Kids Play the Darndest Things

Today I’m sharing a few short videos that friends have enjoyed in the hope that they will give you pause to smile too. They are moments full of inventiveness, ingenuity, spontaneity and adventure.

Our home video and photo archives are bursting at the digital seams. We’re now firmly committed to terabyte territory for storage and safekeeping. There’s plenty of memory inducing imagery that we revel in as well as short scenes that instill laughter and sometimes tears.

We dive into these treasures intermittently for some full on ‘remember when’ immersion. This past year we’ve been dipping in more frequently. There’s solace, release and hope watching kids at play and occasionally, a measure of hilarity.

For parents, caregivers, neighbourhoods, community groups, schools and kid-focused organizations, it’s important that we create the conditions that will enable kids to play back better as we transition to post-COVID horizons. Let’s ensure that children are invested with trust and have the space, time and freedom to reclaim play.

Many thanks to Mélanie who shot these videos and much more importantly gave our kids a great start along the road to independence and discovery.

On with the show this is it…..

Firemen In Space

 

We’re Giggling in the Rain

 

Welcome to our House

 

Petits Poussins – Little Chicks

 

Home Schooling 101

 

So there you have it, we had about a 10 year head start on the home schooling. It hasn’t made the current experience any easier. Both the teacher and student in the segment above are now somewhat reluctant home schoolees.

In closing I want to reference a recent article in The Guardian by Hannah Jane Parkinson – Don’t show me photos of your kids: read me their poetry. I love the premise (hoping it doesn’t apply to videos :-)) and believe that play itself when kids are left to follow their own inclinations can be a fluid, unrehearsed kind of poetry. Take a peek, Parkinson’s article is a quick, uplifting read.

 

Just Fortin’ Around at the Play Outpost

Most days are still in the single digit celsius zone. Cheeks are burnished a ruddy healthsome hue. Chill wind and cool water stiffen numbing fingers. On the ground, a muddy patina where grass is worn bare. Above, the dreamy blue sky bursts with promise.

A small play posse of about ten kids in the six to thirteen-year-old age range are bivouacking in the backyard. Free of cumbersome winter clothes, there is a spontaneous reclaiming of the outdoors.

They are out everyday now playing for hours on end. There are the breathless games like mantracker and 50 – 50, impromptu soccer and basketball matches and the building of forts, dens and clubs. These almost exotic spring awakening rites embrace the season’s new possibilities.

 

The familiar ring of the kids-at-play chorus modulates between a sometimes rambunctious soundscape and a whispery taking stock. Occasionally observed by us adult types but rarely disturbed, they are free to imagine, to create, to make the world in their own image.

On this day, chalk is a key element in their periodic table of play. At first it is put through its conventional paces. Printing and drawing on the fence in all available colours is de rigueur. Then a stick of chalk is reduced, mortar and pestle style, into a dusty powder. It’s only moments before the powder is in turn transformed into a pasty liquid wash and applied liberally to various surfaces with the excited participation of all present.

The yard is a convening space, a place where the kids can be themselves to explore, goof around and kick back unsupervised. It’s communal in a sense – friends hang there when our kids aren’t out, or we’re not at home. We like to think of it as an equal opportunity play outpost.

Old household furniture is cycled into the backyard until its play value is exhausted and it’s shifted curbside. A couple of old sofas that have gone through their second outdoor winter are foundation pieces for the build, modify, rebuild fortin’ around. Loose parts – lumber, old tires, milk crates, cable spools, tarps , cardboard and rope – are the stuff of daily dreaming helping to give physical form to imagined space.

Several days pass with the fort as focal point. There are design adjustments, new adornments and reconfigurations. The kids are getting restless though, looking for new activities. It’s off to the woods, the brook to other friends’ houses. We tear down the fort and store the parts in the shed. In the not too distant future another fort will rise and we’ll hear the sowing of dreams as the neighbourhood kids explore, discover, create.

I am thankful that I had the opportunity to learn about loose parts a few years back from the good folks at Pop-Up Adventure Play. They encouraged me to get out in the community and give the loose parts a whirl at public events. Thankful too that the kids have space to run free.

I am grateful to live in Nova Scotia where through a combination of collective action by Nova Scotians, a crackerjack public health team, responsible management by the government and undoubtedly some good luck we have been able to weather the COVID storm with much less devastation than other parts of the country and world. Despite our best efforts, Nova Scotia went into a new lockdown earlier this week in a bid to turn back recent community spread.

