Green Play

(HALIFAX – Memory Lane) – I don’t remember a great deal about the morning commutes. Perhaps the single parent, pre-schooler, bustle and hustle, getting up and dressed then breakfasted followed by the out the door skedaddle to catch the bus wasn’t wholly conducive to nurturing deep-rooted memories.

The afternoon pick up at daycare was different though. It was good to be reunited at the unwhirling end of the day. Time seemed more expansive, leisurely, almost langurous as my daughter and I made our way hand in hand to the bus stop.

We were regulars on our route, transit riders by necessity. Other than a short-lived, hand-me-down ’66 Beaumont Acadian I received as a gift at 17, cars were not part of my reality. Articulated buses were in high rotation on this route. Whenever one pulled up to the curb, we couldn’t wait to get on. We’re talking a mobile affordance par excellence.

Accordion streetcar – Edinburgh, Scotland

Midway down the bus was the pleated accordion section. There were no seats here. On the floor was a large circular steel plate. We positioned ourselves just inside the perimeter. As the bus swung through a 90 degree corner with the circle rotating, the accordion expanded on one side as it contracted on the other.

We loved to ride that circle. Sometimes we managed to keep our balance standing up through two full quadrants. If the bus was moving too fast we held on tight to the shiny vertical poles reflecting stretch versions of ourselves. On straightaways the accordion section’s suppleness made for big, almost bowl us over bumps. It was the cheapest theme park ride in town and one that never seemed to get old.

On days that the force wasn’t with us and we were relegated to an accordion-less bus ride we’d go into Plan B mode. Scrinched up in the seat next to the door where people entered to pay their fares, we would settle in for storytime. We had favourites including The Paper Bag Princess, The Wheels on the Bus, Badger’s Parting Gifts and The Giving Tree.

In public view we created a space that was both private and shared. Some of our fellow passengers we knew by sight. Those who were attuned to our ritual seemed as appreciative of the stories as we were. The analog readings required no external energy source unlike today’s portable devices.

Many, many years after those daily commutes home, I thought of our  adventurous, mildly risky rides and wrote round and round. They were fine moments of bonding, laughter and the occasional tumble. We were creators of public transit fueled unintentional green play.

round and round

got a gentle squeeze
on the accordion bus
pumped up and down
memory lane

in one bending corner
shrinking and stretching
in one breath of moment
i was laughing right next to you

you danced the floating circle
small fingers extended
my paper bag princess
taming a bucking urban dragon

got a gentle squeeze
on the accordion bus
a little girl you were
in one breath of be

I love the gentle squeeze of memory. After more than 25 years, it is probable this particular rear view mirror has a rosy rose tinge to it. To this day, I still get a lift when I’m riding the accordion bus’ spinning circle.


The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round or Do They?

Years ago – how quickly a decade zips by – the kids and I explored playgrounds in the east, west, north and south of our Halifax, Canada home. Nestled on the shores of a big harbour by the sea, Noah, Nellie and Lila, after she mastered the two legs scamper, sashayed, hurtled and laughed their way through 50 or more playgrounds over the course of a couple of years.


Without exception they were eagerly anticipated, joyous expeditions. Of course there was a meltdown here and there – sometimes papa, sometimes one or more of the kids. There was plenty of stretching limits, risking, reaching, jumping, grabbing, rolling and rocking – new accomplishments, fancy tricks, the occasional disappointment, or wipe out.

On this particular day spontaneity rippled across the weekend schoolyard. A springrider larger than any we had seen became a kid collective fun zone. No planning, no asking, no inviting – it just happened, a ticket to now. Magic Bus seemed to be the no brainer sound bed for enthralled kids clearly immersed in the journey. Noah nailed the happy-go lucky driver groove. Just watch….


Long gone now are the Wheels on the Bus days, the rush to find the best seat for kneeling, peering out and making face squish prints on the windows. I so remember the kids doing the transit scramble on those early thrill rides. And don’t get me reminiscing about the unbridled rush of the accordion buses bending this way and that in their reticulated glory as we readied ourselves for the impromptu bounce and weave two step…

From my own childhood I still see the hazy top levels of double deckers cutting through the Clydeside dark. All smokers upstairs – hot ends glowing, smoke clouds wafting, curling – an indelible memory burn from nearly 60 years ago. A belated thanks Mom for indulging me and taking me topside. I’d scramble to the very front seat perched over the unseen driver in his cabin below – the big windshield like a picture window, a panorama show, the best view in town, up high looking down.

