Category Archives: playgrounds

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.

Playground Postcards

It’s a real pleasure to welcome a new contributor to PlayGroundology and a new voice to the international conversation on play and playgrounds – Rachel Hawkes Cameron. I met Rachel earlier this year at a downtown coffee shop – not a playground in sight. My ears were wide open as she told me about her studies and the thesis that she was preparing at the time. She wanted to speak with me about what I had picked up during my playground blogging over the past few years. For my part, it was the first time I had met a flesh and blood person who was studying playground design – what a treasure. I encourage you to check out Rachel’s thesis – see the link at the end of this post.

Rachel will be participating on a panel discussion as part of Where has all the playing gone? two evenings of presentations based on the PlayGroundology and Halifax Plays blogs. For Halifax readers details on the presentations at the Alderney Library here. I’m looking forward to further posts from Rachel in the weeks and months to come.

Image AA make shift bicycle sits in Kolle 37 – a modern day adventure playground in Berlin, with treehouses built and maintained by kids with adult supervision.

As a child, our interpretations of the spaces in which we play aren’t necessarily analytical – a child who grows up scaling beams in a barn is not aware of his or her experience as being vastly different than the urban child’s daily interaction with monkey bars and metal slides. However, it is undeniable that these early experiences with recreational play can influence us as adults. Through play, we learn to problem solve, to share, to act independently.

As for myself, I grew up in downtown Toronto, attending elementary school in the eighties when it was okay to have a two-story wooden fortress in your playground. My family didn’t own a cottage and I was pretty highly scheduled what with ballet classes, swim team and piano, so my experiences with outdoor play were mainly urban. Yet I recall my experiences in the playground distinctly – the defeat of falling off the highest rung of the ladder, the accomplishment of getting up the nerve to jump off the swings when they are going their highest and – for me – the devastation when my soaring playground was levelled to make way for a pre-fabricated, innocuous and plastic “play structure”, as enforced by the city so as to prevent injury.

I reflected upon these experiences when I began my Master of Design thesis, which I completed in May at the Nova Scotia Academy of Art and Design in Halifax. Entitled “From the Playground UP: Can the design of playspaces influence childhood development?”, it is an examination of the importance of providing challenging, evocative playspaces to kids living in urban parts of North America.

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Because I was executing my research from a design standpoint (my undergrad was in Architecture), it seemed clear to me that visiting playgrounds internationally – specifically in Europe – was essential in gathering the immense possibilities for playspaces in North America, and possibly a way to understand what we’re missing.

Throughout the course of my thesis research, I visited playgrounds in Berlin, Amsterdam, Toronto, Montreal, St John’s, London and Barcelona. I designed a playground “recording template” for the purpose of documenting and comparing these playgrounds from a design perspective – what are they made of? how are they used? what challenges do they provide? what age group do they accommodate? I’ll begin by introducing my trip to Berlin and am excited to share more of my “playground tourism” photos and thoughts with you on this blog!

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This “Jungle Playground” in Berlin was located in a big park within an upscale residential neighbourhood. The designers, a company called SIK-Holz, uses primarily Robinia wood in its playgrounds, giving them an organic appearance, often leaving the material true to its original form. This playground was directed, but not prescriptive. The theme of “jungle” was supported by abstract animal sculptures and tall (like 30 foot) “palm trees”, not to mention a super long zip line, yet the story seemed open to navigation.

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The Rubber Playground was located in Berlin next to an elementary school. Tall, arched steel frames act as support to an intricate series of thick rubber sheets, which take form as swaying platforms, slides and ladders. The structure is truly a 3D labyrinth, one that requires both hands and feet to manoeuvre. Kids of all ages were climbing around, some bouncing on the sheets close to the ground, others venturing up to the top of the apparatus, negotiating the maze of rope and platforms.

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This structure, observed in Tiergarten Park in Berlin, welcomed kids of all ages. There was a sense of progression as a child would climb as high as they felt comfortable. It is essential to provide growing kids with play equipment that encourages them to negotiate their own domain – physically and psychologically. To use this pyramid at Tiergarten as an example, a child develops a sense of pride through their autonomy, their ability to conquer and overcome their fears. It is imperative that this child feel supported, as often the fear projected by a supervising adult can result in self-doubt. One thing I noticed in the playground in Berlin was the attitude of parents and guardians towards their kids’ play experience. It was either a casual observance or being actively involved. Rarely did I see “helicopter parents” hovering over a child, rather reassuring guidance seemed the norm.

