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.

DSCF3106

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.

DSCF3079

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.

DSCF3094

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 waking 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.

DSCF3110

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.

DSCF3074

Close your eyes, think back, was there a fort in your life?

The Adventures of Vitamin N and The Play Rocks Kids

We encourage our kids to get daily doses of the outdoors. Whenever we can, we pack up the tent, tarp, sleeping bags, coolers, coleman stove, swimsuits, toys and then some and head out to our favourite campground in Nova Scotia’s Kejimkujik National Park – Canada’s far east.

Have you climbed a tree

Since the introduction of affordable digital cameras, I’ve snapped close to 100,000 photos. As recently as a decade ago, this volume would have been pretty much unattainable. I’m no photographer but given the high number of images, there is bound to be a few that don’t look too bad. I’ve selected some of these for this flickr collection – The Adventures of Vitamin N and The Play Rocks Kids.

VitaminN The Natural Choice

Kids, primarily my own, are the inspiration for this series which is being tweeted out as part of the Children & Nature Network campaign in support of Vitamin N. I was honoured to have been approached by the organization’s Director of Content Strategy and invited to participate in what they have dubbed the Vitamin N Challenge.

Stewards

The playful and penetrating inquisitiveness of kids comes alive in natural settings. They are awake to wonder, to life, to beauty. I like a French word that denotes a kind of heightened state – éveillé. It’s a word my partner loves to use when kids are spirited, engaged, questioning. These times with our kids remind me of my own childhood and my fascination with nature. This wonder was submerged for a few years but the family has brought it back to the surface.

We’re off to Kejimikujik again soon and I know we can count on reveling in many marvels disguised as simple pleasures.

Something happens to the temporal fabric here. There is a fluidity to the play – time continuum. Nothing empirical that I can put my finger on but I think we’ve all felt it. Our time perception behaves unexpectedly – a blurring, bending, compression and expansion.

Vitamin N keeps our guys hoppin’. Over the course of about 5 weeks the photo tweets have generated just over 30,000 impressions, a small and satisfying contribution to the overall campaign. Thanks to everyone who retweeted, liked and commented on the photos. More still to come.

Earlier this week I took five girls ranging from six to nine years-old to the largest natural playscape in Nova Scotia at the Natural Resources Education Centre in Middle Musquodoboit. I had a hard time getting the girls to leave as they were harvesting amphibians from the Frog Pond. Each of them was aglow with excitement.

Frog PondFrog Pond at the Natural Resource Education Centre’s Natural Playscape – the catch and release program was intensive…

Do you think #PlayRocks? Do you believe that kids can benefit from higher concentrations of Vitamin N? If you answer yes to one or both questions, then please share, like, tweet, or reblog this post and any of the photos in The Adventures of Vitamin N and The Play Rocks Kids flickr collection.

Even the smallest of the small are eager to explore.

In the ForestForest School, Fife, Scotland

Breaking New Ground – Loose Parts and the School Board

Ed’s note – It’s a pleasure to have a guest post on PlayGroundology from Tanya Moxley, a fellow co-founding member of Adventure Play YHZ, and as you will read below, a creative animator and leader for Halifax area pre and after school programs. With two young boys of her own, Tanya is a firm believer in the value of independent outdoor play. As she has shared with me on a number of occasions, their yard at home is a loose parts creativity and testing zone – a bit of a dream time for kids I would say. Tanya works as a volunteer at Halifax’s Wild Child Forest School where her interest is “working with parents to help them realize the importance of outdoor play for kids, families, and communities.” Tanya also spent three years working with a university professor researching links between outdoor play and child development.

This loose parts – school board story is an indirect outcome of a public meeting and subsequent practitioner’s workshop held in May 2015 with Tim Gill. Many of the Excel leaders were present at one of the two events which examined risk and play and a greater variety of play opportunities in public spaces. Hundreds of kids are saying thank you to the Halifax Regional School Board for stepping out and giving loose parts a try. Many thanks also to the Province of Nova Scotia’s Department of Health and Wellness whose Active Living Branch provided financial and logistical support that made Tim Gill’s visit possible.