These days our three kids spend way too much time on school buses – on average a couple of hours each per day. The shine has worn off. For the youngest there are still shenanigans and quality socializing. Spotify is the high school commute solace for the two older kids – all hail earpods!

But what about transit and kids? At the school level, I’m not aware of any jurisdictions in our province that consult with children on routes, on alternative transportation, or on transportation policies for students. Readers, if you know of any enlightened examples please share….


As for public transit systems and kids, that’s another story. Generally speaking there is lots to be done, plenty of room for improvement. Children are tomorrow’s riders. Now is the time to engage them, to win them over to a greener choice. What age should kids be able to ride without adult accompaniment, go solo and expand their horizons and mobility?

Here in Halifax, a pilot project provides free bus passes to students in four high schools. Our two oldest, neither of whom have a driver’s license, are benefitting from the program and enjoy the freedom of movement the passes afford them. It’s a start….

Will those wheels keep going round and round? Not without advocacy, not without pressing local governments and transit and education authorities to implement policy changes to benefit children and students. Remember the cause célèbre of Vancouver father of five, Adrian Crook? Nearly three years later he prevailed. In the interim, writer Rob Thomas rolled up this smorgasbörd of fare charges for kids in Canada.


Then there is the quintessential North American young adult rite of passage – the driver’s license. What awareness programs are out there to put the brakes on a new generation of gas guzzlers? Are driver education ‘schools’ providing context about the demise of the internal combustion engine and the need to shift and adapt to new transportation norms? Are transit authorities developing persuasive advertising for the soon-to-be new driver set? Our oldest is just about ready to gear up and get behind the wheel. He’s raring to go. Will transit just be a receding memory in his rear view mirror?

Happy Thanksgiving to our Canadian readers – safe travels.


Affirmation Songs – Truth and Reconciliation

Today is Canada’s first Truth and Reconciliation Day. It is a day to reflect on injustices perpetrated for hundreds of years against Indigenous Peoples by European colonizers and their descendants in what is now called Canada. It is a time for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to begin a journey of healing. One of many wrongs that need to be acknowledged and righted is the appropriation of large swathes of unceded First Nations’ territories.

Guyanese songwriter David Campbell’s songs speak to pride, affirmation, love and cultural identity. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, his music was popular in First Nations communities as well as the Canadian folk music circuit.

The Corn and Potato and Pretty Brown are two Campbell tunes that are as fresh today, as playful and poignant, as when his LPs first hit record store shelves decades ago. Both songs are easily accessible for children with warm, story-like lyrics and wistfully tinged vocals. Each in its own way buoys spirits and promotes Indigenous cultural awareness. I listen and sing along to them intermittently with great enjoyment. They are securely ensconced in my heart and head as among my favourite songs

Listening to these songs could be a good preliminary activity to open up discussions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous kids. Just as easily they could serve as points of reflection for non-Indigenous kids, an entry point into appreciating some of the challenges faced by their First Nations peers. Without doubt there is much more that needs to be acknowledged and atoned for, a very long list including disappeared children, residential schools, inadequate housing, health and education infrastructure and the unsubtle erosion of self-determination. Sadly the endemic societal ills these songs were penned to help comfort still need to be addressed.

I interviewed David and heard him play in Toronto way back in the day. It was a beautiful afternoon when we got together on a park bench under sunny skies. I remember an unhurriedness about him, patience in the face of my questions and a profound calm.

Click through here to read the 1981 interview in The Toronto Clarion. Photo source – David Campbell Facebook

I’m grateful still for the moments that David shared with me as I am for his music that continues to bring joy. Our short time together helped to fill in some gaps and add to a growing awareness that all was far from right in a world where First Nations people were relegated to a secondary status or worse.

I was fortunate and thankful to be befriended, sometimes humoured for my ingrained eurocentric perspective, by those I met from Indigenous communities. Without exception, each person was gracious and took time to share a small part of their worlds. I continue to feel gratitude for their kindnesses as well as their powerful life lessons gifts.

Please share David’s songs. They’re lovely for people from all ancestries and age groups….

Playwork Virtual Campference Coming Soon

There’s a Playwork Virtual Campference coming up quick on the horizon. Wait, never been to a campference, virtual, playwork or otherwise? I’m with you there, this will be my first.

