St. James Park Where Kids Play with their Food

Our trek starts at the Corso Italiano on St. Clair West. By foot, streetcar and subway we hop, skip and jump cross-town to St. James Park. It’s downtown Toronto just a few blocks east of Yonge Street and a nudge north of St. Lawrence Market and the Gardiner Expressway’s endless dump of traffic into the city’s core.

It’s hot – the still, heavy air is withering but it doesn’t dampen our anticipation. Behind orange barricades, my daughter Nellie-Rose and I eyeball the new playscape still under construction.

Alex Waffle from Earthscape brings us in behind the fencing. After donning our hardhats, we waste no time. Nellie dives right into play-test mode.  I try and keep up with her while shooting a few frames. A massive, empty cake cone plonked on its side invites discovery. In front of it, melting mounds of oozing chocolate, pistachio and vanilla ice cream.

Nellie-Rose sproings from pistachio to chocolate at St. James Park, Toronto

All food related elements are mega-mega. Asparagus stalks like towering totems with tips that look ready to munch serve as supports for staggered balance beams on varying inclines. The scale of it all. How many adventurous sprites will try and shinny to the top?

Alex Waffle, landscape architect and our Most Valuable Tour Guide

Stretch carrots form a tip to tip ‘V’ hugging the ground ready to be scampered across, emphasizing that vitamin A’s veggie queen can help keep kids sharp and healthy in more ways than one.

Carrots, good for the eyes and for getting some great air

It’s produce from the tables of giants, the kind that Jack would bring back down from his Beanstalk adventures, or that Sophie’s Big Friendly Giant might add to a pot of stew.

Stacked crates with stenciled markings dwarf us of mere human size. The crates anchor a slide and a rope bridge. On this visit, prior to the public opening, access is blocked but there is the promise of fresh berries.

On this day, still a little prep work to do on the crates and slide

At the rope bridge’s other terminus is a shelter proclaiming ‘FISH’ sporting a double side-by-side slide. Fish are attached to the shelter’s vertical columns serving as decoration and a climbing aid. Beveled tails allow for little fingers to get in behind, grab on tight and pull up.

Bevel-tailed fish provide little hands a purchase to help them climb

Just beyond the fish monger, weathered pilings evoke the old piers and docklands where some of the St. Lawrence Market goods arrived by lake in earlier times. Ladies and gentlemen, another play zone where Nellie is only too happy to let loose.

Round and round….

Doffing her cool yet constraining construction helmet, Nellie limbers up with 360° rolls on the bar – round and round, over and under, one big shock of hair nearly sweeping the ground. I’m starting to get dizzy watching her. Her upper body strength and sense of balance developed at circus school give her confidence making it all look easy.

…almost touching ground

The bars and the ice cream bounce are at the top of Nellie’s list of highlights but we aren’t able to give everything a whirl as the playscape is not yet at 100% completion. There, in the near distance still not quite ready to zip is something we’d both like to put through its paces.

Spin, spin, spinny

The roundabout brings a smile. In our Nova Scotia home – and many other parts of North America – the once common roundabout , or merry-go-round – is on the endangered list. Most of them have been hauled out of their native playground habitat as a misguided safety measure. We’ll be back to ride this eight station g-force popper on a subsequent TO visit. I can almost feel the sweet dizziness of it now.

Hats off to the municipality for giving the green light to this virtuous circle of spin and to Earthscape for a deft design touch. Kids, hold on and get acquainted with the wheel of fun.

Heading to the main gate, we thank Alex Waffle for a great behind the scenes visit. Kids, when you want to play with your food, get your folks to bring you on down to St. James Park. We say goodbye to this foodalicious play spot knowing we’ll be back on our next visit with the grandkids in tow.

Thanks to Nellie-Rose my inveterate player-tester for all these years in playgrounds, campsites and backyards throughout eastern Canada. For our daredevil girl it’s a two thumbs up day even if the construction helmet sometimes seems to have a life of its own.

No kid size construction helmets…

Nellie and I both need to grab a bite. Alex’s last name inspires us as we search out a brunch spot. Le Petit Déjeuner on King St. East – a quarter million eggs since 2002 – calls out to us. Nellie goes for Belgian waffles with a  swirly tower pf whipped cream – mmmmmmm…. or as they say in Québec miam, miam.

Before we head back uptown, we hit the market – literally a three minute walk away through the fragrant gardens in St James Park. Bounty, everywhere.

Fruit stalls St Lawrence Market

Outside the South Building, Nellie spies a stall with silver jewelry. Everything is made from recycled silver extracted from various sources. She chooses a a fine chain and a small medallion, a gift for maman. Thanks Mélanie – you made it possible for the two of us to adventure this day.

St. James Park Playscape – design and build by Earthscape with PMA Landscape Architects as project landscape architects.

Thanks Earthscape Alex what a great host and a huge shout out to the Earthscape family who know a thing or two about creating award-winning public play spaces for kids.

#playrocks  #playeveryday  #playmatters #playeverywhere

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Zip zip hooray

Skimming inches above the ground attached to a pulley hurtling down the line is an adrenalin charged zip, zip hooray moment. A steady stream of kids cycles through to the top of one of the twin ‘towers’ preparing to be airborne. Two zip lines, four feet apart are an invitation for back and forth races covering a distance of 100 feet.

