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.

PlayGroundology on CBC’s Maritime Noon

Today, I’m an in studio guest with Norma Lee MacLeod, host of CBC Radio’s Maritime Noon. We’ll be talking playgrounds and I’m looking forward to hearing from listeners in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia about their perspectives on the state of public play spaces. If you’re a PlayGroundology friend in the Maritimes, tune in for the conversation. We’ll also be giving away a copy of Brenda Biondo’s beautiful photography book – Once Upon a Playground.

I’ve cobbled together a few storify stories that Maritime Noon listeners and regular PlayGroundology readers can explore. Just click through on the bolded titles below or the accompanying photos and you’ll be whisked away to curated content that includes journalism, videos, blogposts and more.

One resource that I would like to single out that may be of interest to listeners is No Fear – Growing Up in a Risk Averse Society (free download) written by British play advocate Tim Gill and published by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

And now, on with the storify content.


Adventure and Loose Parts

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A Greater Risk

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The Makers
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Right to Play
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Resources for Play
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If you are able to tune in to today’s program, thanks for listening and thanks to the Maritime Noon team for making it happen.

Roots of Play – Sculpting Social Landscapes

Now here’s a sweet spot that would put a spring in Joni Mitchell’s step. In Pasadena, California, an artist with a love for play liberates a parking lot and puts up a piece of paradise.

Katya Khan’s Sculpting Social Landscapes installation interweaves elements of art, community participation and landscape architecture practice. With concept in hand, sweat on her brow and recognition in the guise of local arts funding, Katya transforms a small parcel of urban land into a child’s temporary shangri-la.

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The lot in northwest Pasadena is home to Side Street Projects an entirely mobile artist-run organization. It is frequently used for community events and engagements. Over the course of several weekends the space blooms with simple pleasures, an oasis of discovery and play. Hand built stone labyrinths (centre-bottom in photo above) and adobe huts (centre-top) co-exist with school buses and trailers.

I reflect on opportunities children have for free play in modern life. I notice that kids do not spend enough time outdoors, they rarely play without adults’ supervision and at the same time there is a deficit of in-person interaction between young and older generations.

The interactive, intergenerational project is based on the premise that the making of play is play in the making for children and adults alike.

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This participatory approach takes many forms such as planting seeds (above) as well as making adobe huts and small hilly mounds.

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Over the course of nearly two months, Khan collaborated with artists from various disciplines in five separate workshops. Throughout there was an emphasis on tactile activities providing kids and adults with opportunities for hands on creation.

This project was inspired by early adventure playgrounds and reminiscences from the sweetest moments of my own childhood. I thought what if there was a place where children would be able to touch plants, manipulate a landscape and get messy?

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Khan remembers never ending childhood summers. From an early age she played outside coming home as the sun started to set. At her grandma’s house in the Russian countryside she immersed herself in nature. She loved the woods, playing with plants, making dens, being a part of the landscape and breathing the outdoors.
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kids mounds

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Prior to coming to the US, Khan studied environmental design with a fine arts focus in St. Petersburg. Her final project was a concept for a children’s garden. Since then she has been dreaming of the time when she could create a playscape that incorporates her love of art. community and the natural world. Sculpting Social Spaces is her largest public canvas to date.

It’s rewarding to see how people use the space that I imagined and that it actually works. Spaces for children should be fun and challenging. I’m not a big fan of all this standard, off the shelf equipment.

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Khan has nearly completed a three-year program in landscape architecture at Cal Poly Pomona. Her influences include Noguchi and Danish landscape architect, Helle Nebelong. She is still looking for her niche and sees this project as being more along an art, rather than a design, continuum. From her artist’s viewpoint she is trying to solve landscape architect type problems.

At one point during the installation, Khan and a group of friends started playing with movement and meditation in the labyrinth. Their improvisation turned into a silly walk and gales of laughter. It made her think that she herself and adults in general should be playing more frequently.

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She presented Sculpting Social Landscapes at the Community Built Association Conference in Davis, California. Khan plans on keeping plugged in to play. With her nine-year-old son as one of her inspirations, I’m sure we will be hearing more about her creations.

Experimenting with music was another playful activity for the kids.

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Adults too let loose with sounds.

this piece was composed by Joe Berardi and Kira Vollman from the sounds collected at an interactive space installation during public art events. read more at social-landscapes.com/

Thanks to Katya Khan, other participating artists and the kids for liberating a parking lot and putting up a piece of paradise.

