The Grass Is Greener

“PLEASE WALK ON THE GRASS” the sign at the entrance to one of our favourite urban parks proclaims. As the car fades away into the hazy parking lot distance, an undulating terrain unfolds as far as we can see. There are acres of grassland, still ponds, stands of trees, walking paths and an unhurried meandering stream. The shift of scale and speed is a warm embrace as senses are awash in a new palette of sounds and colours. It’s as if the Toronto bustle has vanished.

Canada 2009 – Toronto Island. By Rudolf Cohilj from Düsseldorf, Germany – Toronto Island – CC BY-SA 2.0

As apartment-dweller kids we are happy to oblige our feet and get them all familiar with the springy green. We aren’t bereft of grass where we live. There is a decent amount right on our doorstep along with space to breathe and run. What we enjoy on a daily basis though pales in comparison to the full on magnificence of expansive park landscapes.

Regular family park outings are a thing since farther back than I can remember. Black and white photos of excursions from the early 60s show me all decked out in a little blazer, a bow tied shirt, dark shorts, almost knee highs and dressy shoes. I think of it as my High Park wardrobe. I wonder still if it’s special occasion outfitting or de rigueur for each visit.

There is not much I recall clearly from those early days except a massive pergula with what seemed like 40, or 50 hanging baskets of flowers, a huge circular path with floral pattern infill and rowboats skiffing across a reed ringed pond.

Over the years there were plenty of park walk good times. We’d drop coins in the well wishing for some kind of treat that often materialized later in the day. We kept active climbing trees, kicking piles of leaves and when we could get away with it mercilessly splashing the puddles dry. In lucky moments there were animal kingdom adventures – a rogue raccoon, the drumming thrall of a pileated woodpecker, the sidewise slither of a garter snake, or a ballet of monarchs flitting through a milkweed patch.

It was only in junior high that I started to kick up a fuss about the park expeditions. I eventually bowed out and stopped going pretty much altogether. But after all those seasons, all those steps – a sense of sanctuary had taken root.


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After a break of 20 years or so I resumed the park walks adding another generation to the mix. The parks were as good as ever. Well better, now I had kids of my own to bring along. With my parents and the small ones in tow it wasn’t long before I cottoned on that sharing the wonders of park adventures across generations makes for deep and lasting impressions.

Years ago when our son first started taking on walking adventures, we’d go to Halifax’s Point Pleasant Park during the spring melt. Rivulets no more than a foot across hugged the pathways. The deep gullies dropped down maybe four inches. On a day with flow, a small twig or leaf could hurtle 10 feet down the waterway fast enough to keep a nearly two-year-old on his toes. This small area of trees and twigs, of mud and wet, of grass and leaves, puddles and sky was the space he staked out to play, to discover, to paddle, to laugh. Week after week the fun continued until the temporary waterways receded. These little morning outings were the beginning of a series of outdoor adventures that continues to this day.

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Things have been going pretty well. All my kids appreciate the outdoors and to this day choose activities that bring them into close contact with nature. I’m hoping now that the gift of regular family park outings I received from my parents will be passed on by my kids. They seem to have the knack.

More than 60 years after my first park excursions, that simple, straight up invitation continues to resonate. What a stroke of minimalist messaging brilliance, five, one-syllable words to encourage a transition, an immersion into another world. PLEASE WALK ON THE GRASS. Whatever we do, let’s not worry if the grass is greener somewhere else, let’s just roll up our sleeves and get greening the best we can.

Gone fishin’

For many it’s April Fools Day tomorrow. My youngest daughter gave me the heads up as she was heading to bed that I will be getting quite the trick. Seems like water could be involved. Wish me well….

Here in Nova Scotia it’s also the first day of fishing season. Water will be involved for sure and we’re ready to go. My son was feeling a bit poorly today so I’m hoping he’s on the recovery list tomorrow. We planned months ago for him to take the day off school so we could cast a few.


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We’ll update you later in the season on how we’re making out. We’re hoping to hook some striped bass when the time comes in May or June. In case you’re wondering, we’re almost exclusively catch and release anglers. Talk soon – gone fishin’.

LetsGo LEGO – Build a World of Play Challenge

Some great news in this morning’s The Guardian re a new USD 143 million challenge – Build A World of Play – being launched today by The LEGO Foundation. Background and details are available in the Foundation’s news release and at the Build A World of Play Challenge website.