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My exploration into the “emerging social science” that is playground design has only just begun but I am inspired everyday. Resources such as this blog are invaluable tools in expanding perceptions about what a playspace can be. I am truly excited to contribute my research to PlayGroundology and to be a part of the conversation!

An online version of my thesis can be found here and I can be reached through my website or by email: rachelcameron@gmail.com

PlayGroundology’s on Cloud Nine

PlayGroundology has just wrapped its third year of blogging about the world of play and playgrounds. Following are nine posts that readers found popular. If you didn’t see them first time around, I hope you’ll take a moment to sample two, or three. If you like them, share with others – play never has a best before date. Happy playing and thanks for reading PlayGroundology!

Sculpted in France – Concrete Art Playgrounds

Photo credit: J. Bruchet. Source: Architectures de cartes postales. Designer: Pierre Székely. Cité des Jeux – L’Haÿ-les-Roses, France

I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for France so I’m always on the lookout for interesting play stories from that part of the world. Our family lived there in the early 70s. I was 12 when we arrived and 15 when we left. It was my gawky early adolescent phase which I like to think I’ve outgrown. (more…)

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Just Play

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Just Play

play play
whether it’s alone or with friends
within four walls or under a great canvas of sky
just play

there are not enough hours
in a heartful life
to miss kaleidoscoping fun (more…)

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The Playground Paradise Principle

Paradise might be a bit of a stretch but Malmö, Sweden is quite simply playgroundalicious. It’s the kind of place that would inspire Mary Poppins to gather her young charges around her and umbrella them off to adventure – up through the atmosphere/ up where the air is clear/ let’s all/ go to Malmö. (more…)

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London’s Somerford Grove Adventure Playground Makes The New York Times Magazine

Source: Haringey Play Association. Click image to enlarge

There are four stunning, brilliant images in the March 1 edition of the The New York Times Magazine offering glimpses of children at the Somerford Grove Adventure Playground in London, England. (more…)

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A Journey of Epic Proportions

How do you spice up your morning commute to work and at the same time make it more meaningful? Look no further than my friend Chris Gregory for an answer. Chris is a champion for play at the Isle of Man’s leading children’s charity The Children’s Centre. To raise awareness for outdoor play and safe and playful routes for children, he is taking a different means of self propelled transport every workday for the month of March. His epic journey started out with a 3 kilometer spacehopper commute. Do I hear sore thighs? (more…) Note, Chris is in training for his second run at March 2 Work.

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Imagining a Better Future – Playtime in Africa

Source: Mmofra Foundation. Click image to enlarge

Two acres of green space in the Dzorwulu neighbourhood of Accra, Ghana are being primed for transformation. It’s all about the kids, or Mmofra as they are called in Ghana’s Akan language.

This story, about a small plot of land, spans decades, continents and generations. It’s the story of a woman’s vision, of her love for children. The seeds were sown 50 years ago when the late Efua Sutherland wrote her groundbreaking book on Ghana’s play culture, Playtime in Africa. The narrative and accompanying photographs by Willis E. Bell were the first real documentation of children’s play in the newly independent African nation. (more…)

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Sir Ken of TEDalot on Play and Learning

Earlier this spring, Sir Ken (Robinson) shared his views on education with an appreciative audience in Halifax, Nova Scotia – home of PlayGroundology. I was one of the 1,000 in attendance who enjoyed an accomplished and entertaining critic of conventional wisdom about education and creativity. No props, no notes, plenty of humourous asides and always an à propos anecdote. (more…)

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Have You Heard What They’re Saying About RISK? Listen Then Share

Generally speaking, parents want their kids to experience the fullness of the world – the quiet beauty, the dizzying adventure, the discovery of self and others. As much as possible we want to keep hurt and injury at bay but they too are part of the mix with cuts, scrapes and breaks both corporeal and psychological. So how do we go about assessing risk? How do we ensure that our kids aren’t enclosed in a cocoon of safety?

I saw this video a couple of nights ago and thought I would play a small role in helping to spread the word. Right now it’s at 373 views. After you’ve watched it, please share with your friends and your broader network.

