Goin’ Mobile – Keep ‘Em Movin’

As recently as 50 years ago, a study on children’s independent mobility (CIM) would have reported that many kids ranged far and wide with little explicit parental supervision. I was a product of those times growing up in suburban Toronto.

Back in the day, most of us adventured independently on foot, bicycle and public transit. By the age of 10 or 11, we could find ourselves miles away from home exploring the wildness of the Don River Valley, catching a movie at the Willow Theatre, playing shinny at the outdoor rink, or just skylarking in random pursuit of fun. Those were the golden days of free-range kids…

article-2300657-18C0F5B0000005DC-258_966x412Glasgow boys from the Gorbals district play in the Corporation Burial Grounds shortly after the Second World War. Photographer – Bert Hardy, © Getty Images.

In just two generations there has been a seismic shift in the range, frequency and independence of kids’ mobility. A recently published study based on research carried out in Toronto, Canada illustrates that for many kids, discovery of the physical world around them, a world unfettered by hovering adults, or caregivers just ain’t what it used to be.

“Adult supervision has become a central characteristic of the modern childhood experience.”

The ‘S’ word is antithetical to pushing boundaries, independently assessing risk, or just playing for the pure and simple sake of it.

Playground?Children in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Photo Credit – Jeff Attaway. License – (CC BY 2.0).

Do parental perceptions of the neighbourhood environment influence children’s independent mobility? Evidence from Toronto, Canada
examines three CIM related questions.

(1) Is independent mobility associated with children’s physical activity levels?
(2) Do parental perceptions of the neighbourhood environment influence CIM?
(3) What role do parents’ mobility-related attitudes have in influencing CIM?

Where do these three questions lead? The short answer is that there are correlations linked to independent mobility associated with some of the considerations/questions above. For instance, highly mobile and independent kids were likely to accumulate up to 19.5% more physical activity per day.

Other findings include:

  • kids from low income neighbourhoods are likely to have higher livels of CIM
  • 65% of grad 5 and 6 kids in Toronto had some measure of independent time outdoors without adults;
  • parents who opted for walking, biking or public transit were more likely to have kids with higher levels of CIM;
  • boys enjoy more CIM than girls – parental decisions in this regard are gendered.

The study is available in Urban Studies 2014, Vol. 51 (16). The authors – Raktim Mitra (Ryerson), Guy EJ Faulkner (University of Toronto), Ron N Buliung (University of Toronto) and Michelle R Stone (Dalhousie University) – are hopeful that this research will help to support policy development aiming to increase CIM.

Given the drop off in outdoor play, the prevalence of electronic gaming and scheduled, busy lives it’s not a moment too soon. There is cause to champion a larger scope for free-range play and a return to common sense. For any kids living in the free-range zone, there is a high probability that they know fear, take risks and inhale adventure all the while increasing their CIM. For a great source of information on the free-range movement check Lenore Skenazy’s writings or her recent reality show, World’s Worst Mom on Discovery Life Channel.

6348404432_ba24b8ec68_oChildren playing in the Canadian Arctic. Photo Credit – Rosemary Gilliat. License – (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

When it comes down to the crunch and you’re thinking about your own kids it can be hard. I had to fight against an urge to restrict our son’s independence and mobility when he turned 8-years-old. Fortunately my wife was there to bring me back to earth, to remind me that we were both the beneficiaries of free-ranging as kids and that we have no reason not to entrust our own children with this gift. As irrational as it is, I still sometimes get knots in my stomach when our lad is off with his friends far from our care.

That’s when I sing this little ditty to the tune of Home, Home on the Range.

Home, home on the range
Where the children all go outside to play
And never is seen a portable screen
And the kids can breathe fresh air all day

Home, home on the range
Where kids just travel about
And never is heard a disparaging word
And the kids have no time to pout

Oh give me a town where the kids they abound
Where the wild is not too far away
Where always is heard an encouraging word
To get the kids outside to play

Start ‘em moving young and get them outdoors. PlayGroundology friend Gill Connell has plenty of great ideas to get the kids moving at Moving Smart. Move on over and check them out….

