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.

 

 

Local Candidates Asked About Well-being of Children

Earlier today a short letter was sent to candidates running for office in the October 17 municipal elections for the Halifax Regional Municipality. There are three candidates running for Mayor and an additional 83 running for 16 seats on Council. Out of the 16 Districts, there is only one uncontested seat.

The letter to candidates contains four questions linked to improving the well-being of children in the city.

I am very encouraged with the early responses from candidates right across the city’s 16 Districts. Thank you to all those who have already participated.

Candidates who do not respond will be recorded as a ‘nil response’ in the October 1 post.

Many thanks to the candidates for taking the time to consider how we can improve the well-being of children in HRM. I look forward to posting everyone’s responses on October 1.

 

 

We Play, We Are

In our Nova Scotia home on Canada’s East Coast we begin our lock down on March 21. There is worry and fear not knowing what lies ahead, having no reference points to help us get our bearing. At the outset, the lock down takes the form of a shelter in place. We should only be leaving our local area to get food or for medical reasons.

There is no visiting with neighbours, family, or friends. There are no organized sports or extracurricular activities for the kids. Schools are shut down and remote learning is introduced. We are able to go out in our neighbourhood as long as we practice physical distancing when we meet others.

We are thankful that in comparison to other countries, the pandemic is not as as severe in Nova Scotia. We continue to be of hushed breath though knowing the storm continues to strike around the world and the virus shows no signs of being vanquished.

Check the We Play, We Are photo story here.

 

Stronger Than Ever

Editor’s Note – This poem, written by our daughter Nellie-Rose circa nine-years-old, was uncovered during a deep cleaning of my home office this weekend. It speaks to me of our times and of play’s elemental beat. She no longer remembers the significance of the title. It’s included as part of the original work. I’m ready to immigrate to Cloud Cove and sing this anthem loudly…

Cloud Cove’s National Song

Outside in the sun we love to play.
It’s what we do every single day.
We climb up trees and go on our bikes
And play with friends day and night.

We live in our world altogether
Now we are stronger, stronger than ever

Everyone come, come play in our world
We are going to have some fun altogether
Now you know that we stay together
You can’t split us up even if you’re better

We live in our world altogether
Now we are stronger, stronger than ever.

One Lit Papa

Hope all you dads out there and the kids that adore you enjoyed a Happy Father’s Day.

To borrow a high rotation word from my teenage son’s vocabulary, my papa is totally ‘lit’. He’s a great role model who continues to inspire me in his fatherly ways. By my estimation, in the more than 40 years since I’ve left the nest, his daddishness has never wavered – once a dad, always a dad.

Father’s Day 2020 – Bob and Alex

On a recent afternoon visit to his house, a small paper booklet on a side table catches my eye. It’s an old, worn treasure with creases and faded ink, a scorecard from a model yachting regatta held nearly 70 years ago. On that day, in his hometown of Port Glasgow, Scotland, my dad was declared one of the the event’s champions. Asked if his dad had been there, he replied to the effect that yes, Alex had probably been his second that day.

Alex, my grandfather and namesake was an avid model yachtsman. His biggest win was a Commonwealth crown. On the local scene, he was the last to win the Port Glasgow Model Yacht Club’s Tosh Memorial Shield in 1952 when his handcrafted Fairy took the day.

Alexander Smith, Port Glasgow, Scotland – born 1904.

My dad accompanied him to these events as often as possible. Now, when he speaks lovingly of those times, he’s momentarily transported to races where he and Alex worked their not inconsiderable magic outmaneouvring all comers to conjure up another win on the water. Indelible memories navigating one generation to the next, the next, and next…

Hey papa, thanks from my younger self for all your encouragement and gentle pushing as I tried new things. You learned to ice skate so you could teach me. Your strong, steady hand on the back seat of my two-wheeler gave me confidence to push off unaided. Moments later, after shouting that I didn’t know how to stop, you sprinted to grab me making sure I wouldn’t tip over and fall. You volunteered to be Akela so the Cubs could do their best. At each step that I needed you, you were there.

