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

This 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 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?”

California Dreamin’


There’s a great play event coming to Southern California from February 16 through 19, 2017. Don’t dream about it, escape from grey sky winter days and experience a new adventure playground in development. This ‘campference’ is brought to you by the globe trotting good folks at Pop-Up Adventure Play and Val Verde’s Santa Clarita Adventure Play who will be welcoming participants to Eureka Villa.

The Campference will headline Professor Fraser Brown, Head of Playwork at Leeds Beckett University’s School of Health & Community Studies, Erin Davis, Director of the documentary The Land, and Jill Wood, founder of “AP” adventure playground in Houston, Texas.

Campference programming will also include a variety of hands on workshops, keynote Q&As, a screening of The Land, discussions and activities surrounding playwork theory and practice with National and International playworkers, and more.

Pop­-Up Adventure Play was founded in 2010 by Suzanna Law and Morgan Leichter­Saxby and aims to help make a children’s right to play a reality in every neighborhood by disseminating playwork principles to a range of audiences. Operating primarily in the US and UK, they provide long­ distance and in ­person support to play advocates in seventeen countries and recently completed a world lecture tour.

Santa Clarita Valley Adventure Play was founded by Jeremiah Dockray and Erica Larsen­Dockray in 2014 after Jeremiah began the playwork course. While working on a course assignment he came across an abandoned 2 acre park which is now the developing home of Eureka Villa Adventure Playground. It will be the only adventure playground in Los Angeles County.

Get your tent, sleeping bag and campfire stories ready for a Santa Clarita Valley Adventure this February. Early bird discount registration closes October 2. Last chance to register is January 16. Registration details here.

Oh and did I mention that Suzanna and Morgan (the dynamic duo co-founders of Pop-Up Adventure Play) have penned their own book and most recently


co-published, with Australian friends Playground Ideas, Loose Parts Manual. You can get your free copy here.

PS – remember to bring marshmallows…..

One Weekend, Two American Classics

It’s a glorious end-of-summer. On deck, steaming through the Bay of Fundy’s gulf of plenty, we keep the wind’s nip in check with sweaters and light jackets. Hands shade squinting eyes from rippling light as we scan for sea life. It’s our last hurrah adventure before the regimented schedule of school begins again.

Approaching Grand Manan, minke whales in groups of two and three briefly break the surface, their dorsal fins slipping below before rhythmically rising, then dipping, rising and dipping until they deep dive beyond our vision. It’s a wonderful welcome as we enter the island’s waters and skirt the shore’s sheer cliffs.


We are nearing the tail end of hot sun drenched days. The air temp is still warm enough to plunge into the take-your-breath-away water. Its salty buoyancy almost makes amends for the chill factor. Moored about 100 feet from the beach, is a floating home-made slide that until now we had only seen in photos. It’s a doozy, towering 15 feet above the water’s surface. And, for the coup de grâce, a tarzan rope dangles off the structure’s high point.


Among the bunch of kids swimming, sliding, splashing and swinging, we meet the nephew of the man who created this wonder-thrill, fun zone. The kids tell us they come here frequently and they’re visibly proud of this singular attraction. One of the moms guesses it’s been here for six or seven years. Our next trip to Grand Manan we’ll be making a beeline to the beach.

Back at hole-in-the-wall campground we hike a trail skirting the cliffs. No kids in the lead, they’re tucked in between adults. There are lots of roots on the ground, some brush and precipitous drops.


Then right in front of us is the ‘hole’. Our adventure rambles on hugging the coastal cliffs then zigging inland. Sometimes we wonder if we’re on the right path. Crossing a plank bridge we come into a clearing and a hand drawn map tells us we’re close to our temporary home. We’re tuckered from the heat and exertion and looking forward to some cold beverages and a tasty meal.


But first there is another new experience that just can’t be missed. Again, it’s one of those magnetic simple pleasures – a small pond, rafts and poles. The kids’ first instinct is to race from the dock to the far shore. This ain’t the mighty Mississippi and it turns out that following a dry summer the water is very shallow in places and the rafts get snagged on rocks.


Without any parental prodding, repeated groundings transform a competitive dynamic into a cooperative venture. It’s not long before all three kids are barefooting and slipping off the rafts to push, pull and cajole them along their journeys. They work together as a team, problem solving, assessing changing circumstances and experimenting with possible solutions. They are consumed with the space and their actions and all the while they’re immersed in deep, playful moments.

Nearly an hour passes and the fun maintains its quiet intensity. Finally, I have to call the kids’ armada back to dock. There’s nearly a mutiny but civility triumphs and we all march up the road for supper.

In too short a time we’re back aboard the ferry on a calm Bay of Fundy morning. About two-thirds of the way to Blacks Harbour a pod of three finbacks is spotted tails high fiving the sky and misty spouts of breath billowing from their blowholes. I can almost hear a cry, “thar she blows”.

It’s a weekend to remember. We’ll be back.

Leave a comment if you know the two American Classics I am referring to in the title.

Fort Summer

This is a love story….

In the soft light at end of day shadows slowly stretch. Under the tree is a makeshift shelter. It’s empty now no boys or girls stamping their dreams on this space. But I still hear young voices calling back and forth. They are marshalling for the build, gathering the good wood, the junk and even some bits and pieces that are surely beyond the pale.


Abandoned materials consort with store bought lumber and natural fibres pulled from the scrub land floor. Ferns hang upside down slowly withering, their dripping green a potent camouflage. A branch horizontal to the packed dirt floor allows a look-out to survey all approaches unseen behind a leafy blind.


Hammer heads ring off 6-inch galvanized nails pounded with gusto. And there is a halting sing of saw as blade bites into board. Occasionally there is a shout for some adult help – a nail not sufficiently hit home, a heavy and cumbersome accessory immune to the straining muscles of young boys.

But make no mistake, this hybrid space of tree, fence, earth and sundry scrap open to sun and stars is a hide-out, castle, resting place, an escape, a sanctuary, a homestead, a club, a wondrous made-by-kids kinda place.


A rifle and helmet adorn the wall and a tipsy table is a snacking spot, a gather round and sit to plan and plot ambushes, attacks and marauding sorties through bracken, over stones, around trees.

Each day adventure glows steady here like a burning coal. Pounding hearts on the run burst with excitement. Bright, awakened eyes feverish with daylight imaginings see an impregnable fortress in the corner of the backyard. When I let go, breathe deeply and squint my eyes just so, it’s what I see too.


Kids love to create their worlds far from prying eyes. They love to build, to experiment, to shape their day, and unselfconsciously personify play. ….this is Fort Summer, a love story.


Close your eyes, think back, was there a Fort Summer in your world?