We must start building a world that puts the youngest in society first: building cities, education systems, healthcare systems and solutions to save our planet, at the forefront. This competition is an opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of the youngest children.

Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO of the LEGO Foundation

The Challenge focuses on early childhood – from birth to six-years-old – and will consider issues such as early childhood education, nutrition, emotional and social well-being of the family, and violence reduction among others.

LEGOLAND, California

The LEGO Foundation has a longstanding commitment to philanthropic work that benefits children. It is also known for engaging creatively in the promotion of play through global activities and alliances like The Real Play Coalition founded by The LEGO Foundation, Unilever, IKEA Group and the National Geographic Society in Davos in 2018.

We’re a four generation LEGO family here at PlayGroundology. There’s been a lot of building over the years – planes, boats, campers, ice cream trucks, farms, zoo enclosures, playgrounds and I’ve lost count of how many self-designed houses. Years ago, the kids were using blocks from LEGO’s little sister DUPLO as indoor skates. The ingenuity cracked us up….

With the kids getting older the storage area is now home to a big chest that no longer gets hauled out quite as frequently. When the grandchildren or younger neighbourhood kids drop in, out come the little bricks and the imaginations go wild.

Our oldest, now in the process of getting his driving licence, got his start behind the wheel at LEGO Land in California 10 years ago. Their electric car fleet brought a lot of joy to junior drivers and a good amount of laughs for parents. It was a great place to visit with so much less hype than many of the other theme parks.

 

It’s a fine day when a global corporation walks the walk re corporate social responsibility and spends goodly sums of money on children. That doesn’t preclude us from hoping they will commit more and that others will follow suit. I hope it works out that Low Income Countries and economically disadvantaged communities in High and Middle Income countries are the primary beneficiaries of this Challenge.

LetsGo LEGO!!

 

A Playsmith’s Unwitting Apprenticeship

Editor’s note

Play Outdoors Magazine is relatively new on the Canadian play and publishing scenes. Well known educator Dr. Beverlie Dietze is at the helm rounding up content from educators, practitioners and researchers. As editor, Dietze has a keen eye for stories that inform and inspire. You can get a preview of the Winter Issue here.

Play Outdoors Magazine – New Kid on the Block

Beverlie generously invited me to contribute a piece to this fourth issue that has just come off the press. Originally entitled The Accidental Making of a Play Enthusiast, the article appears below.

Leave of a lifetime

It all starts with 180 days of magic. For six months we savour everyday wonder. With our two small children in tow we embrace familiar spaces and explore faraway places. All the while, we are grateful for this seemingly endless parental leave horizon.

Open-ended adventures are daily occurrences. Frequently they are set in motion by our 2 1/2-year-old son Noah and his ever-expanding collection of good ideas. In our experience, good ideas lead to play. Play leads to laughter. Laughter leads to more good ideas and so it goes, a virtuous circle of discovery and joyfulness.

Anything is possible

Indoor road hockey is high on the good ideas greatest hits list complete with a rendition of the national anthem. Balls of all sizes, colours and bounciness factors that are ready to be rolled, kicked and thrown about are not far behind. Then there’s noise making par excellence, impromptu rehearsals with pots and pans clang-a-banging experimental compositions that only a father can love.

At six-months-old, Nellie-Rose’s merry gregariousness, fascination with touch and vocal orchestrations are play writ large. She is Miss Social Butterfly giggling, cooing and making eyes with everyone around her. With great intensity she moves her head this way and that following older brother’s escapades. She desperately wants to be part of the independently mobile club. Before long she’s moving under her own steam, uncontainable.

Nellie – raring to go

Play is a daily staple for the four of us and almost as sustaining as the air we breathe. For our infant and toddler duo, it is the main event interrupted only by basic needs like sleep and hunger. There is learning, there is bonding and just plain fun. It is all an incomparable gift.

Our hands are full, but we still have wiggle room to learn a few new tricks and not just of the parenting variety. I’ve had my sights set on getting up to speed with social media. Headfirst I plunge publishing a blog that recounts our family adventures throughout this 180-day trajectory.

One day on a visit to see grand-papa and grand-maman, we swoop down on several playgrounds in rapid succession in their hometown of Sorel, Quebec. My father-in-law is in his element. A physical education teacher, he knows all the best spots. He’s an attentive tour guide and his enthusiasm takes us by storm.