Thanks to the Alliance for Childhood and KaBOOM! for producing this piece.

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The Unbearable Lightness of Swinging

There’s something cosmic about swinging, a certain je ne sais quoi. When I saw Teena Marie Fancey’s Baby Boy at The Craig Gallery on Dartmouth, Nova Scotia’s waterfront a couple of years ago, I knew I had found a great opening image for a paean to swings. Thanks Teena. (more…)

PLAY WORK BUILD – The Back Story

If you’re in Washington, D.C. between now and November 18, 2014, drop in to the National Building Museum. PLAY WORK BUILD is a new exhibition that explores connections and interrelationships between these three powerful imperatives.

The Rockwell Group’s Barry Richards and the musueum’s Cathy Crane Frankel tell it like this:

In addition to numerous building toys, the hands on Imagination Playground is an integral part of the exhibition.

Click PLAY WORK BUILD for more information.

This would certainly appeal to all those who have mad builder kids in their midst like my young lad Noah-David who dreams in Lego blocks. Parents, maybe you’re fondly remembering your days of building prowess with Tinker Toy, Mecanno and the like. Oh, and did I mention the unbridled fun of Imagination Playground – slideshow here.

logo-Play-Work-Build

Oz Nation Playground Celebration

This Sunday, November 11, St. Kilda Adventure Playground celebrates 30 years of rollicking awesome.

Photo credit – Fernando de Sousa; (CC BY-SA 2.0)

It’s another in the long line of play spots I would love to get to with my kids some day. For now, I have to content myself with living vicariously via this Flickr gallery and Pinterest collection.

St Kilda’s makes a lasting impression so much so that an Alaskan landscape designer posted his photos of the playspace at Design for Play nearly 15 years after his visit.

Photo credit – Design for Play.

And with the merry magic of YouTube, we can all get a little closer to the flying fox, the pirate brigantine and the whooshing slides (warning – headbashing music).

Many happy returns St. Kilda…..

Treasure Maps and Playground Pirates

In North America, it’s the season to see bands of pint-sized pirates, cowboys, astronauts, superheroes, Mario Brothers and others out and about in the streets in preparation for the annual Hallowe’en pilgrimmage. Our Nellie-Rose took on a swashbuckling persona at a recent visit to a community centre party. She makes for a very fetching pirate captain I think – eat your heart out Johnny.

By serendipitous happenstance, at the same time Nellie-Rose was suiting up for her arrgh me maties moments, my inbox goes ping with a London’s calling treasure. It’s a great email from Verônica telling me all about the new venture she’s embarked on with her partner Rodrigo – mapping the playgrounds of the world.

Map View – London

Following an afternoon in downtown London, these transplanted Brazilians were looking for a playground break for their daughter who was beyond bored after a shopping expedition. There was nothing in sight and when they used their mobile devices to look for something all that came up were Thai Restaurants and Sex Shops – not the fare they were interested in.

That experience inspired Verônica and Rodrigo to get mapping. They are setting sail and inviting playground lovers to join the crew. While adventuring, they will locate and mark treasure troves with an ‘X’, well okay, with a swing icon actually.

It’s early days for Our Treasure Map, its companion blog and Facebook Page so the number of sites are limited and concentrated primarily in London, UK. The plan is to reach out and incorporate already available information and track down new data.

Map View Brasilia

Our Treasure Map’s Brazilian friends have been busy loading up the platform with playgrounds from Brasilia, Rio and Sao Paulo. There’s plenty of room for adding more playgrounds and other child engaging activities and places. The site has a mobile version and the couple are working on developing an app too.

Rocket Playground at Ana Lidai Park in Brasilia.

When the sky is the limit, there’s lots to do and plenty of room to fly. I tried the ‘add a playground’ feature – it’s totally painless. Our Treasure Map now has its first entry from Nova Scotia a few kilometres from our home and not far from a popular swimming beach. Add something yourself and don’t forget the photos. They can make all the difference.

Verônica and Rodrigo are looking for feedback on Our Treasure Map 1.0 and will make changes and introduce new elements based on what they hear from users. So do drop into the Facebook Page and let them know what’s working for you and what you might like to see added. My parting comment – I love the little pirate guy, reminds me of our Noah-David.

