Rabbit, Hare, or Rodent? Giant Animals in Argentina’s Public Spaces

This weekend’s inbox surprise comes all the way from Buenos Aires, Argentina –  that hemisphere right next door, a mere 9,000 kilometers to the south of our Halifax home.

At first I thought the photo was a ‘burro’ or maybe a rabbit. Pablo de Speluzzi, co-founder of MOLE and creator of this play sculpture, let me know I was wrong on both counts. Looks like a rabbit but not really. It’s a mara, a kind of Patagonian hare, actually less hare and more rodent than anything else. What do you think of the likeness?

The similarities are quite striking, all the better given that this sculpture is part of the Ecoparque Interactivo – the City Zoo . As you can see in the time lapse below, kids get to climb up the rear legs, slide down the fore legs, crawl, jump, and slide down the fire pole up front.

This is a variation in Argentina’s standard play fare. MOLE Sculptural Playgrounds is planning for more of their creations to hit the street – macaws, t-rexes, dragons, whales, armadillos, tigers, submarines and castles…

MOLE makes large-scale pieces with an organic design aspect bringing back thematic installations that seek to recover free play’s storytelling element. The pieces are inclusive of parents joining in the children’s play. This aspect is central to the whole concept as it is incorporated in the design as a key feature.

Co-founder Pablo’s son turned five-years-old on May 12. Mole will have a great test pilot for years to come. Let’s hear it for Argentina’s new play sculptures.

Thanks for reaching out Pablo – muchas gracias.

Pablo de Speluzzi and Horacio Dubcovsky, co-founders – Mole.

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The Greatest Show

There is a whisper of warm in the air this fine Montreal day. It’s not hot though by any stretch. A grimy, grey urban snow is stubbornly hanging on over much of the grass and scrub land.

Next to a rail line, in the shadow of the Van Horne overpass, two kids play in a narrow strip of what was once underutilized, neglected space. It’s now part of a regreening that embraces this Mile End neighbourhood – marshalling land and engaging community participation to help preserve and expand nature’s footprint.

The kids, members of the Le Lion et La Souris family, are immersed in a pas de deux. It’s a timeless dance where mud and melt water are the sacraments. The two lads are so engrossed in this organic world of their own making that my arrival barely registers a passing notice.

As the boys stir up foul looking concoctions and pour potions into vessels and through the slats of a pallet, they open a window and let me in. The kids and I check each other out by goofing around with some spontaneous sound and word games.

Over the next 45 minutes, I marvel at their ingenuity and the consonance between do-it-yourself resourcefulness and budding resilience. It seems they are impervious to the wet and cold. They elevate scrabbling in puddles to a vocation, no, even more than that, to an art form.

“By giving children the space and time to play as they want — with each other, alone, in nature, with loose parts or found materials — Le Lion et La Souris is saying to children: you matter, what you like matters, how you play matters.”

Stephanie Watt – City Councillor for Rosemont La Petite-Patrie

 

In this minimalist setting the lads are attuned to each other’s company. They need little to inspire their colourful tapestry of play. With the exception of the occasional glance our way, they are self-sufficient in the moment, oblivious to the nattering adults.

Eventually the boys break away from the pallets and puddles opting for more vigorous shenanigans. Sticks are found and brandished about. There’s not a poked out eye to be seen, anywhere.

Running ensues in speeding bursts to hide, to get away. The tagged shipping container offers a great rope swinging escape route from marauding zombies. Then it’s an almost seamless transition into some mild rough and tumble, the older boy taking care not to overwhelm his younger friend.

This is my first visit to Le Lion et La Souris and I am amazed at this tour de force, this panorama of play. Now I’ve known about the community-based non profit for a few years. Last summer we both hosted our mutual friends – Pop-Up Adventure Play on their cross-Canada tour – presenting workshops and loose parts play extravaganzas in Montreal and Halifax.

“Children who get to be at the heart of their play learn to know themselves, to negotiate, to create, to evaluate and take risks, to play different roles, to work through emotions and challenges. For me, L&M makes our city more resilient and inclusive.”