Playground Beat

Sorel is an early adopter of promoting playgrounds on its municipal website. This simple method of raising public awareness along with grand-papa’s discerning concierge persona inspires a new venture for the kids and I. On our return to Nova Scotia, we get ready for some extended play escapades as we kick off our own urban playground tour. We launch Playground Chronicles, one of the first blogs of its kind in Canada, to share details on outdoor city spaces dedicated to our youngest citizens. The first post features our neighbourhood park.

Hold on tight

In short order we’re criss-crossing Halifax putting playgrounds through their paces. Each post contains photos of the equipment at the featured playground(s), a narrative describing what is on offer at the location and a link to a pin drop on a dedicated Google map.

It’s a marvelous past time. Over the course of the blog’s four-year lifespan, Noah, Nellie and youngest sister Lila, who is born into the mayhem, are steadfast companions on the playground circuit. Noah bestows the ‘good idea’ brand on our project and keeps a mental running inventory of the places and equipment that meet his good housekeeping seal of approval.

On arrival at each new venue, there is a clamoring to get out of the car and then a burst of energy propels them into the new play area. The chorus starts almost immediately.

“Papa, papa, watch me, watch me.”

“Can you push me papa, can you push?”

“Look at me, look at me papa, I can do it myself.”

It’s a chance for the kids to strut their stuff, to demonstrate accomplishments and a dash of derring-do. For my part I utter an occasional cautionary ‘be careful’. In rare circumstances there are heart-stopping moments.

A going concern

One day the kids rush off in separate directions. I’m speechless when I locate two-year-old Lila. She is two-thirds of the way up a 12-step set of stairs leading to the top of a double-twist slide. Almost instantaneously, I’m right behind her. I didn’t know I was capable of moving so rapidly. She finishes the climb and whooshes down the corkscrew. Disaster averted, I can breathe again. In all our playgrounding years that was our closest call to an injury.

now and then

Early in the tour I notice some recurring themes. Off-the-shelf playground equipment from major manufacturers seems to be the prevailing flavour, resulting in a sameness in playspace after playspace. Old faithfuls, like roundabouts, are extinct. The up again, down again teeter-totters are on the endangered list. Playgrounds are underpopulated. Most children are accompanied by parents.

Can’t catch me

The continuing adventures of our merry band of playgrounders starts me thinking. Initially, I’m drawn back to my own childhood as a point of reference. In those mid-1960s grade school years, it seemed we had a little bit of everything at our fingertips. Outside our 4-storey, 80 unit apartment building was the sweetest little patch of green, a four-acre park that was a gathering place, a central play zone. This shangri-la valley was given over, for all practical purposes, to us kids for our exclusive use.

Dense bush outposts were firmly rooted on the high ground with solitary trees sprinkled here and there along the slopes. The flatlands were wide and deep, perfect for baseball, kite flying, British bulldog, imagined battlefields and just about any other tomfoolery that came to us.

Also on the flats, a smattering of playground equipment strung out in a straight line – swings, slide, monkey bars, rocket climber. They weren’t so much a destination as peripheral fixtures there to be used should the fancy take us. The landscape itself was the set with the playground pieces frequently relegated to prop status.

In that rosy rear-view mirror, wall-to-wall play seemed to be the norm. We roamed by foot, by bike, by public transit. Except for Saturday morning cartoons, or other television spectaculars, outdoors with friends for hours on end was the place to be.

To be sure, we all had rules to observe and break (at our own peril). By giving us unsupervised time and space to play, our parents were investing us with trust. The trust promoted agency. We were able to call the shots, to make decisions within reason on what, when, where, who and how we played. Every day was a blank slate. Our default was to go in search of fun.

rediscovering just play

The more I googled about contemporary play, the more I understood that since my days there had been a wild swing of the pendulum in the opposite direction. I learned that mobility and range were continually being reduced, that children were growing up in play environments that were decidedly risk averse and that their rights, including the right to play, were being curtailed, or worse trampled upon.

In the web

Fortunately, there has existed for some time a broad international coalition of individuals and organizations whose objective is to see play flourish. This group includes sculptors, playworkers, landscape designers, urban planners, community activists, academics from a variety of disciplines, health and recreation professionals, environmental advocates, authors and many more.