Help chart the course of play and share your playground riches on Our Treasure Map. Happy Hallowe’en…

I’ll take a Singapore Swing with a Twist of Mosaic

A couple of years back when PlayGroundology was still in its infancy, my imagination was sparked by a chance encounter with a set of commemorative stamps from Singapore. Of all things wild and wonderful that stamps can and do depict, this set of six put playgrounds in a starring role (see Going Philatelic in Singapore).

Mosaic Dragon with Designer Mr Khor Ean Ghee. Source: Mosaic Memories: Remembering the Playgrounds Singapore Grew Up In.

Right away I knew I wanted to share this find with PlayGroundology’s readers. The mosaic playgrounds that featured designs with local cultural references were of most interest – dragons, pelicans, elephants, tortoises and more. I started following a number of google trails and it wasn’t long before Justin Zhang’s name percolated to the top. Justin had published a couple of articles on Singapore’s public play spaces that passionately documented an indigenous playground vibe. They were invaluable references for Playgroundology’s first Asian story.

Thankfully for all of us interested in playgroundabilia Justin has maintained his interest in the ‘old’ playgrounds of his childhood and recently published a 43-page e-book commissioned by the Singapore Memory ProjectMosaic Memories: Remembering the Playgrounds Singapore Grew Up In. Through the eyes of four players, readers get a composite view of a homegrown playground story that developed in tandem with Singapore’s housing estates in the 1970s and 80s.

Light Painting – Mr Fong Qi Wei. Source: Mosaic Memories: Remembering the Playgrounds Singapore Grew Up In.

Meet Khor Ean Ghee the interior designer cum iconic playground creator whose playful designs have provided fun and memories for generations of Singaporean kids. Photographer, artist, and entrepreneur Antoinette Wong has mounted a photo exhibit of the old playgrounds during Singapore’s Fringe Festival and created wearable art depicting the playgrounds that are available from her little dröm store.

Fong Qi Wei paints the light fantastic. The Pelican Playground was the set for his first foray into painting with light. He even re-created the two swings that had gone missing since he had played there as a child. For Fong each of the seven playgrounds he has lit up is a three dimensional canvas that comes alive at night.

Photo Credit – Antoinette Wong. Source: Mosaic Memories: Remembering the Playgrounds Singapore Grew Up In.

Playgrounds are a family affair for Lim Chee Peng. He loves excursions with his wife and two daughters to play outdoors far from the madding noise and crowds. The old playgrounds are a link back to his childhood a place to breathe, stretch and have fun.

Four perspectives on Singapore’s old playgrounds. Will there be a swell of popular sentiment to preserve some of the 20 remaining playgrounds to ensure that the mosaic animals don’t become extinct?

These are lovely grassroots stories that situate playgrounds within a broader social and cultural context. Pop in for a read of Justin’s e-book…

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Drop a line if you know of other culturally specific public play spaces.

Global Village Playground at Expo 67

Forty-five years ago this playground made quite a splash at Expo 67, the 20th century’s most successful World Fair. For a few weeks during Canada’s 100th birthday festivities, Montreal’s Expo was the cultural crossroads of the world. In that global village mashup, that summer of celebration and exuberance, the Canadian pavilion put children front and centre.

From CCA’s Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Archive

The playground at the Canadian pavilion was a must stop for the 10 and under set. By North American standards it was cutting edge, ahead of its time, as can be seen in this short excerpt from a National Film Board of Canada documentary.

Landscape architect Cornelia Oberlander had a great stage to share her playground design ideas with an international audience and the 30,000 appreciative kids who played there over the course of the summer.

The playground especially designed for Expo ’67, in conjunction with the Children’s Creative Centre, should provide some new ideas for crowded urban communities. Everywhere in cities there are areas that could be made into “vest-pocket parks”, with mounds, ravines, treehouses, streams for wading, and places for building.

See Oberlander’s entire Space for Creative Play text and a letter to the editor of Maclean’s magazine about the playground here.

From CCA’s Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Archive

Cornelia Oberlander is now a doyenne of the landscape architect circle. I have seen her referred to as the Queen of Green. The ideas she put in play at Expo 67 are increasingly in vogue. A case in point is the burgeoning interest in natural playscapes.

From CCA’s Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Archive

Cornelia, thanks for the Expo 67 gift that keeps on giving. It’s as relevant and exciting today as it was forty-five years ago.

