ScreenShot Mondays Redux – Le Lion et La Souris

In the early days of the PlayGroundology blog, I ran a regular series over the course of a year (2011-12) called ScreenShot Mondays that appeared twice a month.  I’m dusting it off and taking it out to play again. Fellow Canadians at Montreal’s Le Lion et La Souris are the inaugural subjects of ScreenShot Mondays Redux.

A few weeks back, I was reminded of the series when I reblogged Tim Gill’s piece looking at Mike Lanza’s travails following a feature article published about him in the The New York Times Magazine. Mike and his Playborhood were the subject of the first ScreenShot Mondays post in 2011.

Below is the original three paragraph preamble to the first ScreenShot Mondays.

Cyberspace is humming with inspiration and information on every topic under the sun and then some. This clickable, digital universe is ever expanding with new ideas and new perspectives coming on the scene at a dizzying pace. What a great place to play and discover what’s happening in the wide, wide world. It’s a virtual venue for passionate individuals and mindful organizations to share experiences and create content in every imaginable format.

A couple of Mondays per month, PlayGroundology will screenshot a cyberspot that focuses on playgrounds, or play. I hope that readers will dive in and explore. Even if you’ve seen the selection before, take a moment and check to see what content has been added recently.

le-lion-et-la-sourisLe Lion et La Souris


Think of this as a very slow stumble upon, an invitation to relish something new or to revisit an old friend. Some of the people and places may be household names in the world of play and playgrounds, others not so much. I hope all will pique your interest in what they have to offer and further your own possibilities for playfulness.

Le Lion et la Souris are “inspired by playwork and forest school principles”. Pop into their site to see what they offer in terms of programs, training, community events and workshops. And yes, as their name suggests, they speak French and English.


I’ll be in Quebec in about a month and who knows, maybe we’ll have a chance to meet. They’re located on the Plateau not far from a spot where a good friend of mine lived for years.

When Good Things Happen

Kids and parents in Nova Scotia, Canada are giving two thumbs up to a couple of the province’s new public play spaces. Middle Musquoidoboit’s Nature Play Space and The Dingle Natural Playground in Halifax make the natural world more accessible to kids.

The scale and scope of these two projects are a significant development for what is still a relatively new design aesthetic in these parts. The variety of installations and the age ranges they cater to set Middle Musquoidoboit and The Dingle apart from other natural playscapes in the province. Jubilee Park in Bridgetown, continues to delight the pre-school crowd and the Evergreen organization is working with a few individual schools to incorporate natural play areas as part of the recreation mix.

Middle Musquoidoboit’s Nature Play Space will be our first stop. Playgroundology’s next blog post will share some of the fun and excitement of The Dingle playscape’s opening weekend.


In Middle Musquoidoboit behind a thin stand of trees there’s a clearing that on opening day buzzes with feverish excitement. Kids are zigging and zagging like hummingbirds from one installation to the next – ponds, slides, a fire tower, sandpits, a nest, a bear den, a tunnel through a small hillock and a personal favourite, a vintage three-seater Flinstone-mobile (see photo gallery here).

Tucked away in one corner is a 15 foot long pit partially filled with water that’s already churned brown. The sloping sides get muddier the closer one gets to the waterline. This is the place that holds the greatest promise of transforming white t-shirts each kid was given on arrival into authentic 100% organic dirt fabric.

The mud kitchen is an eleventh hour addition to this rootsy wonderland. Middle Musquoidoboit grandmas are the driving force behind this get grimy zone. They gathered up all the equipment – pots, pans, containers, spoons, shovels, pails, cupboards and yes, the kitchen sink – to set up a deliciously fun way to create imaginary delicacies with the most versatile of ingredients, dirt, water and mud. This open air, community kitchen, where there are never too many cooks, adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the overall ambience.

Can you say Am-Phi-Bi-An? Frog and salamander prospecting is the main attraction at a kid-sized pond bursting with green along its banks. On a second trip to the Nature Play Space the Girl Power Posse, my two girls and a couple of their friends, fan out and put the multi acre playscape through its paces.

On that occasion the pond is the place to be. Getting up close and personal with frogs proves to be a heady elixir that pulls the girls back time and again to try their luck with the dipping nets.

At another popular installation, scaling tree trunk towers presents an opportunity for airborne derring-do. The ascent is tough, it’s difficult finding the right footholds and hand grips on the vertical climb. Standing at the precipice, I can only imagine the quickened pace of pounding hearts. Then the launch and a surge of adrenalin in that split second before impact.


The playscape offers numerous opportunities for kids to test and push their limits, to assess risk and challenge their physical abilities. These activities help build confidence, develop judgment and, when all goes well, can contribute to creating a reservoir of courage, resourcefulness and resilience.

This is a running, leaping, flying kind of place with wows at every turn. There are hills and rocks to climb, dirt and sand galore, small animals in their native habitat to catch and release, trees, grassy expanses and a welcome absence of motorized vehicles. This is a place to move and a place to play in the heart of Nova Scotia, Canada’s Ocean Playground.