To take a bit of a deep dive into the current play world, I turn to a by now tried and true medium. Six months after the Playground Chronicles launch, a new blog, PlayGroundology hits the streets. The first of what will be more than 450 posts features a Manhattan play installation, ‘Playground’ by American sculptor Tom Otterness. From the outset I receive lots of encouragement from laypeople and others more heavily invested. People I contact are generous with their time and knowledge. It’s a welcome, recurring trait.

Playground by Tom Otterness

PlayGroundology publishes international content with stories from Sweden, Singapore, Ghana, Denmark, Australia, France, Chile, Vietnam, the UK, the US, Canada and other points around the world. In my virtual walkabouts, I get introduced to adventure playgrounds, loose parts, museum exhibits, documentaries, works of art and NGOs dedicated solely to play. Off blog, in the real world I create a backyard loose parts emporium, help organize workshops, public information sessions and play events. Who knows what’s next?

Let the journey continue

Nearly 15 years have passed since the experiences of that parental leave nudged me along the path of play. There is still ample meandering left. In the years to come, I predict that safeguarding the right to play and helping to make it flourish will become more of a political act. Knowledge and experience of play in a time of crisis will continue to be an important asset to help children who through no fault of their own find themselves in impossible situations.

It’s been a great journey so far and along the way I’ve been doing my best to embrace a ‘just play’ ethos.

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End note

Thank you to my love Mélanie and to our three kids. None of this poking around the play world would be possible without Mélanie’s unreservedly good humour and patience. As for the kids it has just been wonderful to share parts of their play journeys over the years. Now that they are almost all in their teens and play is no longer in quite as high rotation in their daily lives, it’s wonderful to see how it continues to stand them in good stead.

As kids my brother and I had a lot of freedom, plenty of opportunity to discover and make mistakes. Our parents were always there for us in the good times and bad. We got a great start in life as this clip of mom and dad as young parents celebrating my birthday – about three-years-old I’d guess – captures.

 

They never missed a chance to ask how our respective projects were developing. On the play side of things, my dad thoroughly enjoyed the public spaces loose parts extravaganzas I helped organize. He couldn’t get enough of watching the kids doing their own thing.  It always brought a smile to his face. Thanks for reading….

 

Green Play

(HALIFAX – Memory Lane) – I don’t remember a great deal about the morning commutes. Perhaps the single parent, pre-schooler, bustle and hustle, getting up and dressed then breakfasted followed by the out the door skedaddle to catch the bus wasn’t wholly conducive to nurturing deep-rooted memories.

The afternoon pick up at daycare was different though. It was good to be reunited at the unwhirling end of the day. Time seemed more expansive, leisurely, almost langurous as my daughter and I made our way hand in hand to the bus stop.

We were regulars on our route, transit riders by necessity. Other than a short-lived, hand-me-down ’66 Beaumont Acadian I received as a gift at 17, cars were not part of my reality. Articulated buses were in high rotation on this route. Whenever one pulled up to the curb, we couldn’t wait to get on. We’re talking a mobile affordance par excellence.

Accordion streetcar – Edinburgh, Scotland

Midway down the bus was the pleated accordion section. There were no seats here. On the floor was a large circular steel plate. We positioned ourselves just inside the perimeter. As the bus swung through a 90 degree corner with the circle rotating, the accordion expanded on one side as it contracted on the other.

We loved to ride that circle. Sometimes we managed to keep our balance standing up through two full quadrants. If the bus was moving too fast we held on tight to the shiny vertical poles reflecting stretch versions of ourselves. On straightaways the accordion section’s suppleness made for big, almost bowl us over bumps. It was the cheapest theme park ride in town and one that never seemed to get old.

On days that the force wasn’t with us and we were relegated to an accordion-less bus ride we’d go into Plan B mode. Scrinched up in the seat next to the door where people entered to pay their fares, we would settle in for storytime. We had favourites including The Paper Bag Princess, The Wheels on the Bus, Badger’s Parting Gifts and The Giving Tree.

In public view we created a space that was both private and shared. Some of our fellow passengers we knew by sight. Those who were attuned to our ritual seemed as appreciative of the stories as we were. The analog readings required no external energy source unlike today’s portable devices.