Finally, listen up to the story of Maryland parents charged for letting their kids play and walk alone broadcast earlier this evening on CBC Radio’s – As it Happens. You may be incredulous to learn how the courts ruled.

An open letter to ASTM, and to anyone who wants to see a thoughtful approach to playground safety

PlayGroundology:

Bubblewrapping our kids by means of incremental risk reduction is one way to approach playground safety but will it necessarily deliver the desired results? In this post’s open letter, the UK Play Safety Forum asks the American Society for Testing and Materials’ (ASTM) Sub Committee F08.63 on Playground Surfacing to reconsider and open for broader debate a planned major change to playground safety standards.

Originally posted on Rethinking Childhood:

The American standards body ASTM International is planning a major change to playground safety standards. This post (including a joint open letter to ASTM from Robin Sutcliffe – chairman of the UK Play Safety Forum – and me) is a direct plea to put this proposal on hold pending a wider review.

The proposal – to tighten up the impact absorbency thresholds for playground surfacing – may sound purely technical. In fact, it is far more profound, as my regular collaborator Bernard Spiegal has argued. What is more, it could have far-reaching consequences, potentially leading to hundreds of millions of dollars of additional expenditure by schools, municipalities and others, the removal of equipment, and widespread playground closures. Its effects could be felt far beyond the USA, given the global push to normalize product safety standards.

Despite its implications, the proposal has so far had almost no debate beyond ASTM…

View original 1,455 more words

The Heat Within

It’s well chilly in Canada’s far east right now. Not arctic conditions by any stretch but bone penetrating cold from biting northern winds. The big freeze is later than usual and we of the wintry non-sportifying adults set are pleased with this tardiness. Recent temperatures are in the -10ºC range, say -20ºC with the wind chill.

SnowSlidersStorytelling with Storehouse – click through for photo montage and short videos

The kids are the ones who get me out in this weather. Short walks, hand feeding chickadee expeditions and sorties of the sledding and skating variety are the order of the day.

It’s as if the kids have small furnaces at the core of their beings that keep them stoked, impervious to the elements. Fuelled by play’s exhilaration and the adventurous pursuit of hurtling velocity, these snow sliders are oblivious to the elements, inoculated against creeping chill (warm clothes are a must too).

Simplest of FunThe Sliders

It’s simple fun with uphill huffing and puffing and downhill squeals of delight. We have a small fright too. Lila, our youngest, stands immobile in the path of a sled barreling toward her. Brother and sister are on board but they are unable to veer away. It’s a direct hit and Lila is catapulted into the air her feet swept from under her. I’m thankful that aside from the tears, there’s nothing more amiss. I don’t think we’ll have any further standing still in the path of oncoming sled incidents…

DSC00334Watch out for those sleds!

All told, we’re out for a couple of hours and pack it in just before we become walking popsicles. Even so it’s not a unanimous decision, a couple of the kids want to hang in for more. I promise we’ll return the next day. Really, there’s no better way to while away a few wintry hours than with the simple yet electrifying pleasure of some quality downhill sledding.

Get a taste of our winter fun here on Storehouse, the app that makes possible beautiful storytelling using video and photos.

The TrekThe uphill slog

There’s another storm raging outside just as I’m about to hit publish and just after I’ve seen an update from Suzanna, PlayGroundology’s Pop-Up Adventure friend – she’s on an Australia tour and right now it’s 39ºC outside. I guess she’ll just have to look for ‘the cool within’. With more snow coming down, I hope we’ll be able to get out later today for downhill dashes the sequel.

A Boy and his Bear aka Teddy’s Triumphant Return

Teddy’s Triumpahnt Return was originally published nearly seven years ago in a blog that recounted my parental leave adventures at the time. I stumbled across the photo below just the other day and it made me think of the post. Really, who can resist a teddy, or any stuffed buddy for that matter?