Cosby the Comic Prince Riffs on Playgrounds

Did any comic have a better ear for kids? I came across this gem today while curating content for PlayGroundology FB. From the maker of Fat Albert and so much more…

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Cosby lets loose targeting parents as the masterminds behind a playground plot to get rid of kids.

I’m on the lookout for other playground routines by comics. Drop me a line if you know of any.

Pop-Ups On The Road 2014

Itinerant playmakers and PlayGroundology friends Pop-Up Adventure Play are on the road in a big way this year. PlayGroundology asked Suzanna Law if she could contribute a guest post to share some of her thoughts and experiences about the group’s recently concluded US tour. We’re happy she took us up on the offer. Stay tuned for future tour dates, perhaps you can organize to have them come to a community near you. I know we’ll be looking for an opportunity to bring them to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Exactly two months and eleven days ago, I was a ball of anxiety. I was in a snow storm with my colleague Anna and her two children battling our way to Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA to meet Morgan, our other colleague. As the car fought its way through the thick blanket of snow, I started to wonder if a two-month tour of the USA was a good idea.

This then triggered a whole wave of other thoughts: Will the hosts be ready for us? Would the little yellow car we chose be able to complete the journey? Are we really ready for this? But really, my biggest question was this: Was I going to make it to the first stop of the tour? Turns out I had nothing to worry about. Two months and six days on, after “sleeping for a thousand hours” (as Morgan put it) the tour is complete and I am ready to reflect on my adventure. And wow, was it incredible.

PopUp1Here is our little yellow car! It traveled through 28 States and did around 11,000 miles!

Let’s talk about some details first. Ever since Pop-Up Adventure Play was formed about 3 years ago, we have been invited to communities across the world but primarily in the USA. People have been wanting to find out more about playwork and to find out how they can bring more playful opportunities into their own homes. Above all, they wanted some people who have worked in the field before to come into their community to tell everyone that play is a good idea.

The biggest barrier to our visits has been the cost of travel which isn’t always an enormous amount, but is a stumbling block for many. Having mulled over this for a while, we decided to organise a tour! This would reduce travel costs as we’d already be on the road, and we would also be able to go where we would be invited. And that’s how we began the Pop-Up Adventure Play and Special Guests Tour 2014!

PopUp2Cardboard Sledding at Bernheim Arboretum in Kentucky

As the Tour Organizer, I had a personal aim of getting 7 locations on the tour. In my mind, it would be a success if I had one event every weekend. Morgan and I would form the core tour team and we would bring in our friends to be part of the tour. Using a combination of social media and reaching out to some of our existing contacts, we started the tour with 14 confirmed locations. Two weeks into the tour, we had somehow booked another 2 stops on the tour and had reached our limit: Pop-Ups Tour 2014 would be a 16 stop tour. I still can’t believe it.

PopUp3Chasing the robot at Manhattan Beach, CA

Oh goodness, and how could I not talk about our Special Guests? Grant Lambie, Andy Hinchcliffe and Erin Davis joined us for parts of the tour, bringing their expertise to communities who asked for a little extra; who wanted knowledge and experience that we didn’t have. They truly brought an extra spark to the tour, supporting us with their know-how, encouragement and car care.

Some really stand out moments of the trip have been with hosts at their locations. They have been absolutely amazing and inspirational, standing on the frontline of what feels like an American Adventure Play movement. They are brave and bold, and determined to create a playful, adventure-filled future for their children and for the communities in which their children live, all the while working within a society that isn’t all too familiar with play for it’s own sake. I have been blown away by their passion for play.

PopUp4Adventure Playground at the Parish School in Houston, TX

PopUp5An incredible place to play in Cary, NC

It may have been hard work driving a tiny yellow car across the US and stopping mostly to deliver workshops, run Pop-Up Adventure Playgrounds and to sleep, but it was totally worth the journey. Anxiety and tiredness aside, the Pop-Up Adventure Play and Special Guests Tour 2014 was a complete success. I’m so chuffed (British for “really pleased”) about this whole thing which you can read more about on our blog and am proud to announce that we’ll be doing this all again in 2015! If you want to be part of our next adventure, please email me on suzanna@popupadventureplay.org.

PopUp6Bouncing off the inflatable loose parts in Portland, OR

Playing the Dragon

To the south and west of the Argyll Forest in Scotlands’s Bute and Argyll region is where the mythical beast can be found. As we round a corner on a narrow winding road shaded by towering firs there is the rocky, rough hewn dragon.