Many, many years after those daily commutes home, I thought of our  adventurous, mildly risky rides and wrote round and round. They were fine moments of bonding, laughter and the occasional tumble. We were creators of public transit fueled unintentional green play.

round and round

got a gentle squeeze
on the accordion bus
pumped up and down
memory lane

in one bending corner
shrinking and stretching
in one breath of moment
i was laughing right next to you

you danced the floating circle
small fingers extended
my paper bag princess
taming a bucking urban dragon

got a gentle squeeze
on the accordion bus
a little girl you were
in one breath of be

I love the gentle squeeze of memory. After more than 25 years, it is probable this particular rear view mirror has a rosy rose tinge to it. To this day, I still get a lift when I’m riding the accordion bus’ spinning circle.

 

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round or Do They?

Years ago – how quickly a decade zips by – the kids and I explored playgrounds in the east, west, north and south of our Halifax, Canada home. Nestled on the shores of a big harbour by the sea, Noah, Nellie and Lila, after she mastered the two legs scamper, sashayed, hurtled and laughed their way through 50 or more playgrounds over the course of a couple of years.

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Without exception they were eagerly anticipated, joyous expeditions. Of course there was a meltdown here and there – sometimes papa, sometimes one or more of the kids. There was plenty of stretching limits, risking, reaching, jumping, grabbing, rolling and rocking – new accomplishments, fancy tricks, the occasional disappointment, or wipe out.

On this particular day spontaneity rippled across the weekend schoolyard. A springrider larger than any we had seen became a kid collective fun zone. No planning, no asking, no inviting – it just happened, a ticket to now. Magic Bus seemed to be the no brainer sound bed for enthralled kids clearly immersed in the journey. Noah nailed the happy-go lucky driver groove. Just watch….

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Long gone now are the Wheels on the Bus days, the rush to find the best seat for kneeling, peering out and making face squish prints on the windows. I so remember the kids doing the transit scramble on those early thrill rides. And don’t get me reminiscing about the unbridled rush of the accordion buses bending this way and that in their reticulated glory as we readied ourselves for the impromptu bounce and weave two step…

From my own childhood I still see the hazy top levels of double deckers cutting through the Clydeside dark. All smokers upstairs – hot ends glowing, smoke clouds wafting, curling – an indelible memory burn from nearly 60 years ago. A belated thanks Mom for indulging me and taking me topside. I’d scramble to the very front seat perched over the unseen driver in his cabin below – the big windshield like a picture window, a panorama show, the best view in town, up high looking down.

These days our three kids spend way too much time on school buses – on average a couple of hours each per day. The shine has worn off. For the youngest there are still shenanigans and quality socializing. Spotify is the high school commute solace for the two older kids – all hail earpods!

But what about transit and kids? At the school level, I’m not aware of any jurisdictions in our province that consult with children on routes, on alternative transportation, or on transportation policies for students. Readers, if you know of any enlightened examples please share….

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As for public transit systems and kids, that’s another story. Generally speaking there is lots to be done, plenty of room for improvement. Children are tomorrow’s riders. Now is the time to engage them, to win them over to a greener choice. What age should kids be able to ride without adult accompaniment, go solo and expand their horizons and mobility?

Here in Halifax, a pilot project provides free bus passes to students in four high schools. Our two oldest, neither of whom have a driver’s license, are benefitting from the program and enjoy the freedom of movement the passes afford them. It’s a start….

Will those wheels keep going round and round? Not without advocacy, not without pressing local governments and transit and education authorities to implement policy changes to benefit children and students. Remember the cause célèbre of Vancouver father of five, Adrian Crook? Nearly three years later he prevailed. In the interim, writer Rob Thomas rolled up this smorgasbörd of fare charges for kids in Canada.

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Then there is the quintessential North American young adult rite of passage – the driver’s license. What awareness programs are out there to put the brakes on a new generation of gas guzzlers? Are driver education ‘schools’ providing context about the demise of the internal combustion engine and the need to shift and adapt to new transportation norms? Are transit authorities developing persuasive advertising for the soon-to-be new driver set? Our oldest is just about ready to gear up and get behind the wheel. He’s raring to go. Will transit just be a receding memory in his rear view mirror?

Happy Thanksgiving to our Canadian readers – safe travels.

 

Affirmation Songs – Truth and Reconciliation

Today is Canada’s first Truth and Reconciliation Day. It is a day to reflect on injustices perpetrated for hundreds of years against Indigenous Peoples by European colonizers and their descendants in what is now called Canada. It is a time for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to begin a journey of healing. One of many wrongs that need to be acknowledged and righted is the appropriation of large swathes of unceded First Nations’ territories.