Hands tightly grip batons as the zippers run down the 20º take-off slope before they launch — dangle — zip, or launch — drag — sputter in the sand.

This is a legs up course as there isn’t much clearance to glide over the ground surface. Either the lower legs are bent and thrust behind the zipper, or the legs are held in front of the body – both are a real workout for the abs. Of course where there are kids, there are variations….

Like the feet first ‘slice’ cutting through the air…

The ‘hopper’ reminiscent of a frog getting ready to spring off a lily pad.

Or as we can see below the closed-eyes wishing (left) and the eyes open, dust kicking dishing (right),

And the ‘going for the gusto’ parallel power start.

This zip line is located in New Brunswick’s Fundy National Park a two minute drive from the main visitor centre at the Alma entrance. There is a large grassy area, picnic benches and a variety of play structures. Our kids frittered around the other pieces but it was really the zipper that held the day.

Truth be told the kids haven’t encountered a functioning zip line they didn’t love. It’s the derringer-do, the exhilaration of defying gravity and yes, where there are double lines, the fun and thrill of racing…..

For Nova Scotia readers, there are a couple of new zip lines that have been installed recently in Kentville’s Oakdene Park

Zip you later…

on the waterfront – kids just wanna have fun

where sea meets city is not always a pretty sight – docklands, railyards, industry and in the worst cases some nasty effluents too. it’s cause for celebration when local governments get it right and reclaim urban seafronts for the public with a mash-up of recreational, residential and business opportunities.

residents and visitors to halifax have plenty to enjoy on a 1.5 kilometre boardwalk skirting the downtown core and the shoreline of the world’s largest, ice-free natural harbour. the space is a magnet for special events ranging from tall ships and beach volleyball tourneys to buskers and the night time art extravaganza, nocturne.

it’s also a place where fun and play abound as the kids showed us this weekend. the last thing we expected to come across was a bubble machine. but there it was manufacturing magical bursts of shimmery shapes (click for larger images).

 

 

all hail the bubble maker

 

 

closing in

 

 

bubbalacious

 

 

bubble poppin’ finale

 

 

for kids, the grown-up rest stops are quickly transformed into swing buzzes and obstacle courses…

 

hanging high

 

 

p is for pivot

 

 

stretching and hiding

 

 

then there is art as affordance, an irresistible invitation to skitter up to the crest of the wave sculpture and then slide down to the base…

 

cresting the wave

 

 

a hop, skip and a jump from the wave is halifax’s own orange sub complete with conning tower, escape slide, a jules verne see through nose and springrider whales flanking its seaward side.

 

we all play in an orange submarine

 

 

the sub is no longer quite as shiny as it appears in this photo from a few years ago but it continues to be a waterfront favourite with the kids. thanks to develop nova scotia as well as the municipal, provincial and federal governments for working together to make the land meets sea zone a kid friendly place with playable spaces.

what’s happening on your waterfront?

 

Kids and Freedom – Tim Gill’s HuffPost 9 Plus 3 from PlayGroundology

Great list from Tim Gill on giving kids more freedom in a recent edition of UK Huff Post. Each of the 9 items listed in the article will help kids blaze a trail to greater freedom. Together they are a powerful recipe for fun, discovery and stretching limits.

I’m supplementing Tim’s list with 3 additions of my own (10 through 12) to make it an even dozen. Send PlayGroundology a comment if you have items to add to the list.

10. Create opportunities for your kids to explore and play in the natural world. If you have green spaces close to where you live, set the children free to explore. If not, take them to a park, a ravine, to the woods, the seashore – many opportunities for play will present themselves and the benefits of spending time in nature are well documented. Do caution about potential hazards.

Because They Want to Live in Nature

11. Make your home a play zone. I’m not talking anything grandiose here, no large infusions of cash for play installations or play houses and such. Get a few loose parts – milk crates, tires, inner tubes, tarps, ropes, cardboard boxes, a few planks of lumber and let the kids have at it in the backyard. There are hours of self-directed play and discovery with this kind of material and your yard will become a very popular destination. No backyard? Get a small group of parents together and explore what’s possible on lands managed by your local authority.

In Kids We Trust

12. Listen. Listen to your kids about what they would like to do. They have great play ideas. Make the space and time to embrace some of them and enable them to happen. Listen to yourself, remember the play adventures you had as a child – savour, share with your own kids…

Fort Summer

Support play, independence and resilience – get the kids outdoors to explore and have fun.

 

Open House – Pop-Up Neighbourhood

This is a big shout out to the Pop-Up Adventure Play crew – Zan, Morgan and Andy. One year ago, they touched down in Halifax to kick off a very successful cross-Canada summer tour.

Click here, or on image for photo story.

Kids and adults alike had a great time creating and destroying over the course of nearly three hours on a sun washed summer afternoon. Check out some highlights in the photo story by clicking through above.

If you are intrigued by pop-up play and loose parts, then maybe Pop-Up Adventure Play’s next Campference in Houston, Texas is for you – details here.