The Nature Play Space is a project led by the Department Of Natural Resources’ Natural Resources Education Centre. Two of the Centre’s team members, Amelia Kennedy and Sara Hill, were inspired to create a natural play space after attending an environmental educators conference with participants and presenters from throughout North America.

They left the conference with an aspirational goal that took form with considerable community engagement and sweat equity from volunteers in addition to support from their provincial government department. Two community build days, donations of labour and materials and invaluable advice were key ingredients in the success of the project. Nature aficionado, designer, trail developer and heavy equipment operator Garnet McLaughlin of Cobequid Consulting gets a huge shout out for his contributions.

So what good things are happening?

  • variety is being added to public play stock in Nova Scotia
  • communities are being engaged in the development and build processes
  • community mobilization and participation resulted in a very moderately priced playscape
  • media are covering the story
  • parents are talking about risk amongst each other and with their kids
  • a home grown design for natural playscapes has been developed that can benefit other communities
  • people are having thoughtful conversations about physical activity levels and the value of independent play
  • every kid who visits is getting a huge dose of Vitamin N

Our two visits to date resonated with excitement, laughter and an appreciation of the natural world. We’ll be regulars enjoying the leisurely drive there and back through Nova Scotia’s heartland.

For those readers who are curious about the pronunciation of Musquoidoboit click play below and listen to the GirlPower Nature Play Chorale who at the end of their song nail it.


Encourage Breaking Glass Ceilings

Let’s prepare our girls to continue breaking glass ceilings so that one day there will be nothing but sky…


What’s so bad about a father trying to make the world a more play-friendly place?

This reblogged post by Tim Gill at Rethinking Childhood provides some valuable analysis and backstory on Mike Lanza and his perspectives on play. The New York Times Magazine published a feature story on Mike at home in his ‘playborhood’. It’s a great read and I encourage you to take a peek.

Some readers took exception to Mike’s approach to play, kids, independence and risk in his Silicon Valley neighbourhood. I read some pointed criticism online that bordered on name-calling. It was disappointing to read this from others who are equally as passionate in their advocacy of independent play for kids. I’m a believer in bringing people together under big tents so that hand in hand with others we can move the yardsticks.


From my perspective, Mike and I are definitely working under the same tent. I first became aware of Mike nearly six years ago and posted information about Playborhood on this blog. We corresponded a little and shared snippets of our lives. I always found him very personable and respectful. What’s more, he’s trying out new stuff that is focusing additional attention on the need and value of independent play.

Although not as elaborate as Mike’s backyard, our home is a gathering place for neighbourhood kids and they are all welcome to play here. We like it that way and it seems the kids do too.

Here’s a link to an article in the Mail Online published subsequent to The New York Times Magazine piece.

I had planned to write my own post about The Anti-Helicoper Parent’s Plea: Let Kids Play but I have nothing more substantive to say than Tim. Truth be told I don’t think I can match the thoroughness or the eloquence of the Rethinking Childhood piece. Now that you’ve come to the end of the preamble, settle in for Tim’s main course.

Rethinking Childhood

This weekend’s New York Times has a major feature and profile on Mike Lanza and his Playborhood campaign to make neighbourhoods more play-friendly. And it’s whipping up a storm. In this piece, I give my take on the campaign and my response to the key criticisms.

First, some background. Lanza’s rallying cry is “turn your neighborhood into a place for play” – a goal he has been pursuing for at least nine years. His book and blog are first and foremost a set of practical advice, ideas and case studies for achieving that goal.

Lanza first got into the issue because of his concerns as a dad bringing up three children. What drives him is, in large part, the contrast between his own typically free-range 70s childhood and the highly constrained lives of most children today. I share his view that this change marks a profound loss.

Lanza’s campaign is…

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No grown-ups required

I love playing with our kids. It provides a window into their active imaginations and a glimpse into how they perceive the world around them. Almost always, play involves a sparkle of laughter and the occasional unsought aha revelation.


With the exception of ‘watch me , watch me’ moments, or playing together as a family, the general progression these days, at least with our 9- and 11-year-old, is to a ‘no grown-ups required’ modus operandi of play. And this is how it should be.

As kids get older, they want to assert their independence and actively explore their environment without the at times overly protective demeanour of parental units poking and prying about in their affairs.

So when I can be a silent, non-intrusive witness not influencing the play, or when I am invited into the play zone via the ‘watch me, watch me’ command performance call, it’s a compelling treat that I enjoy savouring.


Recently, I watched two kid driven play happenings from the sidelines. One, at our green place in Kejimkujik National Park, was a spontaneous riff on the popular recess game four square. Because the cement surface was so small, the game was rejigged to become two square.