Guyanese songwriter David Campbell’s songs speak to pride, affirmation, love and cultural identity. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, his music was popular in First Nations communities as well as the Canadian folk music circuit.

The Corn and Potato and Pretty Brown are two Campbell tunes that are as fresh today, as playful and poignant, as when his LPs first hit record store shelves decades ago. Both songs are easily accessible for children with warm, story-like lyrics and wistfully tinged vocals. Each in its own way buoys spirits and promotes Indigenous cultural awareness. I listen and sing along to them intermittently with great enjoyment. They are securely ensconced in my heart and head as among my favourite songs

Listening to these songs could be a good preliminary activity to open up discussions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous kids. Just as easily they could serve as points of reflection for non-Indigenous kids, an entry point into appreciating some of the challenges faced by their First Nations peers. Without doubt there is much more that needs to be acknowledged and atoned for, a very long list including disappeared children, residential schools, inadequate housing, health and education infrastructure and the unsubtle erosion of self-determination. Sadly the endemic societal ills these songs were penned to help comfort still need to be addressed.

I interviewed David and heard him play in Toronto way back in the day. It was a beautiful afternoon when we got together on a park bench under sunny skies. I remember an unhurriedness about him, patience in the face of my questions and a profound calm.

Click through here to read the 1981 interview in The Toronto Clarion. Photo source – David Campbell Facebook

I’m grateful still for the moments that David shared with me as I am for his music that continues to bring joy. Our short time together helped to fill in some gaps and add to a growing awareness that all was far from right in a world where First Nations people were relegated to a secondary status or worse.

I was fortunate and thankful to be befriended, sometimes humoured for my ingrained eurocentric perspective, by those I met from Indigenous communities. Without exception, each person was gracious and took time to share a small part of their worlds. I continue to feel gratitude for their kindnesses as well as their powerful life lessons gifts.

Please share David’s songs. They’re lovely for people from all ancestries and age groups….

Playwork Virtual Campference Coming Soon

There’s a Playwork Virtual Campference coming up quick on the horizon. Wait, never been to a campference, virtual, playwork or otherwise? I’m with you there, this will be my first.

Campference homepage and registration

Pop-Up Adventure Play’s campference concept is quite simple really – identify enthusiastic hosts/partners, bring people together to camp in the great outdoors in an environment that lends itself to building community and involve passionate and respected resource people to share their knowledge. That was the successful premise behind the first two campferences in Houston, Texas (2019) and Val Verde, California (2017) – more about them here.

The twist for the third edition, in partnership with Bernheim’s Children at Play Network, is the virtuality of it all. Moving the 2021 campference online is a safety precaution in response to the ongoing risks of COVID-19. Pop-Up Adventure Play has for years taken an outside of the box approach to building community through play. Campference participants can expect an online experience that reflects this creative tradition which will include in part, simultaneous translation in Spanish, Turkish, Portuguese and Arabic.

The powerhouse, cross-Atlantic team led by Suzanna Law and Morgan Leichter-Saxby is now entering its second decade. They have criss-crossed the US, Canada, Australia, parts of Asia and points in between working with local communities to animate public events and lead workshops to promote play. In addition, they offer an online Playworker Development Course. The playwork ethos is being exported around the world and has given birth to an international network of alumni engaged in play advocacy, research and programming.

The Pop-Up crew draws on extensive practical experience and academic knowledge of adventure playgrounds, playwork and loose parts in a variety of cultural contexts. This solid experiential and research foundation informs a world view situating play as an essential, intrinsically valuable activity in a child’s life – a source of joy, discovery and renewal.

2019 Campference participants – Houston, Texas

Campferences provide an opportunity to invite discussion, share experiences, challenge stereotypes and connect with others who value the child’s right to play. Though time will be compressed in this virtual edition all of the above will be on offer. I am particularly excited to hear from filmmakers David Reeks and Renata Meirelles, directors of the Brazilian-produced, feature-length documentary, The Territory of Play (trailer here).

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Registration details for the September 24 Campference here. Cost is very modest – group rates and financial assistance available.

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I had an opportunity to work/play with the Pop-Up crew when they came to Halifax a few years back for a public lecture, a practitioner’s workshop and a huge, wide-open loose parts event that had over 200 kids playing up a storm.

