From Québec with Love

Eddying winds sculpt feathery drifts partially blocking steps to a slide. It’s the seasonal deluge of white. Landscapes shift presenting new contours and dips. A summer hill is now winter’s sledding delight. Snow’s crisp crunch and sub-zero temperatures jazz up the tempo of playground activity. Everyone is in pursuit of warm.

Parc Larivière is a favourite destination during this winter’s holiday in Sorel. The outdoor ice rink is the glistening jewel that keeps us coming back. Noah has just learned to skate and cannot get enough hockey time.

After we unlace the skates, he treks through the snow for a romp on the horse swings, a scoot down the slide, or a boing boing spring on the elephant. It’s not the same leisurely exploration as shorts, sandals and sunscreen days. The cold penetrates even on the move. Soft, sweet cheeks ripen round and red as apples. When it’s time to go home there are no remonstrations.

It’s here in Sorel that I had a playground epiphany in the summer of 2008. My father-in-law Raymond and I were taking then two-year-old Noah on a swinging, sliding and climbing adventure most days that there was no rain. They were fun fuelled, energizing outings for the three of us.

Each morning shortly after breakfast, Noah would ask if we could go to a playground. One of our favourites that summer was Parc Bibeau. The elephant, toucan, whale and duck spring riders were a big hit. Noah happily gave them all a whirl – riding one, hopping off, straddling another, rocking away into the sunset on his own private rodeo.

Our daily excursions inspired the idea of a marathon of playgrounds – a one day activity that consists of visiting every playground in town. In Sorel, with 20 playgrounds serving a population of just over 4,000 kids aged 14 and under, this is a challenge we should be able to manage. Despite arduous training in winter and summer conditions on all our subsequent visits, the marathon remains in the concept stage.

We should be clearing one of our key logistical hurdles this summer. Nap time, which can be a two and one-half to the three hour engagement for Noah, will be relegated to the dustbin of history by the time June rolls around. These three extra hours will make all the difference.

Quick, preliminary calculations suggest it will take about eight hours to run, swing and jump through every playground with short breaks for snacks and a picnic lunch. This estimate is based on 15 minutes play time at each playground and 10 minutes travel time between each location. It’s a gruelling schedule.

We’re fortunate to have Raymond on our marathon team. As a former physical education teacher at the elementary school level he knows how to coach the best out of kids. On our Sorel playground outings we regularly hear, ‘Monsieur Raymond’ from former students who come over to say hello. Throughout his career he was a big proponent of getting kids active outdoors. Playgrounds were one of his venues of choice.

There’s lots of work to be done leading up to June. We will need to be mentally and physically prepared. I’ll plot our preliminary route on Google Maps for Raymond’s review. Noah and I will begin our training in April back in Halifax. We won’t do a full day but will work our way up to seven or eight playgrounds in the run of a morning.

A couple of days ago while returning home from Parc Bibeau, Noah asked if we will be coming to Sorel this summer. When I gave him a yes, he responded, “I’m going to tell grand-papa and in one day we’ll go to all the playgrounds to play, all of them and Parc Bibeau too.” The marathon idea seems to have captured his imagination and really that’s all that counts.

Another result of our early Sorel playground days is the PlayGround Chronicles blog that I launched in Halifax in July 2009. Our Sorel playgrounding inspired me to start documenting Halifax’s playgrounds through narratives, photos and mapping. My general curiosity and a growing interest in all things playgroundish have led to the PlayGroundology blog. It’s amazing how a few sunny days and our smiling children can bring us to new places of discovery.

There is no doubt, I’ve truly been bitten by the playground bug in Sorel. I’m not sure if it was Parc Soleil’s red-nosed spider, or Parc Bibeau’s anorexic

caterpillar that got me. I thank them both. Each of them has made our Noah laugh.

For now it’s winter. Our yellow duck’s orange bill is nearly buried in snow and the toucan has been knocked off its perch. We’ll be back when the sun is shining and the weather is sweet. By then hopefully, the toucan will be primed for riding. We’ll let you know how we make out with the first annual Sorel summer love playground tour.

PlayGroundology will report on our marathon of playgrounds in June.

All materials, unless otherwise attributed or credited, copyright ⓒ 2010 Alex Smith.

If you’re a non-profit or not-for-profit group, feel free to hyperlink, excerpt, or reproduce the contents of this post. Please reference PlayGroundology. For commercial reproduction of this content, please consult the editor.

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