Dragon III

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We are on high alert so we can pull over and admire this roadside gift to travelers. Located somewhere between Tighnabruaich and Loch Tarson, the rest of the Nova Scotia band had seen the beast on their way overland to Islay in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides a couple of days earlier.

The dragon sighting was one of the first stories I heard when I rejoined our gang in Islay. My youngest daughter, Lila-Jeanne, had warned me to watch out for dragons just before I left for Scotland. It turns out she was right on the money.

With two grandchildren and a son in tow, my papa, the only Scot among us, is taking no chances. It’s time to play the dragon.

Dragon taming

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The skill he demonstrates in handling his prod suggests earlier encounters of the dragon taming kind. With the dragon subdued, we all take the time to stretch our legs, enjoy the tall, tall firs and get ready for our final dipsy-doodle through the hills to the day’s last ferry in Dunoon.

Thank you to the builders of what could be Smaug’s baby cousin. You instilled a dash of lightness, fun and play in our day. For me this dragon will forevermore be known as Lila of the Towering Firs. Who says dragons don’t exist?

Towering Firs

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More adventures from Scotland’s Glasgow Green, Edinburgh and Islay in coming posts.

Dragons and Clouds

Later today I take off for Scotland. More than 50 years ago, my mom took me on my first trip to the land where my parents played as kids. Times were tougher for them growing up. World War II set the tone for their early childhood years.

It was 1962 when Mom and I took that flight on a BOAC transatlantic plane from Toronto. Before we landed at Prestwick I got a tour of the cockpit, talked mom’s ear off, slept some and was airsick. We stayed in Grampa and Granma Morgan’s home in Larkfield, Greenock for two or three months. Mom had hopes of giving birth to her second child back home and having a wee Scot. In the end, that didn’t work out. My younger brother was born back in Canada.

Memories of those first Scottish days are still fresh. They have texture, taste and smell. I was the spoiled wee grandson while I was there and mom took me on some grand adventures notably to Glasgow for some shopping where I picked up this most excellent sword and shield….

DSC06166All dressed up with no dragons to slay

Apparently this weaponry would stand me in good stead now as my youngest daughter Lila-Jeanne informed me the other day to watch out when I was in Scotland. I asked her what I should be watching out for to which she replied, “dragons”. She got this notion from big brother Noah-David and thought it worthwhile passing on to her papa. At four-years-old, she is just a little younger than I was when I made that first trip. And the world turns.

This trip is bittersweet because earlier this year my mom passed away. I’m going with the best guy in the world and we’re carrying mom in our hearts. He’s the man I’ve always looked up to, admired and loved, the man who showed me how to make a fire with twigs, one match and plenty of puffing breath – my papa.

I’m looking forward to taking in the Play Summit conference on Sunday and experiencing my first adventure playground – Baltic Street Adventure Playground in Glasgow.

Baltic St Adventure Playground

 

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Also hope drop in on the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art to see the Atelier Public #2 exhibit curated by Katie Bruce. One of my older daughters, Halifax emerging artist Alexa Cude will enjoy getting back to GoMA, an old haunt from a couple of years back. She is joining us on this family trip too along with one of her cousins.

Also on the play beat will be a flip over to Edinburgh to meet som other fine play folk. A big thanks to Mairi for helping me to connect with people in my short window

My parents got us over to Scotland a few times when we were still young. The last time was for a few months when I was 14. Dad was in France at the time and I did quite a lot of skipping out on school. It was also my first solo trip from Greenock to Edinburgh, or more precisely Murrayfield. I saw Scotland kick France’s ass and enjoyed myself to no end in the stands.

It was a 2 train trip in each direction back and forth in one day. Great trust in a young boy of 14 – thanks mom, thanks dad. We’re doing the same for our kids. One of the three young ones has been to Scotland and experienced the wonders of the Outer Hebrides on the Isle of Scalpay. Now it’s for the tow younger girls and the eldest to get over for a visit.

Good family time, fine play people and maybe a little fish and chips and eggs and slice and other Scottish delicacies

On the day of the dragon Lila was full of Scotland. After the dragon story she looked at me and said.

“Scotland is like a cloud.”

I didn’t really see the link but went along with her and said, “Ok.”

At that point she commented:

“Then you’ll be walking on clouds.”

cloudsIn the clouds. Photo credit – Adrian Beard – thanks

Given the progression it sounded reasonable so I said:

“I guess I will.”

And then her finale.

“So you’ll be walking on air.”

Hard to refute the logic.

Tomorrow morning, Heathrow’s international air hub

Tomorrow night, fish ‘n chips, and walking on air with dragons.

Scotland here we come…