Campference homepage and registration

Pop-Up Adventure Play’s campference concept is quite simple really – identify enthusiastic hosts/partners, bring people together to camp in the great outdoors in an environment that lends itself to building community and involve passionate and respected resource people to share their knowledge. That was the successful premise behind the first two campferences in Houston, Texas (2019) and Val Verde, California (2017) – more about them here.

The twist for the third edition, in partnership with Bernheim’s Children at Play Network, is the virtuality of it all. Moving the 2021 campference online is a safety precaution in response to the ongoing risks of COVID-19. Pop-Up Adventure Play has for years taken an outside of the box approach to building community through play. Campference participants can expect an online experience that reflects this creative tradition which will include in part, simultaneous translation in Spanish, Turkish, Portuguese and Arabic.

The powerhouse, cross-Atlantic team led by Suzanna Law and Morgan Leichter-Saxby is now entering its second decade. They have criss-crossed the US, Canada, Australia, parts of Asia and points in between working with local communities to animate public events and lead workshops to promote play. In addition, they offer an online Playworker Development Course. The playwork ethos is being exported around the world and has given birth to an international network of alumni engaged in play advocacy, research and programming.

The Pop-Up crew draws on extensive practical experience and academic knowledge of adventure playgrounds, playwork and loose parts in a variety of cultural contexts. This solid experiential and research foundation informs a world view situating play as an essential, intrinsically valuable activity in a child’s life – a source of joy, discovery and renewal.

2019 Campference participants – Houston, Texas

Campferences provide an opportunity to invite discussion, share experiences, challenge stereotypes and connect with others who value the child’s right to play. Though time will be compressed in this virtual edition all of the above will be on offer. I am particularly excited to hear from filmmakers David Reeks and Renata Meirelles, directors of the Brazilian-produced, feature-length documentary, The Territory of Play (trailer here).


Registration details for the September 24 Campference here. Cost is very modest – group rates and financial assistance available.


I had an opportunity to work/play with the Pop-Up crew when they came to Halifax a few years back for a public lecture, a practitioner’s workshop and a huge, wide-open loose parts event that had over 200 kids playing up a storm.

It was wonderful to spend time in their company and experience their passion for kid’s play firsthand. On that day at the outdoor, loose parts emporium, joy overflowed our sundrenched patch of urban green. It was a wonderbuzz of bright smiles, gobsmacked eyes and busy building hands – indelible moments of kids doing their own thing.

Adults were engaged too. My 80-something papa popped in. I could see the glint in his eye and the spring in his step as he quietly walked around and took in the pure fun of it all.

It was a grand day wrapped up in the grounded, unpretentious, fun-filled approach that characterizes the Pop-Up way.

Zan, Me, Morgan and Andy – Halifax, Canada 2017

IPA Canada National PlayDay – August 4

Play – the Heartbeat of Childhood

Ed’s note – I have had the pleasure of serving as a board member of the International Play Association (IPA) Canada for the last couple of years. It’s been a great introduction to the work they have been doing in support of the child’s right to play over the last few decades.

Recently, IPA Canada has hit the reboot on National PlayDay. It’s an event that had fallen off our radar for a few years and we’re bringing it back to celebrate kids and play. The post below is reproduced from the IPA blog. For more on the background of National PlayDay, click here.

Play is the heartbeat of childhood. At home, in the neighbourhood, at the beach, in community parks and school grounds children embrace the opportunity of making their own fun through play. On August 4, join the International Play Association (IPA) Canada and create your own National PlayDay event.

IPA Canada’s National PlayDay is a celebration of wonder, curiosity, discovery and adventure. It’s all about what children do best. Intuitively children know that play is a renewable source of joy and fun but of course its impact is far broader. In fact, play is one of the defining characteristics of our humanity.

Play resonates with children everywhere. Child-directed play has a universal appeal. It is a heady expression of freedom whenever children are granted the space and time to shape their own activities unencumbered by ongoing adult supervision.

The ‘right to play’ is enshrined in Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The General Comments document on article 31 provides additional details that speak to the connection between play and well-being and affirms its critical role and relevance in an increasingly complex world.

Research demonstrates that play exerts a profound influence throughout childhood shaping how we learn, how we express ourselves and how we assess risk and opportunity. Studies from a variety of disciplines reveal that play nurtures children’s physical, social, emotional, cognitive and spiritual development. It is a foundational activity that helps kids interact with and make sense of the world around them.