Thanks too for investing a young boy with trust and allowing him to wander at large with friends by foot, bike and public transit. The kids only excursions to the swimming pool, the movies, the rink, the ravine, the dance were simple adventures that helped define our independence. As I got a little older, the canvas got larger and you let me loose to explore Paris, London and Edinburgh – exciting times for a 60s Toronto boy.

Dad and I with family car – 1966 Beaumont Acadian, ca 1968

Thanks for helping me to find my way from childhood to adulthood while preserving a child’s curiosity and sense of discovery. And last but by no means least, thanks for all the good examples, the tough lessons, the love and understanding that helped prep me for one of the best jobs of all time – being a dad.

We’ve got a few good laughs ahead of us still – may the adventures continue.

 

Coming Soon to a Neighbourhood Near You

At times there’s been a backwoods silence in the neighbourhood – very few cars and little in the way of outdoor activity. With warming temperatures, kids sprout, scooters and bikes in hand ready to roll. In parties of one, they zip up and down the same strip of sidewalk inaudible except for the DIY motorcycle rumble of cards hitting spokes. The big hearts, small bodies crew savours the outdoors  they had been isolated from but are incomplete without buddies to race or pal around with. We wave and shout encouragements as they slip by our house in their solitary pursuits. A haunting quiet surrounds us accenting the absent tumult which for so long had been part of our daily ritual…

Decibel levels are starting to rise. There is the whirring hum of lawnmowers as they assault the first dandelion crop of the year. Unfurling leaves pop out of buds sending a rustling whisper through the trees. Songbirds land lightly on a hanging feeder in the front yard’s poplar sharing melodies before they flit. Cars and trucks reinsert themselves with increasing frequency, their carbon roar an exhausting déjà vu.

Though we’re not all on the same schedule, communities throughout the world will or have experienced a similar metamorphosis. We are on the cusp of a new, still evolving normal. Retail shopping and restaurants are reopening, more people are returning to work, and public parks, beaches and some outdoor recreation areas are open. Schools will remain closed until September. Playgrounds are still a no go zone. Social distancing sontinues to be de rigueur but apparently not everyone is in receipt of that memo.

The changes haven’t fully caught up to the kids yet. There is some sporadic outdoor play here and there, as well as the new experimental sanctum for heightened mutual appreciation of pandemic-bonded siblings but no grand gathering of neighbourhood friends to hang, have fun and create their own adventures. No green light for that yet. Missing is that unmistakable soundtrack of kids at play, the at times boisterous vacarme punctuated by squeals, shrieks and shouts.

On several occasions throughout our coronavirus confinement, Mélanie and I have remarked on how much we’re looking forward to hearing those sounds again. When the kids are out and about, doing their own things with friends, making a ruckus and a racket well then it will seem like things are starting to get back on track.

In the interim, take a listen to these kids from Japan as they play on one of Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam’s unbelieveable creations.

 

The soundscape may not be conducive to meditation but it certainly delivers a joy infusion. These sounds were captured in a video a few years ago. They are my favourite recorded sounds of kids at play resonating with wonder, excitement and adventure. Our neighbourhood doesn’t quite reverberate with this intensity but it can get quite loud when the kids are out making the world in their own image. Horiuchi MacAdam lives here in Nova Scotia and should be considered a National Play Treasure for her contributions to art, design and play.

May the noise be with us all soon…..

School Awakenings

It’s Monday morning and recent history tells us that somewhere in the world kids are returning to school for the first time in weeks, or months. As the day gets underway, parents, students and teachers are trying to chart their way through a maelstrom of colliding emotions – excitement, anticipation, uncertainty and anxiety.

Martin Rowson – The Guardian

This morning, England is testing the waters. There had been some thought that this milestone would be a UK-wide kind of effort but neither Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland were keen to sign on. Numerous local education authorities in England have also decided to disregard the June date and are keeping schools closed. Results of an opinion poll published May 24 in The Guardian show only 50% of parents supported a June 1 resumption of classes.

As of May 25, UNESCO estimates that a staggering 1.2 billion learners worldwide continue to be out of school due to closures that are part of the public health and policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Overarching lock down and shelter-in-place directives of varying severity have contributed to a massive, months long disruption of children’s daily lives on a scale rarely experienced.

