Today Only: Popping The Bubble Wrap with Tim Gill in Halifax, Nova Scotia

If you’re in the Halifax area, we hope you can join us at 2:30 this afternoon at the funked up Halifax Central Library to hear about risk and play from Tim Gill, one of the UK’s leading thinkers on childhood.

Risky play is crossing a lake with not a lot of rocks (to step on)…..

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Tim Gill - Public Event Poster 8x11A helping hand to adventure……

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Tim Gill - Public Poster Library Screens Draft 1-01Getting Out on a limb

Hope you can join us at the halifax central library….

halifaxcentrallibrary3Photo credit – Alexa Cude

100,000 Welcomes – Tweeting in Tim Gill

Tim Gill will be in Halifax in just a couple of days as he wraps up a cross country tour focused on kids and play. This week, Nova Scotians may have read about Tim’s public talk scheduled for May 17 in The Chronicle Herald or heard him being interviewed on CBC Mainstreet.

out on a limb riskyplayout on a limb risky play

I’ve been contributing as a volunteer to a great team that has made Tim’s visit to Nova Scotia possible. Please join me in a big shout out to Stepping Up Halifax, the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness, Halifax Public Libraries, members of the organizing committee and all those who have assisted with promoting the May 17 event.

I’m asking PlayGroundology readers to help tweet up a little storm in that 100,000 welcomes kind of way to make Tim feel right at home in Canada’s Ocean Playground. Please feel free to use any of the photos below on Twitter, Facebook or other social media channels to say welcome Tim and promote Sunday’s event.

Here’s a suggested sample tweet that any of the #riskyplay photos below can be attached to:

Jump up 4 #riskyplay w @SteppingUpHFX @timrgill May 17 http://on.fb.me/1CHb3yQ @hfxpublib #playmatters

The Wave riskyplayriding the wave risky play

Backyard adventure riskyplayBackyard Adventure Risky Play

SwingJump riskyplayswing jump risky play

make believe sailors riskyplaymake believe sailor’s risky play

Jump for riskyplayJump for risky play

Four in a Tree  riskyplayFour in a Tree

Boat Magdalen Island riskyplayCharting the Course for Risky Play

Hoping you can spare a few moments to tweet and share these photos…..

Kids Play Book – Visual Basic

It’s Friday with anticipation of the weekend just on the horizon. Seems it’s a day for surprises and treasures. I’ve just stumbled on a ‘new to me’ site, a place crafted with the love of games and play.

PlaybookScreenshot Kids Play Book

If you haven’t heard of Kids Play Book, you’ll have no trouble whiling away a little time as you watch kids from around the world do their play thing.

Videos are indexed by country and by category and there is also a ‘random’ option. Kids Play Book is brought to us by Dutch filmmaker, Jules Oosterwegel. He has collected nearly 400 games from over 20 countries.

His latest expedition had him recording games in Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. Here is a little sneak peak from his latest trip showing Jules in action with some school kids.

The background image for his site, Brueghel’s Young Folk at Play couldn’t be more appropriate. And there’s more, a hefty bibliography on play and games.

Thanks Jules, a great way to start my Friday as we head into a weekend of tree fort and shelter making.

Round and Round and Round

When my twenty-something daughter was a wee girl, we’d walk hand in hand a few blocks up the street to a small park. The summer sky’s frolicking blue and whispery wisps of cloud were an invitation to the outdoors. The expanse of grass was always a marvelous shade of green speckled with bursts of dandelion and splashes of clover. It was a small patch of play, in a small city, along a small strip of harbour nestled away from the vast ocean’s curling waves.

CurlingWavesPhoto credit – Alexa Cude. Atlantic waves

Invariably on each visit, over a period of several months, we reenacted that children’s classic, The Three Billy Goats Gruff. I was typecast as the troll. My daughter, with nary a missed beat, took on the the role of each of the Goats Gruff in succession with a flourish that only a four-year-old could muster.

There was a perfect little arched bridge leading from one slide platform to another. As the Goats Gruff trip-trapped over the bridge, I would lunge out with a troll-like cry inflected with just the right amount of fright to challenge the saucy Goats Gruff who dared to cross my little stream. Billy Goat Gruff the elder and his trip-trapping, troll trawling ways were always a great canvas for giggles, running and laughter.