COVID continues to be an ongoing health crisis in communities around the world. Its after effects will rumble for some time. Among these are social isolation experienced by children and their inability to play due to prolonged periods of time in lockdowns and absences from school. Spring awakenings and the resumption of play will pick up steam as greater swathes of the population are vaccinated and the immediate crisis begins to recede. Let’s get ready and think what that might look like in our own communities.

On May 13, join Dalhousie University’s Dr. Sarah Moore for a virtual event presenting research that considers “evidence-based recommendations and strategies for return to movement, play, sport, and recreation and discusses the important role of community supports during the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery period.” More info available here.

In the UK, Helen Dodd is a Professor in the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences at the University of Reading and an advocate of putting children at the heart of the recovery. Along with colleagues at PlayFirst UK, she has been raising the alarm about the pandemic’s mental health impacts on children and the benefits of adventurous play. She will make a plenary presentation at the upcoming Play 2021 conference in Birmingham, England, July 7 and 8.

Edging Toward a Homework Revolution

One glorious Wednesday afternoon our girl shoots out of the school bus and barrels through the front door. She’s a lively one, a meme-maker in her own right. Talking quickly she brings us up to speed on the shocker event of the day. The wonder and surprise of the unimaginable are still fresh. Her bright eyes shine as the words tumble out.

Les Girls arriving home

“I can’t believe it. I’m so happy. Do you know what we actually have for homework tonight? Madame said our homework is to go outside and play. Nothing else, just go outside and play.”

Entries in our youngest daughter’s Grade 6 daily agenda are for the most part predictable. Homework is a recurring theme – reminders of what needs to be done in the coming days, dates for tests and quizzes, notes about special school events. On this day of days there is just one entry. It’s crisp, clear printing, nearly jumping off the page, loudly exclaiming – Aller Jouer Dehors – Go Play Outside.

If it’s in the agenda it must be true

No cajoling or threats, veiled or otherwise, were necessary for her to dive right in. Literally in this instance with old mattresses serving as a soft landing for belly flops or back flips before they’re moved curbside for garbage collection.

Playing outside with friends is the default after school activity in our neighbourhood. The homework bogey imposes structure intruding on more open-ended, oblivious-to-time pursuits. Homework is kind of like kids interruptus. It verily begs the question ‘why homework?’.

None of my four older children had ever come home with a similar assignment. In our experience play as homework is a new phenomenon, quite a singular event. Reaction to a tweet on the subject broadly indicates support for more play, less homework.

Enthusiastic reception on Twitter

 

Now I don’t have a stellar memory for details but I do know for sure that 50 years ago the kids in Mrs. Salmon’s Grade 6 class at Elkhorn Drive Public School in Toronto did not possess agendas. For the most part we learned in class, were set temporarily free for recess and then most importantly were released at the end of the day to go home and play. No agenda needed on the journey.

Grade 6 – 1967-68

In the best of all possible worlds, fun and play should be expansive experiences for kids. Ask yourself, are there ever enough hours in a young life to miss out on kaleidoscoping fun?

Getting students to go outside and play as a homework assignment is a step in the right direction. It’s getting them closer to setting their own after school agenda. Given their druthers most grade schoolers would choose play over any form of school work.

It’s true that not all children have equal access to play. While it is important to improve access for all, it is also critical to support grass-roots activities that can lead to meaningful change – more kids, spending more time playing, with no agenda other than their own.

The play as homework continuum could be effective in jurisdictions where homework is de rigueur or required by education authorities. Introducing play as homework once or twice a week could have a meaningful impact for the children as well as teachers. It could be integrated into the curriculum through student presentations and discussions on play activities.

The late educational reform icon, Sir Ken Robinson, addressed the often overlooked value of play during a presentation at a Halifax conference.

Play for young people is actually essential. It’s a way in which they literally flex their muscles.

So really, why wouldn’t we want our kids out there flexing? Read more on Sir Ken’s play perspectives here.