The impacts of closures go well beyond the realms of education and teaching time. Immunization programs, hosted by schools in some jurisdictions, are currently being interrupted. In lower and middle income countries this may have devastating consequences. Higher income countries could also find themselves at risk and are preparing for continuity as per Canada’s plan.

Schools also play an important role in alleviating food insecurity. Breakfast and lunch programs promote healthy foods and nutritional meals. In lower and middle income countries these school food programs are critical to students’ well-being. Research indicates that universal programs can result in significant, long term health and economic benefits. In some communities, such as Calgary, programs have been maintained throughout the pandemic and kids continue to benefit from healthy meals. However, this is not the case for many children.

On an education note, online/distance/emergency/home learning is meeting with mixed results for both parents and kids. At the primary level when it’s working reasonably well, internet-based instruction is helping kids to keep sharp in key foundational areas like numeracy and literacy. However, not all children have access to the internet, or a computer. For them, keeping academically fresh is an uphill struggle.

But the school ethos is not exclusively about academics and curriculum, certainly not from the vantage point of the kids themselves. They miss the social setting, a gathering and growing place for peers, and perhaps most tellingly they long for the friendships that help define who they are and engender a sense of belonging. This absence of presence, the seemingly endless being apart, evokes loss and sorrow as represented by our youngest daughter’s stripped down, open-ended refrain.

I just want to know
when will I ever get to play tag with my friends again?

 

In Sweden, kids have been playing with their friends all the while as schools were never shuttered. There have been some exceptions to this with localized closures for individual schools that experienced outbreaks. A lack of COVID-19 data collection from these schools is being decried by some in the scientific community as a missed window to better understanding how the virus impacts children and what role they may have in transmission. Overall the Swedish government approach to the pandemic has eschewed lock downs and other restrictions counting on citizens to do the right thing.

In mid-April, Danish kids are the first to break out of lock down as school bells signal the resumption of classes. Hygiene and distancing considerations are paramount as are creative solutions to space shortages (video).

Two key documents published by WHO and UNICEF – Considerations for school-related public health measures in the context of COVID-19 and Key Messages and Actions for COVID-19 Prevention and Control in Schools – are assisting administrators, teachers, parents, caregivers and students with the transition back to school.

Full or partial openings in other countries and jurisdictions followed the Danish lead. It’s not the same old, same old as these photos from around the world capture a noticeably different look and feel. Kids in Australia, Austria, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Quebec, Taiwan, Vietnam and other venues are well on the way to developing routines that embrace a new normal. The most significant setback occurred last week in South Korea where more than 250 schools were closed.

As more children return to classrooms, governments need to broadly share best practices developed within their own jurisdictions. First and foremost, there must be an underlying commitment to follow the science. Also critical are key tools to build and maintain trust such as public engagement and outreach to parents. At a minimum, detailed plans – like this one from a British Columbia school district – documenting the return process should be made available to parents in advance of openings.

Consensus is coalescing around three priority areas that have the ability to give returning students a boost. PLAY, OUTDOOR LEARNING and RECESS are relatable for kids as they shift from home isolation to a rediscovery of peers in a school-based community. In the lead up to UK school openings, discussion around these themes has been very much in evidence.

Dr. Helen Dodd is a Professor of Child Psychology at the University of Reading. She is a charter member with other mental health experts of a newly formed ad hoc group, Play First UK which seeks to give greater voice to the needs and aspirations of children during the pandemic. We had an opportunity to speak last month.

Play First UK recommends that kids should be allowed to play with their peers as soon as possible as lock downs are loosened. These peer relationships are voluntary, equal and require negotiation and compromise. Research and observation show that play with peers allows children to learn to regulate their emotions, develop social skills and form a sense of identity. When this is not possible over extended periods kids can get lonely and feel socially isolated.

We’re anticipating a huge increase for child psychology services
when we come out of this lock down period.

To offer kids a softer landing during school return transitions, Play First UK is advocating for more play. They have sent a series of recommendations to governments in Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast and to the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children.