____________________________________

My name is Tanya Moxley and this past year I worked as a Group Leader with the Halifax Regional School Board’s before and after school program, called Excel. The regional recreation programmers were trying to find a way to include elements of ‘loose parts play’ into the Excel program. Some schools found it easy to integrate loose parts into their days or weeks, but others found it more difficult to get started.

Tanya a

As I had joined Excel with some previous loose parts experience, we were able to introduce loose parts into the schedule at our school with considerable success in all the age groups from Primary through Grade 6. In a casual conversation with our regional programmer, I suggested in the late winter that I could visit some other schools to show them some of my own loose parts collection, and provide suggestions for both parts and storage. My suggestion was accepted, and I started my visits in late April.

For seven weeks, I visited a different school each Monday, Wednesday and Friday for their afternoon program, for a total of 18 schools around the Halifax region. I traveled about 1,000 kilometres, and met about 900 students. Kids everywhere love loose parts play, because the materials are open-ended and easy to manipulate, with many possible uses. They didn’t have to be convinced about how much fun it can be!

Tanya 2

One primary concern among staff was storage. Upon seeing the materials and how they were being transported, almost all the program leads agreed that they had at least that much space to spare. All of my materials fit into four milk crates and two small ‘Rubbermaid’ tubs (18”x18”x24”) in the back of my car. Well, not including the ‘pipes’. The ‘pipes’ are a dozen or so PVC plumbing pipes, each about 3 feet long and 2.5 or 3 inches in diameter. Some fit together and some don’t, which leads to much experimenting and collaboration. Those have to go in the backseat of the car, wrapped up in a tarp for easy carrying. The ones we use at my regular school are stored in the kind of garbage can you get for your house garbage, with wheels on the bottom so kids can pull it around.

Tanya b

Another key concern was safety, as many staff seemed to connect loose parts with danger. Once they saw the materials in use, everyone agreed there isn’t much risk, if any, involved. A nice thing about loose parts play is that it opens up conversations with the students about what risk could be involved, for example, in playing with long ropes. Having had a conversation as a group, the kids usually find ways to remove the danger, while still being able to use the item.

This is a much better way to prepare kids for a world that we cannot and should not make try to make perfectly safe for them! The alternative, removing the item from use, teaches students nothing about assessing risk and developing the abilities to figure out how to mitigate risk through conversation and intentional experimentation – problem solving in a collaborative manner. The safety questions also tended to answer themselves over the course of the sessions. There were no accidents in any of the 18 schools during the 1,000 kilometre loose parts Excel marathon. Among the many interesting observations, was one made by two team leads who remarked as I was leaving that the day had been the quietest one they’d had all year in relation to behaviour issues and disruptions.

Tanya d

In the larger programs (over 60 students), we held either one or two sessions of 30-40 minutes for younger students before the older students came out for their own session. In the smaller programs, the older students just joined right in with the younger ones. The largest group using the materials at one time was about 60, although this was only in one place where they had a particularly large, open outdoor space that accommodated the numbers. Usually the maximum was about 35. Setting up the space with similar items in groups, such as ropes, sheets, pipes, boards, digging tools, etc… allowed students to check everything out, get a group together, pick the items they wanted for a project, and then get to work.

Staff members at multiple sites confirmed one of our key observations at my regular school, that loose parts is an activity in which gr 4-6 girls get particularly engaged; they do not spend the session moping around and not wanting to participate, as often happens with sports-related activities. This ‘sold’ many staff on getting loose parts started as soon as possible!