It was wonderful to spend time in their company and experience their passion for kid’s play firsthand. On that day at the outdoor, loose parts emporium, joy overflowed our sundrenched patch of urban green. It was a wonderbuzz of bright smiles, gobsmacked eyes and busy building hands – indelible moments of kids doing their own thing.

Adults were engaged too. My 80-something papa popped in. I could see the glint in his eye and the spring in his step as he quietly walked around and took in the pure fun of it all.

It was a grand day wrapped up in the grounded, unpretentious, fun-filled approach that characterizes the Pop-Up way.

Zan, Me, Morgan and Andy – Halifax, Canada 2017

IPA Canada National PlayDay – August 4

Play – the Heartbeat of Childhood

Ed’s note – I have had the pleasure of serving as a board member of the International Play Association (IPA) Canada for the last couple of years. It’s been a great introduction to the work they have been doing in support of the child’s right to play over the last few decades.

Recently, IPA Canada has hit the reboot on National PlayDay. It’s an event that had fallen off our radar for a few years and we’re bringing it back to celebrate kids and play. The post below is reproduced from the IPA blog. For more on the background of National PlayDay, click here.

Play is the heartbeat of childhood. At home, in the neighbourhood, at the beach, in community parks and school grounds children embrace the opportunity of making their own fun through play. On August 4, join the International Play Association (IPA) Canada and create your own National PlayDay event.

IPA Canada’s National PlayDay is a celebration of wonder, curiosity, discovery and adventure. It’s all about what children do best. Intuitively children know that play is a renewable source of joy and fun but of course its impact is far broader. In fact, play is one of the defining characteristics of our humanity.

Play resonates with children everywhere. Child-directed play has a universal appeal. It is a heady expression of freedom whenever children are granted the space and time to shape their own activities unencumbered by ongoing adult supervision.

The ‘right to play’ is enshrined in Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The General Comments document on article 31 provides additional details that speak to the connection between play and well-being and affirms its critical role and relevance in an increasingly complex world.

Research demonstrates that play exerts a profound influence throughout childhood shaping how we learn, how we express ourselves and how we assess risk and opportunity. Studies from a variety of disciplines reveal that play nurtures children’s physical, social, emotional, cognitive and spiritual development. It is a foundational activity that helps kids interact with and make sense of the world around them.

Play can help children develop resilience and cope with mental health concerns, such as anxiety, that were on the increase during the first wave of the pandemic. For more information about play in times of crisis, free downloadable resources published by IPA World IPA Canada’s international governing body are available here with translations in Arabic, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Thai and Turkish.

IPA Canada’s goals are to increase play’s visibility, create greater awareness of the pressing need to get children playing more and encourage parents and communities to be strong agents of play.

There is evidence that change is needed. In Canada, ‘active play’ gets an F in the latest (2020) ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth. In practice this means that only 21% of 5- to 11-year-olds engage in active play for more than 1.5 hours per day on average. Two years earlier, active play was given a D. We are moving in the wrong direction.

Canada is not alone. Higher income countries are witnessing a declining incidence of outdoor play and a decrease in independent mobility for kids. These are notable societal shifts that have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A recently concluded series of national consultations led by IPA Canada confirmed that there is a growing understanding of play’s role as an important contributor to the healthy development of children. Our discussions with parents, early childhood educators and municipal government representatives are helping to inform new initiatives linked to play leadership and provision as well as the development of resource materials focusing on children’s right to play.

IPA Canada benefits from the support and experience of the IPA international member network. Here in Canada, many accomplished groups and organizations are associated with children’s play. It truly takes a village to make a difference. Other national advocates include The Lawson Foundation, the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children, Outdoor Play Canada and the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada.

There is no time like the present to get involved, lend a hand and have some fun working toward creating the conditions that will help play flourish in our homes and communities. Here are some simple ideas to consider and possibly incorporate into IPA Canada National PlayDay events:

  • explore the neighbourhood to discover playful spaces
  • draw on childhood memories of favourite play places and activities for inspiration
  • invite friends to play at home or at a local park
  • in busy households, schedule time for play with children and/or for independent play
  • explore play ideas and resources online

For more information on IPA Canada visit their website and download your copy of the IPA Canada National PlayDay poster and guide.

IPA Canada is a not-for-profit national organization whose mandate is to protect and promote the child’s right to play.

