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.

An open letter to ASTM, and to anyone who wants to see a thoughtful approach to playground safety

PlayGroundology:

Bubblewrapping our kids by means of incremental risk reduction is one way to approach playground safety but will it necessarily deliver the desired results? In this post’s open letter, the UK Play Safety Forum asks the American Society for Testing and Materials’ (ASTM) Sub Committee F08.63 on Playground Surfacing to reconsider and open for broader debate a planned major change to playground safety standards.

Originally posted on Rethinking Childhood:

The American standards body ASTM International is planning a major change to playground safety standards. This post (including a joint open letter to ASTM from Robin Sutcliffe – chairman of the UK Play Safety Forum – and me) is a direct plea to put this proposal on hold pending a wider review.

The proposal – to tighten up the impact absorbency thresholds for playground surfacing – may sound purely technical. In fact, it is far more profound, as my regular collaborator Bernard Spiegal has argued. What is more, it could have far-reaching consequences, potentially leading to hundreds of millions of dollars of additional expenditure by schools, municipalities and others, the removal of equipment, and widespread playground closures. Its effects could be felt far beyond the USA, given the global push to normalize product safety standards.

Despite its implications, the proposal has so far had almost no debate beyond ASTM…

View original 1,455 more words

The Heat Within

It’s well chilly in Canada’s far east right now. Not arctic conditions by any stretch but bone penetrating cold from biting northern winds. The big freeze is later than usual and we of the wintry non-sportifying adults set are pleased with this tardiness. Recent temperatures are in the -10ºC range, say -20ºC with the wind chill.

SnowSlidersStorytelling with Storehouse – click through for photo montage and short videos

The kids are the ones who get me out in this weather. Short walks, hand feeding chickadee expeditions and sorties of the sledding and skating variety are the order of the day.

It’s as if the kids have small furnaces at the core of their beings that keep them stoked, impervious to the elements. Fuelled by play’s exhilaration and the adventurous pursuit of hurtling velocity, these snow sliders are oblivious to the elements, inoculated against creeping chill (warm clothes are a must too).

Simplest of FunThe Sliders

It’s simple fun with uphill huffing and puffing and downhill squeals of delight. We have a small fright too. Lila, our youngest, stands immobile in the path of a sled barreling toward her. Brother and sister are on board but they are unable to veer away. It’s a direct hit and Lila is catapulted into the air her feet swept from under her. I’m thankful that aside from the tears, there’s nothing more amiss. I don’t think we’ll have any further standing still in the path of oncoming sled incidents…

DSC00334Watch out for those sleds!

All told, we’re out for a couple of hours and pack it in just before we become walking popsicles. Even so it’s not a unanimous decision, a couple of the kids want to hang in for more. I promise we’ll return the next day. Really, there’s no better way to while away a few wintry hours than with the simple yet electrifying pleasure of some quality downhill sledding.

Get a taste of our winter fun here on Storehouse, the app that makes possible beautiful storytelling using video and photos.

The TrekThe uphill slog

There’s another storm raging outside just as I’m about to hit publish and just after I’ve seen an update from Suzanna, PlayGroundology’s Pop-Up Adventure friend – she’s on an Australia tour and right now it’s 39ºC outside. I guess she’ll just have to look for ‘the cool within’. With more snow coming down, I hope we’ll be able to get out later today for downhill dashes the sequel.

A Boy and his Bear aka Teddy’s Triumphant Return

Teddy’s Triumpahnt Return was originally published nearly seven years ago in a blog that recounted my parental leave adventures at the time. I stumbled across the photo below just the other day and it made me think of the post. Really, who can resist a teddy, or any stuffed buddy for that matter?

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Then last week, the kids, my papa and I all went to see the Paddington Bear movie. We laughed and laughed and laughed (I must see it again). Paddington was one of my mom’s favourites too and that’s saying something as she had quite a collection (spot Paddington in the photo below). She would have loved this film and would likely have ventured to darkest Peru just to see it.