Stephanie Watt – City Councillor for Rosemont La Petite-Patrie

 

It’s good to connect and learn how the small team at Le Lion et La Souris is evolving and making an impact. As I speak with playworker Gabby Doiron, she tells me how she had been invited to another Montreal neighbourhood, Pointe-Saint-Charles,  the previous evening. A group of mothers interested in establishing an adventure playground were looking for some information and inspiration. Forty years earlier a short-lived adventure playground had been a going concern in the community and these moms are hoping to bring a new one to life.

Those Pointe-Saint-Charles parents and others across the country are eager to see kids getting their play on, experiencing a wider range of play opportunities in public spaces. This is a conversation that is gaining steam at the grass roots level as well as within the mainstream media – witness recent articles in Maclean’s, Le Devoir and The Canadian Press.

Gabby is fully engaged in helping others others explore independent, child-led play. She’s moved from the academic realm, researching a Master’s degree focused on Cornelia Hahn Oberlander’s Expo 67 playground to playworking at the aptly named Champs des possibles in Mile End on Montreal’s Plateau. She loves the kids and the community-based model but stitching a budget together is always challenging.

The kids started breaking the ice. It was like a tiny pond. We started calling it The Lake because it got quite big and it was very deep…

Gabby Doiron – Playworker, Le Lion et La Souris

 

Here on this small strip of land, the possibilities for play run very deep. To explore, to be dirty, to fall, to hide, to swing, to run, to risk a tumble, to have some fun these are boundless wonders. Surely this is the greatest show and Le Lion et La Souris are exporting it to other parts of the city, to schools, parks, community groups, even to the Canadian Centre of Architecture.

Le Lion et La Souris continues to reach out and make connections. This summer they will host a course with the Forest School of Canada. Other communities can perhaps benefit from their go local, embrace global model.

This grass roots playwork is supplemented by a growing body of research in Canada on a variety of topics: risk and play – Mariana Brussoni; outdoor play – Beverlie Dietze and Diane Kashin; loose parts play – Caileigh Flannigan; and. unhealthy food – Sara FL Kirk. Supported by their institutions, governments and charitable organizations such as The Lawson Foundation this research is helping to define policy goals and influence a renewed understanding of play opportunities for kids in public spaces.

Walking away from the Champs des possibles I am rejuvenated. I’ve caught a buzz being up close to all that unfettered, unrehearsed play. I’m energized as I head north to Le Diola on Jean-Talon for a fine Senegalese meal with one of my oldest friends. Play on…

Now, last word to the kids.

 

 

 

 

 

Travelling with Saint Christophe, or There’s a Slide on my Street

When playfulness is injected into a cityscape a touch of magic can ensue, a breath of disbelief, an abandonment of convention. There’s a newish such micro-wonder in the heart of Montreal. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

From la rue Sherbrooke, not far from Parc Lafontaine, two flights of stairs take pedestrians to la rue Saint-Christophe. It seems like a standard stairway until the white slide pops out side by side the second run of rust-stained, iron steps. It’s a small space and a relatively gentle angle of descent.

I set up a camera on a tripod on the level ground at the bottom thinking of doing some streeters. Well I do five or six but they are of the one line variety and most people, though bemused, don’t reply to me.

I ask one woman in her late 20s, early 30s, if she ever slides down. Des fois dans l’hiver – sometimes in winter – she replies looking back at me. A man in his 70s peers a little askance at the scene – the camera bag, satchel, the tripod, me running up the stairs to slide badly with nothing even approximating swiftness, acceleration, speed. Do you know, he says, il n’y a pas d’enfants ici… He walks off and in truth I have not seen one kid since I arrived.

A smartly dressed couple about my age step jauntily down the last flight of steps. They’re smiling at my interest in the space and encourage me to:

Profitez-en… Enjoy.

I don’t want to get too old to have fun, I say.

Doesn’t seem to be any fear of that happening, they say sauntering along their way.

It’s a very urban space with the smallest little green patch that has no green yet this early in the spring.

The slide is a behemoth, no fear of pranksters running off with it as it appears to be made of concrete.

A sign advises that I’m within the age range to use the equipment but apparently I’ve been breaking the law all afternoon as the city slide is not to be in use until after April 15. Who knew – guilty as charged.

What out of the ordinary play spots are in your community?