Play can help children develop resilience and cope with mental health concerns, such as anxiety, that were on the increase during the first wave of the pandemic. For more information about play in times of crisis, free downloadable resources published by IPA World IPA Canada’s international governing body are available here with translations in Arabic, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Thai and Turkish.

IPA Canada’s goals are to increase play’s visibility, create greater awareness of the pressing need to get children playing more and encourage parents and communities to be strong agents of play.

There is evidence that change is needed. In Canada, ‘active play’ gets an F in the latest (2020) ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth. In practice this means that only 21% of 5- to 11-year-olds engage in active play for more than 1.5 hours per day on average. Two years earlier, active play was given a D. We are moving in the wrong direction.

Canada is not alone. Higher income countries are witnessing a declining incidence of outdoor play and a decrease in independent mobility for kids. These are notable societal shifts that have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A recently concluded series of national consultations led by IPA Canada confirmed that there is a growing understanding of play’s role as an important contributor to the healthy development of children. Our discussions with parents, early childhood educators and municipal government representatives are helping to inform new initiatives linked to play leadership and provision as well as the development of resource materials focusing on children’s right to play.

IPA Canada benefits from the support and experience of the IPA international member network. Here in Canada, many accomplished groups and organizations are associated with children’s play. It truly takes a village to make a difference. Other national advocates include The Lawson Foundation, the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children, Outdoor Play Canada and the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada.

There is no time like the present to get involved, lend a hand and have some fun working toward creating the conditions that will help play flourish in our homes and communities. Here are some simple ideas to consider and possibly incorporate into IPA Canada National PlayDay events:

  • explore the neighbourhood to discover playful spaces
  • draw on childhood memories of favourite play places and activities for inspiration
  • invite friends to play at home or at a local park
  • in busy households, schedule time for play with children and/or for independent play
  • explore play ideas and resources online

For more information on IPA Canada visit their website and download your copy of the IPA Canada National PlayDay poster and guide.

IPA Canada is a not-for-profit national organization whose mandate is to protect and promote the child’s right to play.

Connect with International Play Association (IPA) Canada

Twitter: @ipa_canada
Facebook: @InternationalPlayCanada

The Children of Fogo Island – Documentary

It’s the summer of 1967 in a remote region of Newfoundland. Local kids are shadowing a documentary film crew on Fogo Island in Canada’s far east. Their status as curious onlookers is flipped on its head when the director turns the camera on them. The kids become part of the action.

Now there may be a hint of performing in their antics, they are kids after all, but it falls short of performance. Theirs is a joyous embrace of familiar outdoor activities where the elements set the tone. The unstudied choreography du jour cuts through rocky land, salty sky and chilled coves attesting to a freedom of movement, a playful ingenuity and matter of fact encounters with risk.

The Children of Fogo Island, is a quiet tour de force. Shot in black and white and running at 17 minutes it stars Fogo kids engaged in everyday capers. With minimal dialogue and a jaunty music soundtrack, there is little to distract from the unfurling action. However, it wasn’t the kids’ brilliant poetic canvas of fort makers, stilt walkers, bush pilots or ship captains that attracted the film production crew to shoot on the Island.

In the mid-1960s, Fogo Island was facing significant economic headwinds. Less than 5,000 people called the Island’s 10 fishing communities home. With provincial government policy favouring wholesale resettlement of Island residents there was real fear that their way of life was foundering.

Far removed from political decision makers and the machinery of government, it was not clear whether Islanders could enlist support and empathy for their communities, or even work together and alter course to avoid what increasingly looked like a bleak future.

Enter an improbable and unexpected intermediary, the National Film Board of Canada (NFB). The NFB had recently launched an ‘activist documentary program’ Challenge for Change (1967 – 1980) with the intent of making documentary film more relevant, of empowering communities to confront and examine tough issues – to mobilize action leading to social change.

Memorial University’s Extension Service was instrumental in introducing the NFB to Fogo Island and in recognizing the potential of a right fit with Island communities and the new program. Acclaimed NFB director Colin Low traveled to Fogo Island to meet with Islanders and gauge their willingness to explore the use of film as a medium to address local issues and advance community interests. From the outset, Low worked alongside local Extension Service officer and native Fogo Islander, Fred Earle and the rest as they say is history.

