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


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


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


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



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…

The Possibility Project

There’s a new kid’s resource in town. It’s called The Possibility Project. This is how it bills itself:

providing weekly links to ten articles, videos, and papers on children’s play, children’s rights, democratic education, children’s participation, and related topics

I received my first issue via email subscription last night. Here is one of the jewels it contained.

David Ramsey, a pre-kindergarten teacher in the Boston public schools is the curator of this weekly collection. Thanks David, keep them coming.

If you’d like to subscribe, email David at: DavidRamsey1234 at Yahoo dot com and tell him you’d like to sign up for The Possibility Project.

A Page Out of the Play Book

PlayGroundology is keeping some fine company in the latest issue of Playground Magazine. The three column page in the mag’s ‘who’s talking about’ section has Halifax’s yours truly sharing space with Australia’s non-profit social enterprise, PlaygroundIDEAS and Denmark’s design house extraordinaire, MONSTRUM.

Playground Magazine - Spring 2014Spring 2014 issue of Playground Magazine. Click to enlarge.

Playground Magazine is published quarterly by Idaho-based Playground Professionals LLC. You can subscribe for free online by signing up here.

For readers interested in a broad range of academic perspectives on play, the American Journal of Play is also available free online. The Winter 2014 issue features interviews on the topics of storytelling, story acting and literacy, articles on deep play and the origins of playfulness and several book reviews.

American Journal of Play - Winter 2014Winter 2014 issue of American Journal of Play.

Past issues are also accessible. “The American Journal of Play is published by The Strong, a highly interactive, collections-based educational institution devoted to the study and exploration of play.”

If you find yourself with a little time on your hands and no one to play with, settle in for a good read with either of these publications.

Peeping through Time – Sculpture Continuum: A Playground Group

At Willow Road Elementary in Franklin Square, New York two abstract sculptures situated side by side grace the school’s entrance. The white forms are retired now from their original purpose. Once members of a larger troop their story stretches back over 50 years. In their days of glory they resonated with art lovers and children alike.

Willow St. Elementary School, Franklin Square, New YorkWillow Road Elementary School, Franklin Square, New York. Source – Google Maps.

Prior to being dispersed, the full collection of 13 abstracts was installed on the school grounds where kids climbed, cavorted and made dares on sculpted shapes designed for play while doubling as art. Or is it the other way around – art doubling as play?

School shotThe ‘Chunkies’ at Willow Road Elementary School, 1966. Source – Randy Treadway via

The collection was purchased for the Long Island school sometime after 1965. Before that, the sculptures were an attraction at the Chunky Candy Pavilion at the New York World Fair in Flushing Meadows.

The individual sculptures were assembled in a particular array so that peepholes in the pieces provided sight lines that resulted in composite forms becoming visible to the viewer, separate pieces took on a single identity as shown in the photos below.
New York World's Fair

NYC World Fair InstallationThe Chunkies installation 1964 World’s fair. Source – Randy Treadway via Click image to enlarge.

This ingenious playscape was conceived and created by British artist Oliver O’Connor Barrett and originally exhibited in New York City’s Whitney Museum of American Art in 1962.

Array and CompositesImage from Whitney Museum of American Art cataloguee. Source – Internet Archive. Click image to enlarge.

The caption for the image above reads as follows:

Sculpture Continuum: Playground Group. View of the entire group of abstract forms is shown in the center. Grouped around it are the composite images which one sees when looking through specific apertures.

Barrett’s work was equally at home as a gallery showing, a World Fair corporate art piece and a public school playscape. It speaks volumes for its versatility, appeal and uniqueness. It’s possible that the artist may at one point have harboured thoughts of producing the sculptures in greater numbers as he registered a patent of the elephant and the man standing on his head.

US3126202-0US Patent 3,126, 202 filed August 9, 1962. Click image to enlarge.

There is no record of additional sculptures nor a great deal available on Barrett on the interweb. I noticed with interest that he wrote a children’s book, Little Benny Wanted A Pony, illustrated by Richard Scarry. I’d love to get a copy.

Below is the full text from the Whitney Museum of American Art’s exhibit pamphlet.

Full TextSource – Internet Archive. Click image to enlarge.

These one of a kind play sculptures enthralled thousands of kids during their 1964-65 World Fair gig and many more during the years they were installed at their Long Island school home.

If you could make the climb to the top of the giraffe, you were “the coolest”. Can’t recall any bad accidents back then – Russ G

O’Connor had a passion for play, beauty and magic. Abracadabra – one, two, three – he could pull an elephant out of a hat.

Chunky elephantElephant through peephole at the Chunky Candy Pavilion – New York World Fair 1964-65. Source – Randy Treadway via Click image to enlarge.

