a meeting with Theresa Casey, a play author, consultant and President of the International Play Association. I’ll have more to share on the IPA and the meeting with Theresa in a subsequent post.

Glasgow Green and Edinburgh was time well spent and the first real opportunity I have had to meet with and hear the experiences of so many play people which is resulting in both pragmatic and inspirational returns. The Glasgow Green pop-up really got me juiced to work with others in Halifax to create a similar event. It will be taking place in September in association with the Youth Running Series. I’ll be picking Robert’s brains later this week to see what he can share and suggest.

DSC06231Pop-Up will be playing in Halifax, Canada soon. Thanks to the Play Summit and Baltic St. Adventure Playground for the inspiration

There may be some surprises of the dragon variety on this trip too. I’ll keep you posted.

I’m wrapping this post by giving a big shout out to my papa who will be 80 later this year. He’s an enthusiastic supporter of and sometime photographer for PlayGroundology. Yesterday, along with one his brothers and my brother and sister-in-law, he completed a six-day walk across Hadrian’s Wall. Their longest day was 27 kilometres. He did a number of interviews along the way with people from a variety of countries and is considering putting it all together to share on YouTube. This man just continues to blow me away.

It’s well past my bedtime and I need to get some rest for the long day ahead. Glasgow Green is calling and play is piping the tune. In this year of the Homecoming it’s Scotland Forever.