And what of homework itself. In a 2019 piece, The Cult of Homework, The Atlantic examines the multiple faces of the homework beast. Scholastic, the kids’ book folks, thinks that rationales for homework are underwhelming. They share their perspective in Down With Homework. A 2016 article in Time, Is Homework Good for Kids? Here’s What the Research Says, suggests a ‘weak correlation between homework and performance’ and further that it may not be ‘helpful’ for students in primary school.

Let’s applaud and support teachers who look for new and simple means to engage kids in what they do best, play. I wrote Madame a quick email on her foray into play as homework and included an image of the tweet. She wrote back saying the email had made her day, her week, no her month. The kids were beaming again today as play was assigned as homework for the second time.

more play, less homework

I’d love to hear from others who have similar stories. Hopefully this is more widespread and if not perhaps together we can make it so. The essential ingredient is willing teachers. We know that for the most part given the chance kids will play…

Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man

Michael Apted a storied feature film and documentary director passed away at 79 years of age last week. He is mourned by family, friends, industry peers, cinephiles and a select cohort of 60 somethings that he first encountered as a young man 56 years ago.

Still from Seven Up! documentary, The Link

Back in the early 60s, Apted worked with Granada Television. As a researcher, one of his assignments was to find 14 children whose life circumstances reflected England’s socio-economic spectrum. The children were being scouted to participate in the documentary Seven Up! at that time conceived of as a one off project exploring the possible influences of the British class system on their lives.

In the original 1964 ITV broadcast, directed by Canadian Paul Almond, the seven-year-olds (4 girls and 10 boys) were treated to a party, a visit to London Zoo and a playground outing. Closing out the program, the kids zigged, zagged and zipped in an animated and sometimes rambunctious romp through what some believe to have been London’s Notting Hill Adventure Playground.

The New York Times Magazine characterized it as “…a grim hazardous-looking pit of an “adventure” playground.” From my vantage point the description smacks of dramatic license and hyperbole all rolled into one. In any case, on that day there was an abundance of joy, exuberance, discovery and yes, adventure as the clip below captures.

Over the years, what was initially thought of as a stand alone became the lead in to the critically acclaimed and much talked about Up series. Apted was in the director’s chair for what became a lifelong passion and arguably the longest longitudinal documentary on record.

Participants were interviewed at seven year intervals over the course of six decades sharing their ups, downs, dreams, accomplishments and failures. A loyal viewing audience kept returning for more with each new installment. What is most likely the final episode, 63 Up, was released in 2019.

Apted regretted not including an equal number of girls and boys when he selected the children. He went on to direct women in powerful roles in several critically acclaimed films including Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), Gorillas in the Mist (1988) and Nell (1994).

Michael Apted thank you for your role in this extraordinary series and for letting the kids loose to play that day so many years ago. Their youthfulness, daring and wonderment are a bright beacon in somber times.

 

All Hands on Deck – Magdalen Islands’ Boats of Play

What a bruising we took in 2020. Hopefully, this year we can begin charting new horizons, steering a steadier course.

This is a photo story about playscapes infused with maritime traditions by the communities that designed and built them to celebrate play.  Click through to the The Magdalen Islands’ Boats of Play to see how they are of the place, anchored to the archipelago.

Share photos of Boats of Play from your community here.

A Chance Encounter

Here we are, Noah and I, starting out on one of our early morning fishing adventures. We make a beeline to a spot that still has a new feeling to it. Down the steep wooded bank we scuffle brushing branches aside to reach the water’s edge. It is still, quiet, and the summer sun is crashing off the water.

Time is a liquid loop, cast… reel… cast… reel. Noah is the leader of our outing. His angling chops are based on years of research and practical field experience. He is happy to share his knowledge of where to find the fish and how to reel them in. He is a generous helper to right my sometimes clumsy mien.


Three smallmouth bass are our reward for a leisurely morning meander along the small lake’s banks. Each one is catch and release, each one is reeled in by my son who will fish anywhere at the drop of a hat.

Following the shore we attempt a walk around the lake. From our vantage point it looks possible. Approaching the farther shore our exploring is temporarily impeded by a brook. On the other side is thick brush, trees with no visible path.

We leave nature behind briefly to cut through a residential area that allows us to access the woods on the other side and walk toward a path that circles the rest of the lake. This is the moment of our chance encounter, a shelter tucked in behind the edge of an urban wood.