Untitled

It was interesting to watch how the uses of the materials varied across the programs. At some schools the fabric was entirely for building forts. At others, a group of students turned some of them into clothes for role-playing activities and protected them fiercely from the ‘building’ group. Similarly, the pipes were used at some places for building complex systems for transporting items from one place to another; at others, they became just another building material for the forts. For a third group they became musical instruments in combination with containers and spoons that at other programs were used for digging.

Untitled

Much to my astonishment, I only got a rainy day for one site! It was foggy and damp when I arrived at Oyster Pond, but I set up outside anyway, and the kids had a great time for about 30 minutes before suddenly it was pouring rain. We quickly moved everything inside to an empty classroom beside their regular Excel room, and the kids continued their fun with forts and pipes for the rest of the session.

Their enthusiasm confirmed what I had been telling staff members at other sites – many of the materials work just as well inside as out. Tables on a side and some chairs work perfectly well for holding up forts! There were a few sites where I arrived the day or afternoon following a heavy rain, and the puddles in the play space provided an unexpected loose part that made for lots of extra fun.

All in all this was a great adventure, and I hope that many of the places I visited will take the time to integrate loose parts play into their schedule this fall – the kids certainly had lots of requests for their group leaders about which things they liked best!

For more on loose parts read In Praise of Loose Parts and How Not to Cheat Children – The Theory of Loose Parts.

Kids at Emmaus Catholic Primary School in Mt.Clear playing on unconventional play items, hay bales, poles, tyres etc. Year 3/4 get ready for action.

Kids at Emmaus Catholic Primary School in Mt.Clear playing on unconventional play items, hay bales, poles, tyres etc. Year 3/4 get ready for action.

Put on Your #PlayFaces Please and Hit Share

Join the PlayGroundology kids and get your family’s playfaces on! Share your photos on Twitter, FB, Instagram, Flickr using hashtag #PlayFaces. Together, we’ll create a virtual exhibition. Open to all ages – 9 months to 99 years.

Smile-1

There is nothing quite as magnetic or compelling as photos of kids having fun. The emotive charge is palpable. Movement, energy and flow course through the frozen frames.

#PlayFaces Noah

The laughter is almost audible. And, who can resist facial expressions that range from wonder through mischievous to discovery and beyond?

#PlayFace Lila

So how many photos have you got stored in the cloud, on your computer, your phone, or various portable drives? If you’re like me you have a few thousand. Ok let’s be honest – in my case it’s more like tens of thousands acquired over the last decade. With small ones in the household, north of 75% of my staggering number of gigabyte images star ‘the kids’. It’s no wonder we get lucky once in awhile with a good shot.

#PlayFaces-Trio II

I’ll be paying more attention and taking more #PlayFaces photos – our guys, other children and the rest of us unkids. The priceless moments of abandon are electric, their joy infectious. What’s not to share?

Please consider sharing your best shots to create a powerful, moving, international #PlayFaces virtual exhibition.

I’ll take this playfaces trio anytime – photo courtesy maman, ma belle femme – Mélanie…

As a bonus, here is a lovely gem in the study of facial expressions that I came across nearly 30 years ago when I worked at the Atlantic Film Festival in Halifax…

All photos in this post are licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Going, Going, Gone

I first came across Storehouse a couple of years ago and immediately fell in love with the platform’s luscious visual storytelling. The iOS app is easy to use and makes possible the creation of rich visual narratives using photo, video and text elements. Sadly Storehouse is closing down. Before it shutters for good on July 15, I invite readers to scroll through four PlayGroundology Storehouse stories that the app really helped whizz bang. Click through on images below to take you to the Storehouse stories…

Loose Parts Unplug and Play

My first Storehouse sortie captures the story of the first public play event I helped organize.

Unplug and PlayClick through to Storehouse story.

Skimming across the hay – no last straws here. In a flash the kids run over to explore. They are curious about the space, wondering…

Untitled 3Click through to Storehouse story.

Vernacular Play – Magdalen Islands

In Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawerence, a maritme play aesthetic.

Up, up and away  Click through to Storehouse story.