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Then last week, the kids, my papa and I all went to see the Paddington Bear movie. We laughed and laughed and laughed (I must see it again). Paddington was one of my mom’s favourites too and that’s saying something as she had quite a collection (spot Paddington in the photo below). She would have loved this film and would likely have ventured to darkest Peru just to see it.

We donated most of Mom’s bears to the local children’s hospital where they were auctioned off as a fundraiser… Dad kept Paddington and a couple of others. And now on with Teddy and his Triumphant Return.

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He’s back from San Diego an incredible journey for a young bear cub. Triumphant might be a bit of a stretch as our errant Teddy arrived in cardboard packaging with one corner caved in. Two weeks cross-continent by ground transportation. It must have been a harrowing trip. Our heroic Teddy alone in the dark and literally all boxed up brought to our door by Canada Post.

I couldn’t get Ted to talk about his re-entry to Canada. He didn’t have any papers. I don’t know if he was searched, or detained at the border. His lips are sealed about what I can only guess was a traumatic experience. We’re thrilled that he’s back where he belongs – well almost. His best buddy Noah-David is 1,000 plus kilometres away. If there’s no change of plans, they won’t meet up for hugs and cuddles until next Wednesday.

Sad to say that the Noah – Ted long distance reunion didn’t really go according to plan. Maybe I should have known better. I told Mélanie about his arrival earlier in the day on a phone call. I asked her not to share the news with Noah when he woke from his nap. I wanted to be the hero and show off Teddy on a video call.

I flashed Teddy on the screen very early into our Skype call. Instead of, “papa, papa” in ecstatic tones, there was an immediate meltdown, anguished sobs and inconsolable, free flowing tears. Try as we might, we couldn’t turn the situation around and instead ended the call. Mélanie was able to comfort our Noah-David and this morning when we spoke he talked about Teddy in a confident matter of fact voice. Eight sleeps until he sees Teddy and papa…..

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It didn’t take Teddy long to get back into the swing of things. With Noah temporarily out of the picture he had no supervision (I was too busy at the keyboard, or on the phone regaling people with the news that he was back in town). Not surprisingly he got up to a few shenanigans.

First off was the rather unsubtle remonstrance about how he got home. I still don’t know how he did it but he managed to stuff himself into the mailbox pretty much thumbing, well I guess pawing, his nose at me. The message was as clear as a pristine stream – why had I chosen such an unceremonious means of getting him back to Halifax? If the plane was good enough for the trip out to San Diego, why wasn’t it the transportation of choice to get him home?

Next he got himself stuck halfway up a tree in the backyard. Being a domestic bear he didn’t have the necessary skills to get himself back down. Shortly after his rescue he commandeered one of Noah’s cars for a spin. That nearly ended in disaster. Luckily for all of us I came out just in the nick of time to prevent him from careening off the deck into an ignominious wreck in the flower bed.

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He seemed to be taking a page from Yogi Bear’s mischievous suite of tricks, or maybe trying to emulate the adventurous Paddington from the darkest jungles of Peru. I’m hoping that after today’s escapades he’ll lean more to the philosophic Winnie as a role model and see the value in close friends and simple pleasures.

These bears have created quite a stamp on the popular imagination – from plush, stuffed buddies to starring roles in cartoons – let’s not forget Little Bear and his nuclear family. And then there are the ubiquitous teddy bear picnics held in cities, town and villages across North America and teddies’ connection with a famous American President.

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They are fine friends for little boys and girls. We’re so happy that Ted has come home. I’m looking forward to delivering him into adoring arms next week in Sorel, Québec. We’re glad that teddy’s accidental loss didn’t wind up with him going to the wild side.

A google search on teddy bear racks up 46.2 million hits. Seems like teddy bears are here to stay.

Many thanks to Dave at Point Loma Hostelling International in San Diego for getting Teddy back home to us.

P.S.