Aside from my half-dozen, half assed attempts there is only one other brave, or foolhardy person to take the challenge while I’m on site – a younger lad who went down semi-crouched and was a bit speedier about it than me. Oh and for the record, I did not witness anyone running up…

Now as much as I love this imaginative planning idea – a little shortcut between street levels to brighten pedestrian days, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a neighbourhood somewhere in the city, a quartier populaire teeming with kids who would fly down this gift and make it a focal point of fun….

Perhaps this is only a prototype. Imagine if it was exported to other cities and installed in the likes of Paris’ hilly Montmartre. In Halifax, we could have some fun with this concept at The Citadel or Grand Parade. It could be a great companion piece to The Wave.

Under a Wide and Starry Sky We Say Goodbye

Condolences to the DeKoven family. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

Give thanks that Bernie DeKoven was part of our lives. His kindness, generosity and pioneering work focusing on play as one of the core elements of our humanity, touched so many through the years. With his passionate embrace of discovery and inclusiveness, Bernie helped to create a more playful world.

His lifetime commitment to A Playful Path has enriched us with a wealth of treasures and resources not to mention the miles and miles of laughter inspired by his playful perspectives. The Shaman of Play was fully, wholly, unremittingly engaged in DEEPfun. Thank you Bernie.

A Play Day at the Park in Indianapolis is planned for early this summer. In lieu of flowers, Bernie’s family is welcoming donations to the Indianapolis Parks Foundation to help support this event and add more fun to Ellenberger Park. Please note Bernie’s Project in your donation.

 

Winter Trekking with the Pack

The pack wakes up well rested in the cabin’s common sleeping area. Some of the kids have never been away from home overnight, or went to bed without a tuck in from mom, or dad. Now after a good night’s sleep we’re gearing up for the first full day of our most excellent Camp Harris adventure.

After fueling up on a solid camp breakfast of bologna, scrambled eggs and toast, we’re ready to roll. Almost the entire pack is present for the weekend getaway. Altogether there are 16 Cubs – boys and girls aged 8 to 10 and a handful of adult scouters caring for them.  A mild February morning awaits and the kids need no encouragement to explore the outdoors.

We set out hiking a trail that leads down to the water. Looking around, we see that camp buildings are the only visible structures on our side of the lake. There are no roads, sidewalks, cars, no power lines. The path, partially concealed by snow, is slick in places. For some it’s easier to walk on either side of it.

Enthusiastic hoots and hollers ring into the sky as we cross an open field on a gently descending gradient.  Closer to the shoreline stands of trees border the path and ice is thicker on the ground. Skates might prove to be a better footwear choice on some of the terrain. Rabbits have passed this way before us, their prints clearly stamped in the snow.

We arrive at the top of a small hill sheer with ice. In the near distance, the path continues skirting the shoreline. There is a brief discussion on whether we should head back. After assessing the risk, we position one scouter at the base of the hill. Some of the cubs opt for the full throttle slide down while others choose to walk gingerly through the trees.

Down at the bottom, there is hill on one side of us and the lake on the other. We can’t push much further along the path as kids are losing their footing tumbling and scrambling on uneven ice. We see a nice clearing overlooking the water and climb over, under and through an entanglement of natural debris to reach it.

After traversing this organic obstacle course, we sit as a group, rest a little and briefly experiment with being still and quiet. There is a nanosecond of silence. Then we’re off on the reverse journey. Up and over the dead wood with a little tricky balancing. The ice hill looms. A direct assault is not feasible. It’s through the trees and into the open where the path levels out.

Just before we reach the closest camp cabin we stop to play. A few grizzled and grey trees with scarred trunks and broken branches beckon enticingly. They look like skeletal remains bereft of a once greener glory. Before you can say ‘Mowgli’, a half-dozen cubs seize the day launching an impromptu demo of climbing prowess.

There is a rare moment of gender balance. Three girls and three boys are enjoying each other’s company while scrabbling around a tree looking for the best perch. From their lofty heights they become lookouts with a bird’s eye view of rolling fields, hiking trails and the open, cloudless sky.

On the second day of our Camp Harris adventure, the cubs break out into their lairs for some shelter building. Provided with lengths of rope and a tarp, the cubs are left for the most part to their own devices.

The three lairs charge off in different directions to scout the perfect location. The most pressing requirement is to find suitable trees and bushes that can be used as a windbreak and double as anchors to tie off the tarps and give form to the shelters.