Survey says – CityLab is looking for our help

Ok, actually CityLab is looking for a few minutes of your time, your opinions and insights. Thanks to Canada’s Mariana Brussoni for sharing news about this CityLab survey yesterday. The good people at CityLab are part of the Atlantic Media family. In short, their mission is to “focus on five areas of urban coverage—design, transportation, environment, equity, and life—as well as a new Solutions hub to collect the best ideas and stories for an urbanizing world.”

From Jessica Leigh Hester’s CityLab article – Science to Parents – Let Your Kids Run a Little Wild. Photo credit – Andrea Slatter/Shutterstock.com

The survey is a component of Room to Grow, a new series on raising small children in cities around the globe. In the survey’s intro (full text below), CityLab editor, Molly McCluskey, extends an invitation to parents to get involved: “If you’re a parent with opinions about how your region supports young kids and their caregivers, help inform our reporting by taking a few moments to complete the survey.”

Click through here or on the image above to go to the online survey

I completed the survey last night in just over 15 minutes. This is a great outreach and research tool that CityLab is developing. It’s a strategy that could benefit other publications looking for a broad range of input. Kudos to Atlantic Media for adopting this approach.

Here are a few sample questions that will whet your appetite.

Do you feel safe letting your child play outside in your city?
Yes
No
Other:

 

What has your city done to shape your feelings on this issue?

 

What are some of the biggest challenges in raising young children in your town/city?

 

How and where do you find community and support as a parent in your city?

 

Don’t delay, click here and complete your survey today. By doing so, you will help provide a foundation for more informed and relevant reporting on kids in the urban world from the good folks at CityLab.

Reporting like this –

From Mimi Kirk’s CityLab article Can We Bring Back Riskier Playgrounds? Photo credit – Lady Allen of Hurtwood Archives, Coventry, U.K.

Take a few minutes and share your thoughts. We will all benefit from more insightful stories that put children first.

Bouquets for play reporting in The Guardian

Hi Ashifa,

Hope you’re well today. I want you to know that The Guardian is one of my favourite publications. I’ll be renewing my annual subscription when it comes up in November. Also I am thrilled that the paper has deemed Canada of sufficient interest that we have a Canadian correspondent – you.

As you’ve discovered, we have news and stories galore to share with your readership around the world. Today I just read your piece on the west coast play brouhaha that was posted on the 12th – Canadian neighbourhood declares ‘war on fun’ with ban on outdoor play.

I understand why these stories are hard to resist. They make great copy. Indignant, or incredulous readers (myself included) can tsk, tsk, or titter, titter at decisions that have lost touch with common sense and situations that seem to emanate from some bizarro 5th dimension. As one twitter friend opined about this story – ‘stop the insanity’.

These narratives from the margins surface every now and then in countries around the world. It’s hard to be sympathetic to the protagonists of such ill conceived incursions into kids’ play.  Their actions seem to indicate a certain detachment from reality.

How about the Toronto principal a few years back that banned bringing balls to school… Or, what about those schools that had a no contact policy? Kids were not allowed to touch each other at recess or throughout the day. Put a crimp on a lot of outdoor games!

In Nova Scotia earlier this month, there was public outcry because many new primary students will not be able to play on schoolyard playgrounds when they enter school for the first time in September. Due to a change in government policy kids are entering a year earlier. The fixed playground equipment is rated for ages 5 through 12. During the school day, kids younger than that are persona non grate.

Invariably the arguments put forward purport a safety link of some sort and a desire to reduce risk and danger. More often than not they are a handy excuse to trot out and achieve stated objectives – no road play, no play on equipment that is not age appropriate, no play in undesignated play spaces, etc.

The Artisan Gardens story on Vancouver Island has gone the rounds – Global News, CBC, CTV, Times Colonist, BBC and The Guardian. Each of these stories would have been stronger had there been some mention of play’s changing dynamics in Canada. It would have raised the bar from good copy about a quirky subject to helping create greater awareness of the bigger picture.

Builders and designers, municipal leaders and recreation planners, educators and researchers are coming to similar evidence-based conclusions. Risk and resilience are closely linked and this understanding is helping to lead a renaissance of play.

Today we visited Kentville on Canada’s east coast. There was a festival where roads in the community’s downtown were cordoned off so kids and adults could chalk the streets. This is an example – and there are many more – of some of the great things that are happening in Canadian communities.

Source: Town of Wolfville Facebook Page

It’s encouraging when assignment editors dispatch reporters to get stories on play, or when reporters themselves pitch these stories to their editors. If these ‘gotcha, good copy’ stories could provide just a little more context on some of the exciting developments taking place across the country like Calgary’s itinerant loose parts, Coquitlam’s new adventure playground, the proliferation of natural playgrounds, or the important work being supported by The Lawson Foundation… Well us play people would be jumping for joy.

Oakdene Park, Kentville, Nova Scotia

Ashifa – if you ever make it down our way to Nova Scotia, Canada’s Ocean Playground, give us a shout and we’ll be happy to introduce you to some great play stories.

Speaking of which here are some more fine stories from The Guardian on play.