Not one film but a whole series of mini-films. It was meant to be a step in incorporating media into the democratic process. The creation of a communication loop as we called it. – Colin Low quoted in Challenge for Change: Activist Documentary at the National Film Board, p.17

Engaging Islanders and those in the corridors of power in an open ‘communication loop’ documented on film and then screened to the interested parties contributed to a reckoning, an awakening for all participants. Over time a shared resolve brought the Island communities together in a tightly knit band determined to preserve their homes and build more sustainable lives. The city suits also had ample opportunity to listen to community concerns and aspirations.

During a three year period, Low produced 27 short films on various aspects of Island life. The Children of Fogo Island was one of his favourites. It was a sleeper and an unexpected catalyst that helped pave the way to the community dialogue and collaboration that would become known as the Fogo Process.

Every time we’d go to a village, the first thing we showed was The Children of Fogo Island, and there were kids from all over the island appearing in the film. The energy of the kids made people think of their own childhood and what they loved about their own childhood: the freedom about it; the endless play; copying their dads on the boats. The other thing that struck people is the melancholy that you can see on Fogo Island, but we had an enormous demand for [the film.] Colin Low quoted in Playlists, Challenge for Change – Thomas Waugh, Ezra Winton, Michael Baker

This film speaks to me not as some kind of cultural ethnography piece, nor as a representation of a golden age of play. It may project elements of both though I suspect there were kids in various parts of the world moving to similar daily rhythms – particularly those whose lives were enriched by living in proximity to the natural world.

This is a film of simple pleasures, of children invested with trust to explore their landscape, their abilities, their friendships. In the context of play, they were in possession of a resoundingly powerful trifecta: 1) the kids had space to roam freely; 2) they had time to make their own fun; and, 3) they had friends to share adventures with. And now for the bonus round with a cherry on top, they were acting independently without ongoing adult oversight….

I hope you enjoy The Children of Fogo Island which is available for streaming at NO cost here, or by clicking on the image below. Many thanks to the NFB which for decades has made a large number of titles in their library freely available to Canadians. With the advent of digital delivery platforms they have been able to extend this generosity to international audiences too.

Do you have a favourite film/video clip that shows kids at play? Send us a link in the comments feature, or tag @PlayGroundology on Twitter.

Kids Play the Darndest Things

Today I’m sharing a few short videos that friends have enjoyed in the hope that they will give you pause to smile too. They are moments full of inventiveness, ingenuity, spontaneity and adventure.

Our home video and photo archives are bursting at the digital seams. We’re now firmly committed to terabyte territory for storage and safekeeping. There’s plenty of memory inducing imagery that we revel in as well as short scenes that instill laughter and sometimes tears.

We dive into these treasures intermittently for some full on ‘remember when’ immersion. This past year we’ve been dipping in more frequently. There’s solace, release and hope watching kids at play and occasionally, a measure of hilarity.

For parents, caregivers, neighbourhoods, community groups, schools and kid-focused organizations, it’s important that we create the conditions that will enable kids to play back better as we transition to post-COVID horizons. Let’s ensure that children are invested with trust and have the space, time and freedom to reclaim play.

Many thanks to Mélanie who shot these videos and much more importantly gave our kids a great start along the road to independence and discovery.

On with the show this is it…..

Firemen In Space


We’re Giggling in the Rain


Welcome to our House


Petits Poussins – Little Chicks


Home Schooling 101


So there you have it, we had about a 10 year head start on the home schooling. It hasn’t made the current experience any easier. Both the teacher and student in the segment above are now somewhat reluctant home schoolees.

In closing I want to reference a recent article in The Guardian by Hannah Jane Parkinson – Don’t show me photos of your kids: read me their poetry. I love the premise (hoping it doesn’t apply to videos :-)) and believe that play itself when kids are left to follow their own inclinations can be a fluid, unrehearsed kind of poetry. Take a peek, Parkinson’s article is a quick, uplifting read.


Just Fortin’ Around at the Play Outpost

Most days are still in the single digit celsius zone. Cheeks are burnished a ruddy healthsome hue. Chill wind and cool water stiffen numbing fingers. On the ground, a muddy patina where grass is worn bare. Above, the dreamy blue sky bursts with promise.

A small play posse of about ten kids in the six to thirteen-year-old age range are bivouacking in the backyard. Free of cumbersome winter clothes, there is a spontaneous reclaiming of the outdoors.

They are out everyday now playing for hours on end. There are the breathless games like mantracker and 50 – 50, impromptu soccer and basketball matches and the building of forts, dens and clubs. These almost exotic spring awakening rites embrace the season’s new possibilities.