3740887053_279d02e05f_o.jpgPhoto credit – Christopher Charles. Three Billy Goats Gruff. License – (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The neighbourhood playground was also a great spot for getting up close and personal with the dirt, throwing stones, picking flowery weeds, chasing butterflies – all those priceless activities whose only subscription fee is time. There were many fine moments for us at Halifax’s Ardmore Park and the most rollicking was certainly the tire swing.

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Round and round and round we go
Where we stop nobody knows
Round and round on the tire swing
High in sky like a bird on the wing

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Not a million seller this ditty of a tune that’s for sure. It made my daughter and I feel rich beyond compare though as I propelled her through the air with great centrifugal force on an elliptical dipping and dropping trajectory – ‘high in the sky like a bird on a wing’.

The Unorthodox ApproachPhoto credit – Stephanie Sicore. Unorthodox approach. License – (CC BY 2.0).

This vulcanized donut suspended on three chains from a heavy duty swivel hanger was the most grueling, adrenaline-charged ride of the playground. My girl’s appetite for the round and round seemed insatiable. Sometimes when the tire came to a standstill and she unclasped her tiny little fingers from the cold chain links and slipped through the hole tippy toes to the hard-packed earth below she would be a little wobbly.

I never tired of pushing her, or singing the song. It was one of those wonderful simple, timeless pleasures. The playground was made over years ago and the tire swings removed. The song lives on with her younger siblings and will undoubtedly get an airing with her soon-to-be niece

On occasion Alexa and I still find a moment to walk hand in hand but it’s more likely to be a lunch at my office when our schedules permit. She is a wonderful photographer and if you’d like to see some of her work check out seriouslyalexa on instagram. Lots of great photos there including those two much loved scamps in her life, the fearless canine duo – Yeezy and Ace.

Horses with PapsPhoto credit – Alexa Cude. Horses with Scotland’s Paps of Jura in the background

Later today we are celebrating her birthday with a brunch before her lad whisks her away to a mystery destination. Who knows, maybe they’re headed to their local tire swing?

Happy Birthday Alexa
Love Papa

Embracing Adventure in 1970s Pointe-St-Charles, Montréal

Take one part ideals, two parts architecture students then mix with a government program for youth employment and some underutilized land in a quartier populaire and what do you get? Well, almost smack in the middle of Montréal’s international limelight decade – bookmarked by Expo 67 and the 76 Olympics – you get an adventure playground and community gardens…

Witch's Hat - MontrealGargantuan Witches Hat, Pointe-St-Charles, Montréal

In the summer of 1972, Opportunities for Youth, a Canadian federal government program, enabled 18 young people to work on two playgrounds. Located on vacant lots in Pointe-St-Charles, these play spaces were inspired by Europe’s adventure playgrounds. There had never been anything quite like them in Montréal before or since. The projects were under the overall direction of McGill University School of Architecture students, Pieter Sijpkes and Joe Carter who encouraged counsellors to take their cues from the kids.

“It’s important to keep in mind that a clean playground with brightly coloured equipment does not necessarily make for a stimulating environment for kids.”

This is a partial list of what the neighbourhood kids got up to that summer taken from the project report – Opportunities for Youth – Perspective Jeunesse: Adventure Playgrounds – Green Thumbs, Sore Thumbs (a good read with plenty of images).

What they did for the summer

These activities fall squarely within the adventure playground canon and photos in the report (some reproduced here) show kids building, creating, experimenting – having the time of their lives.

CastleBuilding the castle

Sijpkes and Carter started from scratch with derelict, vacant lots and sourced a lot of their raw, play material from Montréal companies in the form of donations. They were aware that the European adeventure playgrounds owed much of their success to the presence of capable playworkers – plug here for Penny Wilson and the Alliance for Childhood’s Playwork Primer

JumbleIt’s all a jumble

“We discovered that kids love to build but that they love to to tear things apart just as much.”

DumpPlay zone

“We quickly came to the conclusion that this type of playground and a junk yard looked dangerously alike.”

The playgrounds were not runaway best sellers right out of the gate. Prior to and during the project itself, there was limited opportunity to engage with community parents and elders. For the first month, kids were not beating a path to either one of the playgrounds. Parties became the saving grace. They got the the kids flockin’ and the spaces rockin’.

PartySpaghetti Party Poster

“A playground of this kind only becomes an attractive place to go to when there is continuous activity – fires burning, water splashing, the sound of hammering, seeing colour, movement, people, friends.”