What was your favourite plush toy when you were a kid. Did you have a teddy, a tiger, a dog, a turtle, a lamb, a frog?

I remember a blue teddy from my own childhood back before I started school. I don’t remember him as new. His fur was worn, his limbs had lost their stiffness. His eyes though never lost their shine. They were glass – black in the centre with a surrounding hazel brown ring. He was stuffed with straw and I think he had an embroidered smile. I can’t recall the emotional bond that we had but I’m sure we were companions looking out from our vantage point at the big, big world beyond.

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Teddys of the world unite.

Bonne fête, Feliz navidad, Happy Birthday, Barka da sabon shekera, Rā Whānau ki a Koe!

It’s a little hard to believe that the first PlayGroundology post, Manhattan’s Bronze Guy, was published five years ago. Based on an interview with American artist Tom Otterness, it features his limited edition sculpture, Playground, which had caught my eye before the Colorado version of the piece adorned Google as a background image.

70179_600x357Playground by Tom Otterness – Google background image. Photo credit – Dick Jackson

Since then, play has become my volunteer vocation much to the delight of our three young kids aged 9, 7 and 5. Along the way, the PlayGroundology blog has won a couple of Canadian blogging awards and racked up readership from over 160 countries. More importantly though, I have had the opportunity to become long distance friends, and in some cases meet, with fine ‘play’ people from Scotland, England the US, Canada, Ghana, Singapore, Japan, Australia and elsewhere.

DSC06210London’s Glamis Adventure Playground from Mark Halden’s presentation at Play Summit in Glasgow, Scotland – April, 2014.

Among the many things that continue to strike me is that this world of play is broad, deep and inter-connected. Passionate parents, educators, professionals in health services, public administration and child care, practitioners, researchers, designers, landscape architects and lay people are amongst the stewards and advocates for children’s inalienable right to play.

Also in that first year, who knew there would be an opportunity to be Going Philatelic in Singapore? Connecting with Justin Zhang for that post resulted in a follow up a couple of years later when his e-book with photography and writing on these culturally attuned playscapes were featured in the blog.

3991913517_4f4a2cf01f_bDragon playground, Singapore. Photo credit – Jerry Wong. License: (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I continue to find joy in sharing public playspaces that break the mould, that boldly present alternatives, speak to place and do not shy away from risk. Early in year two, Alfio Bonanno’s Himmelhøj (Sky High) located on Copenhagen’s Amager Island came to my attention. It is a playspace of place, elemental in a natural setting even in its proximity to urban development.

Alfio Bonnano - CopenhagenThe Amager Ark. Photo courtesy of the artist, Alfio Bonanno

In year three, I discovered Pierre Szkéley and his love of cement. The architect used it to great effect in a number of sculpted playgrounds in France dating back to the 1950s. There is a certain je ne sais quoi about the work, a sense of future forms creating a new physical narrative for kids to explore.

szekelyhay00Pierre Székely’s L’Haÿ-les-Roses, 1958. Photo credit – As-tu dèja oublié?

PlayGroundology’s fourth year continued to explore the intersection of art and play in posts that examined Ann Hamilton’s the event of a thread and Jason Richardson’s Australian playground music – transforming playground equipment into instruments…

Many SwingsPhoto credit – James Ewing. Source – Park Avenue Armory

In PlayGroundology’s fifth year, I fell in love with ‘loose parts’ thanks to friends at Pop-Up Adventure Play, Brendon P. Hyndman’s research in an Australian primary school and the wonderful people at Nova Scotia’s Youth Running Series who provided me with the chance to run my first public play event – oh it was intoxicating…..

loose partsLoose Parts – Nova Scotia Youth Running Series

The blog continues to afford an endless journey of discovery – meeting people, admiring design, becoming familiar with the rudiments of play theory, developing public play activities and of course, playing. I’ve learned that play is under duress in countries around the world including the post-industrial economies. I’ve met with great generosity of spirit and experienced passionate engagement on behalf of kids with play people players of many nationalities. It seems there is a renaissance of play underway with resilience and risk advancing in tandem. Play matters…

I want to thank PlayGroundology’s readers for your comments, kind words, story ideas. I plan to be sharing stories of great play happenings for another five years and hope you’ll be able to join in.