Reality TV is Venue for Playground and Community Building with Tomorrow’s Leaders

Local governments and communities in Ontario, Canada have an opportunity to improve on and build new public play spaces through a kid fueled reality TV show. GIVER is now queuing up for its third season. Co-produced by Sinking Ship Entertainment – makers of the smash hit Dino Dan and other critically acclaimed children’s titles – this show is hands on design, community engagement, team building and leadership development.


TVO, Ontario’s public broadcaster, is airing simple, authentic community stories that demonstrate what kids are capable of accomplishing given the opportunity. Each episode ends with the celebration of new play opportunities. It’s a format that’s worked well the first two seasons and resulted in some industry recognition.

2013 Youth Media Alliance Awards of Excellence
• Winner – “Best Television Program, All Genres, Ages 6-8″: Giver
• Nomination – “Best Convergent Website”:

PlayGroundology first checked in on GIVER as it was getting out of the gates in season one. Now that the show is established, we’re hoping there will be an expansion beyond Ontario and into other provinces perhaps even other countries.

In the meantime, we’re happy to help producer Kristen McGregor spread the word. Applications/Calls for Submissions for interested Ontario communities close on March 1. Don’t miss the boat!

Season two of GIVER begins airing April 30 on TVO.

Come Visit The PlayGroundology FB Gallery

There is much art in the creation of vibrant public play spaces. Their aesthetic, their physicality and their spatial rendering push mind and body to new imaginative experiences. This presents a great opportunity for virtual galleries like PlayGroundology FB to curate news, design, research, advocacy and trends.

FB 1599Click to enlarge

After a couple of years of experimentation, I’ve found the pace that I think I can maintain. Each weekday two new posts are added to the gallery which is purposefully light on words and heavy on visuals. For those looking for story, words can frequently be found via bitly click throughs in the accompanying text.

Each day is a discovery of what is new in the realm of outdoor play and what is informing and inspiring playscapes in a variety of countries around the world. In the past year, growth in page likes has gone from just under 400 to just over 1600 with a very high retention factor. If you haven’t stopped by, please do and invite your friends along also. You’ll come across some interesting fare.

space2placeClick to enlarge

When I show my kids photos and short video clips of some of these one of a kind playscapes, they are invariably in awe. I usually get two questions immediately, “can we go there?” followed by “why don’t they have any playgrounds like that here?” They’re both great questions particularly the latter. I don’t have any answers to that question yet for the community I live in but I’m working on it.

DriftwoodClick to enlarge

Material is sourced from mainstream media, specialty online publications, academic journals, original posts in the PlayGroundology blog, twitter, flickr, blogs, other FB pages, online national archive collections for those photos from yesteryear and anywhere else I can poke my inquisitive nose around. A big thank you to all those who created the original content. I do my best to cite and recognize sources and where possible link to them.

Favela RioClick to enlarge

On occasion posts in the PlayGroundology FB Gallery turn into blog posts. One of those is starting to brew right now. Back in November I posted a photo of a play space in a Rio neigbourhood. For me there is an undercurrent of strength in this image that speaks to the power and promise of play. Just a couple of days ago, reader and play pioneer, Richard Garcia posted on PlayGroundology FB that he was in Rio at the playground in question. He has met with people in the community, taken more pictures and we’re now trying to connect to talk about this place of play.

I am continually surprised by the creativity, beauty and originality of the work I encounter trekking across the interweb in the quiet, expectant hours of early morning and the sometimes weary arc of night. Last week, from out of the blue a Polish designer and artisan popped up sending PlayGroundology FB a message about his work. Turns out that Barnaba Wójtowicz-Szczotka makes incredible bespoke playground equipment and accessories.

ArtefaktyClick to enlarge

It’s the exchange and participation of others engaged and involved in the design and creation of public play spaces that makes curating PlayGroundology FB so enjoyable. Their posts and comments build on what I’ve been able to find. A great example is a video posted in the comment section earlier this week by Davies White Landscape Architect. The video provides a tour of the almost completed Dinton Pastures Country Park in England. Sit back and enjoy.

Occasionally, a post gets liked and shared at a rapid rate and really takes off. I have not really been able to determine what it is that makes these posts move as they do but in some way they catch the readers’ imagination. With 300 plus shares, 100 likes and over 52,000 views, the photo below outstrips anything that has been posted to date by a long shot.


If you are already a regular PlayGroundology FB visitor thanks for dropping by. If you haven’t yet had the chance, please check us out. The gallery is open 24/7, is updated 5 times a week and a lifetime membership is free. As an added bonus check Playgroundology FB’s likes for more great play related content on facebook.