Forty years later, there are no adventure playgrounds in Canada to my knowledge. Readers please correct me if I’m wrong. In the UK, Germany, Scandinavia and Australia, they continue to be important kid spaces – fun fueled community assets – though some are facing funding squeezes from local authorities.

In the US, a few adventure playgrounds, such as the one located in Berkeley, California, are still in operation. Currently, there is a resurgence of interest in adventure playgrounds in the US related partially to discussions around risk and play. This interest has been reflected in the media through articles like Hanna Rosin’s The Overprotected Kid in The Atlantic and Erin Davis’ new documentary film, The Land that explores play, risk and hazard at an adventure playground in Plas Madoc, Wales.

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Isn’t it time that our children had this much fun, learned self-reliance, experienced risk and embraced lasting friendships based on the adventure of play? Are there any adventurous neighbourhoods, or communities in Canada stepping up and embracing the adventure? I would love to hear news of any adventure playground type activity already underway, being developed, or contemplated.

PulleyHome-made zip line

Many thanks to Pieter Sijpkes who got back in touch with me when I contacted him after reading a story in the Montreal Gazette that referenced his 1972, Pointe-St-Charles Summer of Play. Sijpkes and Carter’s willingness to try something new sure helped make a lot of kids happy.

Happy FacesSmiling faces

Here is part of what Pieter Sijpkes wrote to me in his reply.

I’m glad you stumbled on the little piece about the playgrounds we did in the early seventies. It seems society is moving in peristaltic movements .. about 30 or 40 years apart… your blog is what we had in mind in 1972… but the digital world was not born yet…

Across the decades, at interweb velocity perhaps this Pointe-St-Charles story will help to inspire new adventure playground stirrings in Canada.

One Little, Two Little, Three Canadians, We Love Thee – Who is Singing Canada’s Play People Chorus?

I pinched this ‘Four asks’ infographic from a Rethinking Childhood blog post published today by Tim Gill – it’s well worth a read. It’s brilliant that the Children’s Play Policy Forum has created a big tent for play where policy makers, researchers and practitioners from across the UK can get together to advocate and take action.

Four asks for playFour asks – for play, for health, for children, for everyone. Click to enlarge.

In the UK, non-governmental organizations – Play Scotland, Fields in Trust and London Play et al – that focus their work almost exclusively on children’s play have over the years become strong voices influencing national and local government policies. This is an important strategic difference when looking at the Canadian experience. Where is our Play Canada, Joue Québec, or Toronto Play?

It’s not that there is a lack of dedicated and fun loving Canadians who recognize and promote play. They range from educators, health care professionals, designers and landscape architects to journalists, municipal recreation leaders, parents, physical activity enthusiasts, public servants developing policy and programs and all the others who are part of the play continuum. But where are the unifying Canadian voices that focus exclusively on play and its benefits? It’s very possible that I’ve missed them and if so, I would like to get acquainted with any such groups.

Spirit of CanadaSpirit of Canada by Kyle Jackson

We Canadians wouldn’t be remiss in getting better acquainted with the best practices of other jurisdictions including the UK to see what could fly here. Never mind that, we could start sharing our own best practices related to play more broadly. In addition, a clearing house of information on children’s play research and initiatives from our various orders of government and non-governmental agencies would be a step in the right direction.

In 2017, the play world is coming to Canada’s doorstep as the City of Calgary, the International Play Association (IPA) Canada and the Alberta Parks and Recreation Association are hosting the International Play Association Conference. It will be a great opportunity for Canada to share its playbook and for Canadians to take stock of strategies that are advancing play in other parts of the world.

ConferenceInternational Play Association (IPA) Conference, City of Calgary – 2017

I just signed up with the IPA last April after meeting with the association’s President Theresa Casey. She was kind enough to take time out of her day and have a coffee with me looking out over Edinburgh’s Princes St. Gardens where on that day daffodils bobbed riotously in the wind and kids rolled down the grassy incline. What great work this IPA crowd is doing – more on them in a future installment of PlayGroundology……

DSC06497Princes St. Gardens, Edinburgh, Scotland

Do read Tim Gill’s post – Politicians told: invest in play, and children, families and communities will all see the benefits – then ask yourself, what can we do in Canada? What can be done in other countries?

Goin’ Mobile – Keep ‘Em Movin’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other findings include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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