California Dreamin’

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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….