Boxes in the Boardroom

Each year in late November, a few people in our workplace get together to plan an annual Christmas Eve Day party for the kids. About 40 or 50 children partake in a high spirited romp transforming an office environment into a fair ground. The small fry are dressed up in party clothes looking their best for the big guy himself whose arrival blows everything else out of the water.

While waiting for Santa to home in on downtown Halifax, the party committee lays on a tried and true entertainment line-up including the balloon lady, face painting, cookie making, photo booth dress-up, Christmas carol sing-a-long with live musicians and play-doh.

20141223_153355The calm before the storm

For the 2014 edition of the Kids’ Christmas Party we introduced Boxes in the Boardroom. We whipped up this self contained component at virtually no cost and without expending too much effort. Of the 30 or so kids that checked it out, I think it’s safe to say that a room full of boxes combined with an invitation to play was a big hit.

DSC09926On the move…

This is something that you can try at home. If you’re inside, just reduce the number and size of the boxes. If you’re outside, additional space provides you with more flexibility.

Some quick tips:

  • Large department and hardware stores are good sources for boxes. Call them in advance to inquire because many have compactors that they use to break down their boxes. My experience is that most have a soft spot for kid related activities;
  • Most kids have never seen a large quantity of boxes assembled for the purpose of play. They may need a little encouragement or reassurance that they have ‘permission’ to play with the materials;
  • The tearing down aka destruction component can get quite rambunctious. It’s worthwhile monitoring and if required ensuring that no one gets hurt under an avalanche of cardboard;
  • Have a plan in place to recycle the waste boxes so they’re not left overly long cluttering up your space.

DSC09969Tumblin’ down – time to rebuild

Kids floated in and out of the space for nearly two hours. Some were glued to the spot for pretty much the entire opening time. We’ve determined the fun quotient was significant enough to merit a return engagement next year. We’re already thinking of how we might introduce a tweak here and there. If any PlayGroundology readers would like to share their ideas based on similar events, we’d love to hear them.

DSC09893Kid-in-a-box

I’m looking forward to our next installment of Boxes in the Boardroom. This time we’ll see if we can shoot some video and get commentary from the kids. In the meantime, I’m dreaming up a spontaneous box event for downtown Halifax or along the waterfront. If you’re a Nova Scotia reader and want to play with this idea, give me a shout. Until then keep playin’ outside of the box….

Happy New Year – Play a Plenty in 2015

Happy New Year from PlayGroundology.

That’s me with the glasses and the big smile, hot off the presses today, as seen and lovingly portrayed by our five-year-old Lila-Jeanne. It’s a pretty good likeness too but I think we’d be safe swapping the dimensions of the head and torso…

Me by LilaPapa by Lila-Jeanne

That’s Lila swinging away in the vid back in the day when she was a wee babe of 9 months. It was shortly after she was born that I started down the PlayGroundology road. I was home at the time on parental leave. Hanging together for 9 months is one of the greatest gifts our little family has ever experienced.

Nearly five years later, PlayGroundology is a journey that’s still fresh. It seems that there is always something to discover in the world of play whether it’s old and overlooked, or new and untried.

Although I’ve been writing less often the past year, my interest remains constant. With the help of some others, I’ve branched out to create play events in the broader community. The contact high from watching the kids at these events is a powerful reminder of the natural zing that’s buzzing through the air when kids, permission and creative play intersect. Plans are now getting underway for next spring, summer and fall.

Thanks for subscribing, for reading, for your comments. I hope you’ll travel with us this year as we continue our passion play. Drop us a line, we’re always interested in your stories.

Check our companion sites on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, flickr, Storehouse.

Get the kids outside, give them some space and let them go…..