It’s a great way to wind up our Camp Harris outing. A light drizzle provides an opportunity to test the structures to see if they provide a refuge from the elements. There is plenty of discussion within the lairs on how to complete the task, on what might work best. It’s a real team effort with everyone pitching in.

Despite the sometimes inclement weather, the outdoors are the default of choice for the kids over the course of the weekend. There are campfires, songs and toasted marshmallows – thanks Pete for keeping the flame – and games of stealth and strategy pitting cubs against the adults.

As the kids pack up and get ready for their parents a happy exhaustion permeates the air. There is a glow on their faces, a spring in their step. They have tasted adventure, trekked the woods with friends and shared the camaraderie of discovery and wonder.

Editor’s note – Fifty years ago I spent a weekend on a similar adventure at Camp Samac in Oshawa, Ontario. We learned to make fires one fall afternoon, walked in the woods and threw twigs down the chutes of a huge hydro dam. My papa was the Akela for the pack and I have many happy memories from those days that still burn bright.

 

 

Une bonne idée – A good idea

Ed’s note – This post is from my second blog – Ta daaa – 180 Days of Magic written ten years ago during a six-month parental leave. I stumbled across it tonight as I was doing some digital dusting.

It struck me that ‘good ideas’  are frequently the raw ingredients that kids bring to independent play. Granted a few bad ideas slip through on occasion but it’s the good ones that have legs and get passed on.

In all, I was fortunate enough to take two parental leaves. They were by far and away the greatest gifts I ever received from my employer. I hope you enjoy this little riff. If you are a parent, a caregiver, a playworker, an educator you are undoubtedly familiar with the joyful abundance of kid-generated good ideas.

Apparently I was numerically challenged when this was written as I am counting four not five examples of good ideas…..

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Une bonne idée – a good idea – appeared on the scene within the last 3 weeks. It’s an expression that has become quite au courant in our household. Noah-David has generated sufficient bonnes idées within the last couple of weeks to single-handedly fuel several editions of the Nobel prizes.

Frequently, the good ideas being churned out of our son’s playful idea factory are qualified by one, or multiple “verys”. This is quite useful in helping to determine Noah’s doggedness and tenacity as a young creator in pursuing said bonnes ideés. Like elsewhere in life ideas come and go but usually the very, very, very, very good ones are here to stay.

These good ideas speak to a pick up in tempo in Noah’s cognitive abilities. Language acquisition is accelerating again much as I wrote about last August in “Frog’s Out of the Box – Random Passages”. Now the building blocks are small sentences and the architecture is becoming simultaneously more solid and complex, exploring and creating more frequently in the conceptual world.

The good ideas come in 2 broad and sometimes linked categories. The first consists of those ideas that require maman, or papa to play with, or set up play for, Noah-David – bubbles for instance are always a good idea.

The second category is ideas as a bridging mechanism – a means to move from an undesirable situation to one that is more palatable. Examples would include “good ideas” that would be instrumental in delaying nap or bedtime or getting dismissed from the dinner table without having finished the meal. These ideas generally present an alternate, substitute activity and often are not quite as brilliant as our young Einstein may have thought.

June 7 – First Five Good Ideas (posted as they’re presented to us)

  1. At 9h30 this morning the good idea was to have papa and maman drive papa’s 17-year-old daughter to work but beforehand to take out his dumptruck and some other favourite toys. He would stay behind to look after Nellie. This was an alternative to him accompanying papa for the drive.
  2. Just before lunch Noah-David got a little pee spot on the front of his pants. Instead of clothes change his good idea was to lie on the home office’s carpeted floor in a pool of sunshine to dry the wet spot and then head outside again to play.
  3. Early evening out in the backyard the good idea is, a ball for Noah, a ball for me – we sit up on the upper deck and roll the balls down the ramp to the lower deck. The ball that goes the farthest wins.
  4. Just a bit later than the previous good idea. This time we hide and scare maman and Nellie-Rose when they come back from the groceries. We make our hideout crouched down behind one end of the front porch and lazily watch the world go by on the street. A good idea indeed but we were unable to maintain the element of surprise as it kind of leaked out in a constant, barely muffled belly jiggle giggle as soon as maman shut the car door.