The familiar ring of the kids-at-play chorus modulates between a sometimes rambunctious soundscape and a whispery taking stock. Occasionally observed by us adult types but rarely disturbed, they are free to imagine, to create, to make the world in their own image.

On this day, chalk is a key element in their periodic table of play. At first it is put through its conventional paces. Printing and drawing on the fence in all available colours is de rigueur. Then a stick of chalk is reduced, mortar and pestle style, into a dusty powder. It’s only moments before the powder is in turn transformed into a pasty liquid wash and applied liberally to various surfaces with the excited participation of all present.

The yard is a convening space, a place where the kids can be themselves to explore, goof around and kick back unsupervised. It’s communal in a sense – friends hang there when our kids aren’t out, or we’re not at home. We like to think of it as an equal opportunity play outpost.

Old household furniture is cycled into the backyard until its play value is exhausted and it’s shifted curbside. A couple of old sofas that have gone through their second outdoor winter are foundation pieces for the build, modify, rebuild fortin’ around. Loose parts – lumber, old tires, milk crates, cable spools, tarps , cardboard and rope – are the stuff of daily dreaming helping to give physical form to imagined space.

Several days pass with the fort as focal point. There are design adjustments, new adornments and reconfigurations. The kids are getting restless though, looking for new activities. It’s off to the woods, the brook to other friends’ houses. We tear down the fort and store the parts in the shed. In the not too distant future another fort will rise and we’ll hear the sowing of dreams as the neighbourhood kids explore, discover, create.

I am thankful that I had the opportunity to learn about loose parts a few years back from the good folks at Pop-Up Adventure Play. They encouraged me to get out in the community and give the loose parts a whirl at public events. Thankful too that the kids have space to run free.

I am grateful to live in Nova Scotia where through a combination of collective action by Nova Scotians, a crackerjack public health team, responsible management by the government and undoubtedly some good luck we have been able to weather the COVID storm with much less devastation than other parts of the country and world. Despite our best efforts, Nova Scotia went into a new lockdown earlier this week in a bid to turn back recent community spread.

COVID continues to be an ongoing health crisis in communities around the world. Its after effects will rumble for some time. Among these are social isolation experienced by children and their inability to play due to prolonged periods of time in lockdowns and absences from school. Spring awakenings and the resumption of play will pick up steam as greater swathes of the population are vaccinated and the immediate crisis begins to recede. Let’s get ready and think what that might look like in our own communities.

On May 13, join Dalhousie University’s Dr. Sarah Moore for a virtual event presenting research that considers “evidence-based recommendations and strategies for return to movement, play, sport, and recreation and discusses the important role of community supports during the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery period.” More info available here.

In the UK, Helen Dodd is a Professor in the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences at the University of Reading and an advocate of putting children at the heart of the recovery. Along with colleagues at PlayFirst UK, she has been raising the alarm about the pandemic’s mental health impacts on children and the benefits of adventurous play. She will make a plenary presentation at the upcoming Play 2021 conference in Birmingham, England, July 7 and 8.

Edging Toward a Homework Revolution

One glorious Wednesday afternoon our girl shoots out of the school bus and barrels through the front door. She’s a lively one, a meme-maker in her own right. Talking quickly she brings us up to speed on the shocker event of the day. The wonder and surprise of the unimaginable are still fresh. Her bright eyes shine as the words tumble out.

Les Girls arriving home

“I can’t believe it. I’m so happy. Do you know what we actually have for homework tonight? Madame said our homework is to go outside and play. Nothing else, just go outside and play.”

Entries in our youngest daughter’s Grade 6 daily agenda are for the most part predictable. Homework is a recurring theme – reminders of what needs to be done in the coming days, dates for tests and quizzes, notes about special school events. On this day of days there is just one entry. It’s crisp, clear printing, nearly jumping off the page, loudly exclaiming – Aller Jouer Dehors – Go Play Outside.

If it’s in the agenda it must be true

No cajoling or threats, veiled or otherwise, were necessary for her to dive right in. Literally in this instance with old mattresses serving as a soft landing for belly flops or back flips before they’re moved curbside for garbage collection.

Playing outside with friends is the default after school activity in our neighbourhood. The homework bogey imposes structure intruding on more open-ended, oblivious-to-time pursuits. Homework is kind of like kids interruptus. It verily begs the question ‘why homework?’.