No text this time, the photos and video stand on their own. More though about Magdalen Island play experiences here

Steady as she goes  Click through to Storehouse story.

96 degrees in the shade – Székely

This one is subtitled ‘Playgroundin’ in tropical Paris’ and tells the story of the search for a 1950s Székely designed playground in a Paris suburb.

Székely I Click through to Storehouse story.

These are the pataugeoires – shallow, kiddy pools. One is deeper than the other and both are exquisitely detailed with carreaux cassés – broken tile mosaics now virtually a lost art. Our new playground pal Yves created carreaux cassés like this when he was a younger man.

Székely - Paddle pool detail  Click through to Storehouse story.

Quebec City’s Big Chill

There’s no place to celebrate winter fun like Quebec City’s Carnaval. Look for the cameo appearance by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau…

Carnaval IClick through to Storehouse story.

It’s no time to be still when a breath of wind drops the mercury to -39 C at Quebec City’s annual Carnaval…..

Thrills, spills – snowy saucers on sliding hills.

Sliding Click through to Storehouse story.

I’m going to miss Storehouse. I had so many more stories left to share. Thanks to the Storehouse crew for making a fun place to play….

Party

Editor’s note – this is a guest post by Tom Bedard taken from his blog Sand and Water Tables. PlayGroundology has had a few guest bloggers over the years and with one exception, that would be this one, I had some connection with the writer. This time around Tom doesn’t even know I’m sharing this piece. I’m doing so because Juliet Robertson suggested to a group in her network to share this piece as a tribute and honour to an individual who has contributed much to children and the world of play. Read on to find out about the best retirement party ever, a brilliant take on bringing people together through play.

Serendipitously, I was at a similar party earlier today in Middle Musquodoboit, Nova Scotia to celebrate the opening of a natural playground that was built with love through broad community engagement. I will be posting about the Natural Resources Education Centre’s Natural Learning and Play Space later this week.

I have been thinking about retiring for over a year. One of my big concerns was: What kind of party do I want because I knew the families in our program would want to throw a party. That was especially true because my colleague and mentor, Lani Shapiro, whom I have worked with for the past eight years, was retiring with me. Lani was the parent educator in the program and had worked very hard with the families to build a community, a community that looks inward at its values and outward to use those values to build a bigger, more inclusive community. To be true to our values, we wanted a celebration that included past and present families. We wanted a celebration that would bring them all together, not to talk about us, but to talk with us and with each other. We also had an obligation—yes, an obligation—to have the children be an integral part of the celebration.

In early winter, I had a meeting with an group of educators I meet with on a monthly basis to talk about large muscle play in the classroom. As we were leaving the meeting, one of the members off-evenhandedly asked another member about their adventure play event at his school. That question was all that was needed for the light to go on. I had read blogs over the past couple of years that talked about adventure play events. The one I have seen the most is Pop-up Adventure Play. It just so happens that the member asking the question is involved in Twin City Adventure Play. In January, I asked to meet with the group to talk about the possibility of doing our retirement party. I liked what I heard and asked them to give me a proposal I could send along to our advisory council. When the advisory council saw the proposal, they were on board immediately.

Fast forward to last Saturday. Parents had been gathering cardboard boxes of all sizes, cardboard tubes, fabric, sticks, rods, tape and you-name-it for two weeks. It was time to party. All the materials were laid out on the lawn.

party1

It might look like a recycling nightmare, but this was the invitation for the children to play.

The coordinator gathered the volunteers for a brief training, a training that encompassed their role in the event.

party2

Essentially they were to act as play workers to step back and monitor the play from the background and to only intervene when play looked dangerous. They were also encouraged to help other adults step back to let the children play.

party3

Of course, as the children arrived, they knew immediately what to do. No instructions were necessary; no dividing up into groups; no dividing into age groups. This was their play space to create their own narratives.

partu4

As the afternoon progressed, more and more people came and everyone kept busy. The adults got to visit and the children played. Old acquaintances were renewed and new friends were made.