The ultimate affirmation from Noah indicating we have a meeting of the minds is when he looks up at me with his beautiful, brown eyes and says in either a confidential, or an excited tone, depending on the occasion – papa, c’est une très bonne idée. I affirm Noah a lot in his presentation of good ideas just as my parents did with me. Good ideas are an exciting development for our lad and although their frequency may vary over the years, it’s great to know they’re here to stay.

Postscript – Noah continues to have ‘good ideas’ at a very respectable pace – they’re related to sports, adventure, discovery, building self-made structures and sometimes even, school.

From the PlayGroundology post, Fort Summer

The Big Kids Bring Play to Davos

This week in Davos, four global corporate players – The LEGO Foundation, Unilever, IKEA Group and the National Geographic Society – launched ‘The Real Play Coalition’. As founding members, the respective CEOs are committed, “to create a movement that prioritises the importance of play as not only something that lets kids be kids, but as something that sparks the fire for a child’s development and learning.”

Source: World Economic Forum (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Each of these organizations has established its bona fides in relation to bringing a kidscentric lens to their corporate social responsibility. Collectively, The Real Play Coalition has the profile, the reach and arguably the capacity to up the ante by bringing heightened visibility and awareness to play as a public policy issue. A collaborative push that injects financial resources into research, strategies and activities will hopefully lead to outcomes that will make a difference for kids.

Newly arrived IDP children play at the IDP centre in Los Altos de Cazuca, outside Bogota. Photo credit – UNCHR.

This scenario is cause for quiet celebration. There has been a steady erosion of independent play, mobility and unprogrammed time for kids over the last two or three decades in many parts of the northern hemisphere.  In recent years a renaissance of play seems to be taking hold where risk is not demonized and resilience is embraced. This nascent movement is not founded in a nostalgic throwback to the past but in a deeply rooted belief that play is integral to our well-being informing the social, creative, physical, spiritual and cognitive dimensions of our life journey well beyond childhood.

One of the tiles by Québecois artist Gérard Dansereau on a path in Montréal’s Salamander Playground that celebrates the Conventions on the Right of the Child

The challenges facing children and families in low-income countries are of an entirely different magnitude. Endemic health problems, political turmoil and armed conflict frequently eclipse concerns about children at play. Nevertheless these kids also have a need and, more importantly, a right to play as recognized by Article 31 of the Conventions of the Right of the Child.

The world is a big place and the Coalition’s desired reach is global in scope.   What an opportunity to mobilize goodwill, to learn from different cultural traditions and to act with conviction and humility in the service of children. Success will come in part through an unwavering focus on inclusiveness, diversity and accessibility.

I say bravo to John, Paul, Jesper and Gary for embarking on this ‘good work’ and encourage other captains of industry to follow suit. Some may not think the corporate motives are purely altruistic – be that as it may.  I do believe the desire and the commitment are authentic and that kids will benefit from this remarkable gesture that invests in them.

Coalition members’ previous experience working with children in various parts of the world, a collaborative approach and access to top creative teams augur well for awareness, action and achievement of goals.

Play Lab, a model for integrating learning through play into the lives of young children in Uganda, Tanzania and Bangladesh with LEGO Foundation and other partners (2015)

Who can forget the powerful, disturbing and moving video on time spent outdoors produced by Persil UK, a member of the Unilever group.

There are so many groups that could benefit from some support to continue their good work in play. I think of the Mmofra Foundation in Accra, Ghana, of Think Playgrounds in Hanoi, Vietnam, of Basurama from Spain and active on four continents and Pop-Up Adventure Play and Glamis Adventure Playground in the UK.

What about the researchers, foundations, national and international organizations – Tim Gill (UK), Mariana Brussoni (Canada), Brendon Hyndman (Australia), The Lawson Foundation (Canada), Play Scotland and the International Play Association.

As a parent and father of five kids who has been writing and curating about play for eight years and organizing public events, I would love the opportunity to contribute to the Coalition in some capacity. I’m sure I’m not alone.

I hope that it’s a big tent getting pitched that many can play in – inclusive, not institutional, aspirational and pragmatic, business like yet full of heart and compassion.

I’m looking forward to see how it all develops and helps kids get their play on.

PlayRocks…