More on Expo 67 here and here.

More on Cornelia Oberlander in future PlayGroundology posts.

There’s a New Kid Greening the School Block

I love the ability of twitter to share ideas far and wide. This morning I clicked through a sweet green tweet from @sdanks on a nascent organization building its membership base throughout the world – the International School Grounds Alliance.

The group has just released a video showcasing ‘green’ school grounds. It provides commentary from educators, environmentalists and designers on the learning and play benefits associated with introducing elements of the natural world into what are frequently concrete jungles.

In a news release issued earlier this week, ISGA co-founder Sharon Danks of Bay Tree Design in California provides some context for the movement’s work.

“Children around the world, growing up in very different environments and cultural settings, all need engaging childhood learning and play experiences for healthy development and enjoyment. The ISGA is not only a resource, but is also a call to action for teachers, parents, and students to go outside, improve their school grounds and explore the world first-hand.”

With growing awareness of the value of natural play and the well documented strengths of experiential learning, the ISGA is an alliance that is sure to flourish. The ISGA’s 2nd international conference will be hosted by Evergreen in Toronto, Canada in the fall of 2013.

As an end note to this post, I encourage you to pop on over and read Lily Horseman’s just published Green makes school, a write up of a study tour exploring green schools in Germany. There a plenty of wonderful photos as well as links to video. You won’t be disappointed.

In the Name of Play – On Assignment, Dateline Atlanta

On occasion friends, family and colleagues traveling abroad indulge my playground proclivities. When I hear of an impending trip, I ask the traveler if they would consider keeping an eye out for interesting playgrounds and bringing back a few photos to share with readers of PlayGroundology.

Colleagues sometimes look at me a little bemusedly smiling all the while – they’re usually not aware of my playground blogging but are game to grab a few digital images once I give them the elevator pitch. To date, PlayGroundology‘s intrepid freelance photographers have provided great pics from small town Italy, Paris, Hong Kong, Scotland, Vienna and most recently, Atlanta.

Shortly after I heard my co-worker Chris was Atlanta bound I popped the question. Any chance of taking a few snaps of the Isamu Noguchi designed Playscapes? Turns out he was staying close by Piedmont Park and thought he’d be able to swing it.

Playscapes, Piedmont Park, Atlanta, USA. Click image to enlarge.
Photo credit: Chris Brooks.

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When an artist stops being a child, he stops being an artist.

- Isamu Noguchi

Inscription on the rededication plaque for Playscapes, the Noguchi-designed playspace in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park

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Play aficionados revere Noguchi. Even though he was a visionary at creating space for kid’s play, only two of his designs, Atlanta’s Playscapes and the Kodomo No Kuni Playground near Tokyo, were realized during his lifetime. The sculptor, artist and landscape architect has a museum dedicated to his life work in Long Island, New York.

Playscapes model. Source: The Noguchi Museum

During some down time, Chris strolled through the gates of stately Piedmont Park and made his way over to the Playscapes playground. On arrival he read a sign with the following message. “This playground is an area for children’s recreation. Adults unaccompanied by children are respectfully requested to use another part of the park.” As unobtrusively as possible, before receiving a tap on the shoulder from a parent or member of the local constabulary, he snapped the pics in the slideshow below and hightailed it to ‘another part of the park’. Thank you Chris for your steely determination in the face of opprobrium.

Playscapes slideshow. Photo Credits: Chris Brooks. Click through here or on image above for flickr slideshow.

Atlanta’s Playscapes is elegant in its simplicity, functional and fun with the added benefit of lending itself as a tool to explore geometry and shapes.

For more on Noguchi’s playground designs check these fine write ups in LandscapeOnline.com and Sweet Juniper. To view some interesting models for Noguchi playspaces click through on Remiss 63’s photostream on flickr. Finally, here is a brief story with photos on the Playscapes restoration from the Atlanta Task Force on Play.

Playscapes under the Shading Trees. Photo credit: Chris Brooks. Click image to enlarge.

My fine arts photography major daughter Alexa will set aside some time on her trip to New York City later this week to grab shots of NYC playgrounds. I can’t wait to see what her keen eye captures for PlayGroundology readers.

If you have playground photos you’d like to share in PlayGroundology, we’d love to see them. Just send them to playgroundology@gmail.com and we’ll get back in touch with you.