  • The easing of lock down restrictions should be done in a way that provides all children with the time and opportunity to play with peers, in and outside of school, and even while social distancing measures remain in place.
  • Schools should be appropriately resourced and given clear guidance on how to support children’s emotional wellbeing during the transition period as schools reopen. Play should be a priority during this time, rather than academic progress.
  • Public health communications must recognise that many parents and teachers are anxious about their child’s academic progress and the risk posed to children in easing lockdown restrictions. The social and emotional benefits of play and interaction with peers must be clearly communicated, alongside guidance on the objective risks to children.

Click through for full recommendations and letter.

From Dr. Dodd’s perspective, we could all do with an empathy top up and remember that we’re in uncharted territory.

“The kids will have to settle emotionally before we can really engage in teaching them. We’re not saying to play all the time but to go easy on them – a bit more time with their peers, a bit more outdoor play and some more outdoor learning, a bit more physically active for a while and why not? All of this is good for kids anyway and will be positive experiences for most children.”

Outdoor learning is generating some good conversation in the UK and is being put into practice in Scandinavia and other European countries. The UK, Scotland in particular, is developing some expertise in this area.

Juliet Roberston is a former Head Teacher in three different schools located in northern Scotland. She left the education system about a decade ago to dig more deeply into outdoor learning and play and is in demand by a number of local authorities and schools. You can find her @CreativeStar on Twitter. She is the author of Messy Maths – A Playful Outdoor Approach to Early Years. We spoke in May.

Think of the outdoors as additional rooms and
just like an indoor class develop routines around the space.

 

Robertson is among a group of practitioners who believe outdoor learning could play an important element in helping to maintain physical distancing. She also notes that just by being outside the probability of transmission is reduced. There are also mental health benefits associated with being outdoors that are present at any time but may prove helpful in a school re-entry transition.

Even though outdoor learning in Scotland has been a part of the curriculum since 2004, Robertson realizes there will still need to be reassurances for teaching staff.  Fortunately, there is good infrastructure in place. Numerous resources and organizations focus on preparing teachers and leaders for outdoor learning. Keep your eyes open as good workshops are available like one I attended online a couple of weeks ago – Learning to Return Outdoors – Use of school grounds for curricular learning as schools tackle Covid-19 provided by Learning Through Landscapes.

Then there is recess, the only block of time in the school day to have garnered its own cartoon show. Definitely a favourite in our house no matter what time of year we poll the three kids. Now the Global Recess Alliance, “a newly formed group of scholars, health professionals, and education leaders, argues that attention to recess during school reopening is essential.”

The Alliance’s Statement on Recess has great practical advice that touches on rethinking school recess policies, safe recess practices and supporting a safe and healthy recess.

I particularly liked this safe recess practice –

“Recognize the importance of physically active play and consider a risk-benefit approach; strict rules like ‘no running’ and ‘no ball throwing can undermine the benefits of play and physical activity.”

As schools reopen, we can see it as an opportunity to request more time for play, more time in the outdoors and a don’t mess with recess policy. From the top of this hill, the grass sure is looking greener on the other side

End note – our kids don’t return to school until September. They were disappointed when they got the news. We were not. That’s because we work from home and we’re not adverse to a little more close-knit time together. We are very grateful for this and recognize that not everyone has the same flexibility. With the additional time, we are hoping that our kids’ schools will be able to better prepare for openings and benefit from best practices pioneered in other jurisdictions.

A heartfelt thanks to our kids’ teachers. They pulled the pieces together to enable the online learning experience to work for the students. They were there for the kids, connected with them and encouraged them to do their best.

A couple of weeks ago we ‘bubbled’ with our next door neighbours. They have one young lad. It was a wonderful boost to bring the two households together and see the incredible play impact it had and continues to have on what is now a merry band of four. We are hopefully anticipating the continued easing of restrictions.

There is a lot of great work underway as we live though these extreme times. These are just a few representative samples:

Covid-19 and children: what does the science tell us, and what does this mean as the lock down is eased? – Tim Gill – Rethinking Childhood

Reopening schools – how do we decide what’s best? – Simon Weedy – Child in the City

Academics highlight children’s need for street play during lockdown – Policy for Play

Learning to Return Outdoors – learning outdoors as schools return – Learning Through Landscapes