We donated most of Mom’s bears to the local children’s hospital where they were auctioned off as a fundraiser… Dad kept Paddington and a couple of others. And now on with Teddy and his Triumphant Return.

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He’s back from San Diego an incredible journey for a young bear cub. Triumphant might be a bit of a stretch as our errant Teddy arrived in cardboard packaging with one corner caved in. Two weeks cross-continent by ground transportation. It must have been a harrowing trip. Our heroic Teddy alone in the dark and literally all boxed up brought to our door by Canada Post.

I couldn’t get Ted to talk about his re-entry to Canada. He didn’t have any papers. I don’t know if he was searched, or detained at the border. His lips are sealed about what I can only guess was a traumatic experience. We’re thrilled that he’s back where he belongs – well almost. His best buddy Noah-David is 1,000 plus kilometres away. If there’s no change of plans, they won’t meet up for hugs and cuddles until next Wednesday.

Sad to say that the Noah – Ted long distance reunion didn’t really go according to plan. Maybe I should have known better. I told Mélanie about his arrival earlier in the day on a phone call. I asked her not to share the news with Noah when he woke from his nap. I wanted to be the hero and show off Teddy on a video call.

I flashed Teddy on the screen very early into our Skype call. Instead of, “papa, papa” in ecstatic tones, there was an immediate meltdown, anguished sobs and inconsolable, free flowing tears. Try as we might, we couldn’t turn the situation around and instead ended the call. Mélanie was able to comfort our Noah-David and this morning when we spoke he talked about Teddy in a confident matter of fact voice. Eight sleeps until he sees Teddy and papa…..

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It didn’t take Teddy long to get back into the swing of things. With Noah temporarily out of the picture he had no supervision (I was too busy at the keyboard, or on the phone regaling people with the news that he was back in town). Not surprisingly he got up to a few shenanigans.

First off was the rather unsubtle remonstrance about how he got home. I still don’t know how he did it but he managed to stuff himself into the mailbox pretty much thumbing, well I guess pawing, his nose at me. The message was as clear as a pristine stream – why had I chosen such an unceremonious means of getting him back to Halifax? If the plane was good enough for the trip out to San Diego, why wasn’t it the transportation of choice to get him home?

Next he got himself stuck halfway up a tree in the backyard. Being a domestic bear he didn’t have the necessary skills to get himself back down. Shortly after his rescue he commandeered one of Noah’s cars for a spin. That nearly ended in disaster. Luckily for all of us I came out just in the nick of time to prevent him from careening off the deck into an ignominious wreck in the flower bed.

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He seemed to be taking a page from Yogi Bear’s mischievous suite of tricks, or maybe trying to emulate the adventurous Paddington from the darkest jungles of Peru. I’m hoping that after today’s escapades he’ll lean more to the philosophic Winnie as a role model and see the value in close friends and simple pleasures.

These bears have created quite a stamp on the popular imagination – from plush, stuffed buddies to starring roles in cartoons – let’s not forget Little Bear and his nuclear family. And then there are the ubiquitous teddy bear picnics held in cities, town and villages across North America and teddies’ connection with a famous American President.

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They are fine friends for little boys and girls. We’re so happy that Ted has come home. I’m looking forward to delivering him into adoring arms next week in Sorel, Québec. We’re glad that teddy’s accidental loss didn’t wind up with him going to the wild side.

A google search on teddy bear racks up 46.2 million hits. Seems like teddy bears are here to stay.

Many thanks to Dave at Point Loma Hostelling International in San Diego for getting Teddy back home to us.

P.S.

What was your favourite plush toy when you were a kid. Did you have a teddy, a tiger, a dog, a turtle, a lamb, a frog?

I remember a blue teddy from my own childhood back before I started school. I don’t remember him as new. His fur was worn, his limbs had lost their stiffness. His eyes though never lost their shine. They were glass – black in the centre with a surrounding hazel brown ring. He was stuffed with straw and I think he had an embroidered smile. I can’t recall the emotional bond that we had but I’m sure we were companions looking out from our vantage point at the big, big world beyond.

MyTeddy

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Teddys of the world unite.