Party5

There were short bursts of rain throughout the afternoon, but that did not dampen play. In fact, when it would rain, the adults retreated under the eaves of the school and the children kept right on creating, usually fabricating little shelters from the rain.

At the end, there was a little talking to the group about us and we got to thank the families for all they had given us over the years.

party6

As I drove home from the event, I could not stop smiling. I was ecstatic; I was floating on air. Ostensibly the families had come to celebrate our retirement. In actuality they came to celebrate a community; a community of families they had helped build over the years that respects children and their rights, that respects others and are not so quick to judge; a community that knows how to build community and will carry on.

We had well over 400 people who came and went throughout the afternoon. Sadly, I did not even get to talk to everyone who came. So let me now say to all of you: thank you for a splendid party. It was a superb sendoff.

P. S. I need to send a special thank you to Seniz and Damian from Twin City Adventure Play for creating the framework for our community to pull off this event. I hope others come to see the value in your work and guidance.

I also need to give a special thank you to the planning committee who spent many hours planning the event not really knowing what would happen but having the faith and conviction to make it happen. Thank you Nora, Vanessa, Anne, Brianna, Becca, Ella, and Dawn. You throw a great party!

The Box Syndrome

There’s a new playground in our neighbourhood and the kids are flockin’ to it. It’s shiny-off-the-shelf with multicoloured artifical turf. There are climby things, swings, yellow wind socks on poles and a moulded plastic percussion station. It’s a prefab wonder replicated in numerous jurisdictions across the continent.

PlayDirt

It’s after supper and our guys are clamouring for a visit. When we arrive with scooters, a bike and unbounded energy there are probably about 10 other kids already there. We are in Erindale an as yet unbuilt subdivision. Streets are paved, curbs installed and one lone show house looks out over empty lots of earth and rocks. The playground is an island surrounded by newly installed sods of grass and bordered by empty streets.

I notice the boy and girl as soon as we arrive. They’re whaling away with great intent in a muddy puddle. Each of them is wielding a wooden picket. I lean on the fence that separates the playground from the land under development. They see me watching them and continue with their play.

DSC03456

At this particular moment in time, these two kids only have eyes for the landscape around them. They are immersed in activity of their own design showing no interest in the playground that is only 100 metres distant. Their play continues in a leisurely fashion for nearly 20 minutes.

When the two playdirt kids come into the playground they tell me they are having fun over in the empty lots. They still have their stakes which are doubling as swords that they are brandishing in the air. The girl’s hands are caked in mud and both of them are coated liberally with dirt. The dirt does not seem to be a worry for either of them. Quite the opposite, there appears to be a quiet satisfaction in their state of blissful unkempt. The girl says her mom will just pop the clothes in the wash.

DSC03457

They chat with some friends in the playground, give the swings a desultory try and then it’s back to dirt paradise. The expanse of uneven terrain is a game changer for these two kids representing some variety in public space play opportunities.

I’m reminded of three things. First is the empty box at Christmas time. You know the one, it becomes the most fascinating play thing under the tree eclipsing even the toy that was packaged in it. On this occasion, our intrepid players choose hills of dirt, boulders and puddles over a brand new playground and in the process create their own play experience from what they have at hand.

The second thing I thought of was a conversation I had a few years back with Cornelia Oberlander, Canada’s doyenne of landscape architecture now in her 90s. She shared with me a conviction she has held for many years that I paraphrase here – all children really need for play is some sand, or earth, water and a place to climb…

Lastly, I remember my own fond encounters scrabbling about in the dirt, reveling in it in a Pig Pen kind of way.pigpen

So, here is a shot of the forsaken shiny new object. On this particular evening it did not have sufficient play magnetism to win over the two adventurers. It’s good to have alternatives and a muddy earth scenario can certainly be a winner.

DSC03461