Connect with International Play Association (IPA) Canada

Twitter: @ipa_canada
Facebook: @InternationalPlayCanada

The Children of Fogo Island – Documentary

It’s the summer of 1967 in a remote region of Newfoundland. Local kids are shadowing a documentary film crew on Fogo Island in Canada’s far east. Their status as curious onlookers is flipped on its head when the director turns the camera on them. The kids become part of the action.

Now there may be a hint of performing in their antics, they are kids after all, but it falls short of performance. Theirs is a joyous embrace of familiar outdoor activities where the elements set the tone. The unstudied choreography du jour cuts through rocky land, salty sky and chilled coves attesting to a freedom of movement, a playful ingenuity and matter of fact encounters with risk.

The Children of Fogo Island, is a quiet tour de force. Shot in black and white and running at 17 minutes it stars Fogo kids engaged in everyday capers. With minimal dialogue and a jaunty music soundtrack, there is little to distract from the unfurling action. However, it wasn’t the kids’ brilliant poetic canvas of fort makers, stilt walkers, bush pilots or ship captains that attracted the film production crew to shoot on the Island.

In the mid-1960s, Fogo Island was facing significant economic headwinds. Less than 5,000 people called the Island’s 10 fishing communities home. With provincial government policy favouring wholesale resettlement of Island residents there was real fear that their way of life was foundering.

Far removed from political decision makers and the machinery of government, it was not clear whether Islanders could enlist support and empathy for their communities, or even work together and alter course to avoid what increasingly looked like a bleak future.

Enter an improbable and unexpected intermediary, the National Film Board of Canada (NFB). The NFB had recently launched an ‘activist documentary program’ Challenge for Change (1967 – 1980) with the intent of making documentary film more relevant, of empowering communities to confront and examine tough issues – to mobilize action leading to social change.

Memorial University’s Extension Service was instrumental in introducing the NFB to Fogo Island and in recognizing the potential of a right fit with Island communities and the new program. Acclaimed NFB director Colin Low traveled to Fogo Island to meet with Islanders and gauge their willingness to explore the use of film as a medium to address local issues and advance community interests. From the outset, Low worked alongside local Extension Service officer and native Fogo Islander, Fred Earle and the rest as they say is history.

Not one film but a whole series of mini-films. It was meant to be a step in incorporating media into the democratic process. The creation of a communication loop as we called it. – Colin Low quoted in Challenge for Change: Activist Documentary at the National Film Board, p.17

Engaging Islanders and those in the corridors of power in an open ‘communication loop’ documented on film and then screened to the interested parties contributed to a reckoning, an awakening for all participants. Over time a shared resolve brought the Island communities together in a tightly knit band determined to preserve their homes and build more sustainable lives. The city suits also had ample opportunity to listen to community concerns and aspirations.

During a three year period, Low produced 27 short films on various aspects of Island life. The Children of Fogo Island was one of his favourites. It was a sleeper and an unexpected catalyst that helped pave the way to the community dialogue and collaboration that would become known as the Fogo Process.

Every time we’d go to a village, the first thing we showed was The Children of Fogo Island, and there were kids from all over the island appearing in the film. The energy of the kids made people think of their own childhood and what they loved about their own childhood: the freedom about it; the endless play; copying their dads on the boats. The other thing that struck people is the melancholy that you can see on Fogo Island, but we had an enormous demand for [the film.] Colin Low quoted in Playlists, Challenge for Change – Thomas Waugh, Ezra Winton, Michael Baker

This film speaks to me not as some kind of cultural ethnography piece, nor as a representation of a golden age of play. It may project elements of both though I suspect there were kids in various parts of the world moving to similar daily rhythms – particularly those whose lives were enriched by living in proximity to the natural world.

This is a film of simple pleasures, of children invested with trust to explore their landscape, their abilities, their friendships. In the context of play, they were in possession of a resoundingly powerful trifecta: 1) the kids had space to roam freely; 2) they had time to make their own fun; and, 3) they had friends to share adventures with. And now for the bonus round with a cherry on top, they were acting independently without ongoing adult oversight….

I hope you enjoy The Children of Fogo Island which is available for streaming at NO cost here, or by clicking on the image below. Many thanks to the NFB which for decades has made a large number of titles in their library freely available to Canadians. With the advent of digital delivery platforms they have been able to extend this generosity to international audiences too.

Do you have a favourite film/video clip that shows kids at play? Send us a link in the comments feature, or tag @PlayGroundology on Twitter.