None of my four older children had ever come home with a similar assignment. In our experience play as homework is a new phenomenon, quite a singular event. Reaction to a tweet on the subject broadly indicates support for more play, less homework.

Enthusiastic reception on Twitter


Now I don’t have a stellar memory for details but I do know for sure that 50 years ago the kids in Mrs. Salmon’s Grade 6 class at Elkhorn Drive Public School in Toronto did not possess agendas. For the most part we learned in class, were set temporarily free for recess and then most importantly were released at the end of the day to go home and play. No agenda needed on the journey.

Grade 6 – 1967-68

In the best of all possible worlds, fun and play should be expansive experiences for kids. Ask yourself, are there ever enough hours in a young life to miss out on kaleidoscoping fun?

Getting students to go outside and play as a homework assignment is a step in the right direction. It’s getting them closer to setting their own after school agenda. Given their druthers most grade schoolers would choose play over any form of school work.

It’s true that not all children have equal access to play. While it is important to improve access for all, it is also critical to support grass-roots activities that can lead to meaningful change – more kids, spending more time playing, with no agenda other than their own.

The play as homework continuum could be effective in jurisdictions where homework is de rigueur or required by education authorities. Introducing play as homework once or twice a week could have a meaningful impact for the children as well as teachers. It could be integrated into the curriculum through student presentations and discussions on play activities.

The late educational reform icon, Sir Ken Robinson, addressed the often overlooked value of play during a presentation at a Halifax conference.

Play for young people is actually essential. It’s a way in which they literally flex their muscles.

So really, why wouldn’t we want our kids out there flexing? Read more on Sir Ken’s play perspectives here.

And what of homework itself. In a 2019 piece, The Cult of Homework, The Atlantic examines the multiple faces of the homework beast. Scholastic, the kids’ book folks, thinks that rationales for homework are underwhelming. They share their perspective in Down With Homework. A 2016 article in Time, Is Homework Good for Kids? Here’s What the Research Says, suggests a ‘weak correlation between homework and performance’ and further that it may not be ‘helpful’ for students in primary school.

Let’s applaud and support teachers who look for new and simple means to engage kids in what they do best, play. I wrote Madame a quick email on her foray into play as homework and included an image of the tweet. She wrote back saying the email had made her day, her week, no her month. The kids were beaming again today as play was assigned as homework for the second time.

more play, less homework

I’d love to hear from others who have similar stories. Hopefully this is more widespread and if not perhaps together we can make it so. The essential ingredient is willing teachers. We know that for the most part given the chance kids will play…

Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man

Michael Apted a storied feature film and documentary director passed away at 79 years of age last week. He is mourned by family, friends, industry peers, cinephiles and a select cohort of 60 somethings that he first encountered as a young man 56 years ago.

Still from Seven Up! documentary, The Link

Back in the early 60s, Apted worked with Granada Television. As a researcher, one of his assignments was to find 14 children whose life circumstances reflected England’s socio-economic spectrum. The children were being scouted to participate in the documentary Seven Up! at that time conceived of as a one off project exploring the possible influences of the British class system on their lives.

In the original 1964 ITV broadcast, directed by Canadian Paul Almond, the seven-year-olds (4 girls and 10 boys) were treated to a party, a visit to London Zoo and a playground outing. Closing out the program, the kids zigged, zagged and zipped in an animated and sometimes rambunctious romp through what some believe to have been London’s Notting Hill Adventure Playground.

The New York Times Magazine characterized it as “…a grim hazardous-looking pit of an “adventure” playground.” From my vantage point the description smacks of dramatic license and hyperbole all rolled into one. In any case, on that day there was an abundance of joy, exuberance, discovery and yes, adventure as the clip below captures.

Over the years, what was initially thought of as a stand alone became the lead in to the critically acclaimed and much talked about Up series. Apted was in the director’s chair for what became a lifelong passion and arguably the longest longitudinal documentary on record.

Participants were interviewed at seven year intervals over the course of six decades sharing their ups, downs, dreams, accomplishments and failures. A loyal viewing audience kept returning for more with each new installment. What is most likely the final episode, 63 Up, was released in 2019.

Apted regretted not including an equal number of girls and boys when he selected the children. He went on to direct women in powerful roles in several critically acclaimed films including Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), Gorillas in the Mist (1988) and Nell (1994).

Michael Apted thank you for your role in this extraordinary series and for letting the kids loose to play that day so many years ago. Their youthfulness, daring and wonderment are a bright beacon in somber times.