There were about 10 kids playing who prior to the game didn’t know each other. Players ranged in age from 5 to 12 with both girls and boys represented. During the game, the kids assumed many different roles – players, coaches, referees and fans. The kids called all the shots, resolved disputes, jazzed up the rules and looked out for each other.

The game went on for close to an hour. Players would drift in and out. There was plenty of cheering, laughter and respect all around. Participation was the winning element for each of the kids. From that perspective, each one of them was a champion.

A few days later our 9-year-old set up an obstacle course in the backyard with materials she could find at hand. I was invited to see the girls go through their

manoeuvres. Running the course was certainly the highlight of this kid-fueled play event. However, setting it up ran a close second. It’s the kind of activity that attracts kids to our house – a gathering place for neighbourhood play without a lot of intrusive supervision.

The following day I collected all the material strewn about and cleaned up the course while the kids were out of the house. I was working hard to regain that Home and Garden kind of look. I wasn’t quite able to pull it off.

The girls were disappointed that their handiwork had been undone. A little later, I had to leave the house and when I returned that evening all my good tidying work had been reversed. The obstacle course had mysteriously reappeared and it’s still there in one of its permutations….

I count myself as fortunate when I get to see this play up close. It fills my heart. I’ve been dreaming of a job as an embedded photographer documenting the spontaneity of kids at play. Let me know if you hear of any openings.


Getting out the Vote for the LA Renaissance of Play

If you love adventure, believe that risk in play is an important component of growing up and that independence to explore is the foundation of creative and critical thinking then please get out and vote for Santa Clarita Valley Adventure Play as part of LA2050.

Voting opened October 18 and closes on October 25. Don’t miss your chance to vote for and support the Renaissance of Play in LA. You can get more information on the submission and VOTE HERE – see right hand column of page.

NOTE – In order to vote in the 2016 My LA2050 Grants Challenge, participants must register for a free account and sign in. Use either social sign-in via Facebook or Google or an email account to register. Users will be emailed a link to click in order to validate the address.

It’s PAINLESS, using FB it took me less than 1 minute to cast my vote.

After you’ve voted and joined the Renaissance, pop on over to Santa Clarita Valley Adventure Play to see what else is new. While you’re at it, why not share with others that you’ve exercised your civic duty to the world of play by posting this lovely “I Voted” graphic on one or more of your social media channels…


Get out the Vote for Play, Adventure, Kids.

A Short Meditation on Play


The 19th century French poet Charles Baudelaire’s Enivrez-Vous and early 20th century Québecois poet Saint-Denys Garneau’s Le Jeu served as dual inspirations for my little ditty, Just Play.

Discovery, dirt, adventure and adrenaline. Is there anything more elemental for kids? At its best, play is pulsing movement, pushing boundaries, independent exploration. It’s a visceral stickiness that just doesn’t rub off.

Deep in play, kids are immersed in a total experience. They share a language where the only truly fluent tribal denizens are other kids. For the most part, we busy adults are rarely able to break the code. Playing presents the grown-up crowd with similar challenges to ‘being in the moment’. We understand what is meant by play but find it hard to let go, to abandon the trappings of daily life.


Each momentary release from the dull pull of gravity quickens the heart

The grown-up play DNA is diluted, not really in the same league as the kids. It’s not that grown-ups can’t play but we’re clattering about with so much baggage that we’re seldom able to sustain a good play vibe over an extended period of time. Yet we can reminisce. We are able to remember the delicious freedom of following whims, banding with other kids, stretching the frontiers of our known worlds.

As adults, this remembering can be a door to renewed playfulness. Recently I was fortunate to have four brothers relive some of their play memories from the 1930s and 40s in Scotland. Before my eyes, I saw these 80-year-olds transformed talking about games they played, about childhood friends and their starring roles in the occasional misadventure… At the end of an hour they each looked and sounded 10 years younger. Can it be that play is also a youthful elixir?

If you can’t get your play groove on, spend some time around kids-at-play. It’s almost guaranteed to be a more rewarding and fruitful pursuit than hanging around men-at-work.


You’ll know you’ve hit pay dirt when you hear supersonic noise — squeals, peals, shouts, high-pitched laughter a constant bourdonnement of kids’ voices. When I see kids fully engrossed in play I experience a contact high. On those occasions when I am somehow involved in the play at hand, there is joyfulness, a real satisfaction in knowing that you’ve helped kids to play, to discover themselves….

On week days when I speak with our primary school-aged kids after supper, the first thing I usually ask them is: “Who did you play with today?”

It’s not that I’m disinterested in what happens inside the classrooms, it’s just that play times can be a good barometer of how things are going overall. I want to know they’re playing, they’re physically active, and they’re hanging with friends. I want to know they are getting some relief from being cooped up at a desk all day long. They will have plenty of time for that….

So, from a young age we play, then as we grow older play dwindles becoming a more negligible part of our daily activities. But as one of life’s simple pleasures we owe it to ourselves and the children around us to make play more prominent and embrace the kaleidoscoping fun.

Just play….

“Who did you play with today?”