It is magnificent in and of itself, even moreso given its location in proximity to residential neighbourhoods. I hope we will work hard to preserve our city’s natural spaces. There is a calmness and quiet abandon in these spaces, a timeless enjoyment in the best company. We will be back on many an occasion…

 

World Children’s Day

World Children’s Day was first established in 1954 as Universal Children’s Day and is celebrated on 20 November each year to promote international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children’s welfare.

November 20th is an important date as it is the date in 1959 when the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. It is also the date in 1989 when the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Since 1990, World Children’s Day also marks the anniversary of the date that the UN General Assembly adopted both the Declaration and the Convention on children’s rights.

Mothers and fathers, teachers, nurses and doctors, government leaders and civil society activists, religious and community elders, corporate moguls and media professionals, as well as young people and children themselves, can play an important part in making World Children’s Day relevant for their societies, communities and nations.

World Children’s Day offers each of us an inspirational entry-point to advocate, promote and celebrate children’s rights, translating into dialogues and actions that will build a better world for children.

This year, the COVID-19 crisis has resulted in a child rights crisis. The costs of the pandemic for children are immediate and, if unaddressed, may last a lifetime.

It’s time for generations to come together to reimagine the type of world we want to create. On 20 November, kids will reimagine a better world. What will you do?

### Join our #voicesofyouth illustration challenge!
Are you 13-24 years old and love drawing?
Do you want to change the world?
We’re looking for you! Together, we can reimagine a greener and more sustainable future, for every child.

As World Children’s Day approaches, we invite you to draw your interpretation of the world you want to build after COVID-19 and submit your drawings through our Voices of Youth website, following these steps, and join #voicesofyouth illustration challenge!

 

In the aftermath of World War II, the plight of Europe’s children was grave, and a new agency created by the United Nations stepped in to provide food and clothing and health care to these children. In 1953, UNICEF became a permanent part of the UN. Today, the agency works in more than 190 countries and territories, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

Related observances

4 June: International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression

12 June: World Day Against Child Labour

12 August: International Youth Day

11 October: International Day of the Girl Child

Why do we mark International Days?

International days are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool. We also mark other UN observances.

Never Gets Old

In July 2019 I was proud to be on the team that organized a loose parts event on the Halifax Common that attracted 200+ kids on a perfect summer’s day.

Dr. Michelle Stone of Dalhousie University, with support from The Lawson Foundation, led the Summer of PLEY project including this loose parts pop-up. She invited a cross-section of researchers, students and practitioners to help her pump up the play. With the largest variety and greatest number of loose parts seen in Nova Scotia, the more, the merrier theme characterized the day.

Here’s the video shot by A for Adventure which has just been released. So many moments of discovery, joyful abandon and freedom. Enjoy….

It is really a privilege to see how children play with loose parts, how they work together to build, create, explore and have fun. Wonder, inspiration and energy are always in great abundance.

After leading, or helping to organize about a dozen public loose parts play events in Halifax, my experience is that it never gets old, never does. The smaller scale loose parts play taking place regularly in our backyard over the past five years continues to be enthusiastically embraced by kids throughout the neighbourhood, another indication of its everfresh qualities.

Long live loose parts and may their use become more widespread.

Happy birthday to our daughter Nellie who turns 13 today.

 

Children and the City Questionnaire Results

Results of the Children and the City questionnaire distributed to candidates running in Halifax’s municipal election are now available . An overview of candidate responses and overall results are posted in today’s digital edition of The Chronicle Herald.

Responses from candidates are unedited. There are individual results for each of the 16 electoral districts, results that capture mayoral candidates’ responses, and finally all responses are available in a single document.

Documents are stored on Google Drive. If readers experience difficulties with viewing the documents, the download function offers an alternative. Another option is to access the All Candidates responses on Dropbox for viewing or download.

Questionnaire results offer Halifax residents another lens through which they can consider how to cast their votes on October 17. I’m grateful to the candidates who contributed their thoughts and perspectives on improving children’s well-being in Halifax. Without a critical mass of participants it would not have made sense to continue the project. Always an optimist, I see the 55 per cent participation rate as firmly in glass half-full territory.

 

When talking about the benefits of child-friendly cities it’s important to emphasize that child-friendly cities benefit everyone – Kathryn Morse, Candidate District 10

 

I invite readers to browse through the results, particularly for their own electoral district, and determine how well the responses align, or not, with their own views. It was very heartening to see a significant majority of municipal candidates agreeing that UNICEF’s child-friendly cities approach could benefit the well-being of children in Halifax. Of the 46 respondents, 76 per cent were in agreement. An additional 17 per cent indicated interest but required further study prior to making a decision.

Once the dust has settled and councillors have been elected, I hope there will be opportunities for interested Halifax residents to engage on theses issues and build on the good work that Council is leading to help improve the well-being of our children.

This HRM 4 Kids civic project functioned on a strictly non-partisan basis.

I am always interested in comments from readers particularly if you are aware of similar projects involving candidates in municipal elections.

A final word to Mike Savage, our incumbent Mayor.

Planning a city that is safe and healthy for children is really planning a city that is safe and healthy for all.

 

Participation Levels on All Candidates’ Child Well-Being Questionnaire

Halifax, Nova Scotia, home of PlayGroundology, is in the midst of a municipal election cycle. Voting at the polls is slated for October 17. This year, I’ve embarked on a grass-roots, non-partisan civic project. It’s quite simple, I reached out to candidates with a brief questionnaire related to children’s well-being. Their responses will shed some light on their priorities and interest in making Halifax a more child-friendly city.

Not having any real experience in asking candidates questions for the public record during the course of an election, I’m not sure what to make of the participation level. If any readers have experience administering surveys to candidates running for office at the municipal level, I’d be happy if you could share some insights.

A quick note on methodology:

  • Contact information for candidates was sourced from the Official Candidates – 2020 Municipal and CSAP Elections page on the Halifax website;
  • The original request with the questionnaire was sent to all candidates on September 28;
  • A follow-up request was sent on October 1;
  • A last call reminder was sent on October 5;
  • There are 83 candidates vying for 16 seats on Council, this excludes those seeking the Mayor’s office;
  • Our revised candidate number, excluding the mayoralty, comes in at 81. One candidate provided no contact information on the Official Candidates page noted above. Information for another candidate posted on the Official Candidates page was inaccurate. This is the number that will be used when determining global candidate engagement.
  • Mayoral candidates will be featured separately.

The preliminary results look at response rates for all candidates, subsets of all candidates and district specific information. Many thanks to the candidates who made the time to respond to the four questions related to child well-being.

Readers, what are your thoughts on a 54% response rate for the questionnaire? Out of the 81 reachable candidates for Council, 44 responded and here they are.


 


There are 11 incumbents on the ballot this time around. There were 6 of the 11 who did not respond to the questionnaire.

We would be better served by our incumbents – given the work they’ve done and the experience they’ve gained working for the city and their constituents – if they would give more consideration to participating in all questionnaires that seek to increase understanding of issues that have a broad impact.

Thanks to the incumbents who did participate – Shawn Cleary, David Hendsbee, Waye Mason, Paul Russel and Lindell Smith.

Overall, the non-incumbents had a stronger performance than the incumbents vis à vis responding to the questionnaire as Chart 3 below illustrates.

I would like to share two final charts as we wrap up this overview focusing on candidate participation and lack thereof. The two charts below provide a breakdown by district of the percentage of candidates who responded to the questionnaire. You will note that there is a great deal of variance.

In Districts 1 through 8, with one exception, participation rates are at 50% or above with District 8 coming in at 100% participation.

Districts 9 through 16 are on the opposite end of the spectrum. After the 100% participation rate in District 9, it’s all downhill with 50% or less participation rates in the remaining seven Districts.

It’s heartening to see that all candidates from Districts 8 and 9, three and five candidates respectively, responded to the questionnaire. It’s unfortunate no candidates from Districts 6 and 16, three and one candidate respectively, responded to the questionnaire. In the case of District 16, the incumbent is the only one offering and as a result he will be acclaimed.

All submitted candidate responses will be posted online over the coming week. I am in the process of working on an opinion piece for The Chronicle Herald that I anticipate will be published next week. It will touch on the roll-up of candidate responses to the four questions and a reflection on the municipal election.

Once again, thanks to the candidates who responded to the questionnaire, I look forward to sharing your thoughts and insights.

If candidates who have not yet participated are interested in submitting responses, I would be pleased to include them online and in the opinion piece roll-up.

Found this lovely graphic on the @hfxpublib Twitter feed. Let’s VOTE.