Ontario’s towns and cities could be on the verge of a grassroots playground revolution. It’s already taking place in 13 communities across Canada’s second largest province. GIVER, a new TVO public television reality program for children, shows how kids themselves can make a difference and inspire broader community action.
It’s the kind of experiential television that has the potential of creating ripples. Seeing young designers and builders mashing up playgrounds in a truly kidcentric vibe is sure to have other kids, parents, municipal councillors and parks and recreation directors sitting up and taking notice.
J.J. Johnson is one of the principals and co-founders of Sinking Ship Entertainment, co-producers of GIVER with TVO. He’s almost evangelical when speaking about the the impact these small scale community projects are having on the kids who participate in the planning and the builds.
The kids learn about taking control of their environment, making something that suits themselves and their friends. It also shows them that it’s possible. The kids are out there getting people to donate stuff. They’re learning that it’s not as complicated as they might have thought.
Series host and kid crew leader Michael lays out the recipe at the top of each episode – six kids, three days, one mission – build a playground with their community.
It’s all about kids with ideas and tools pumped to learn. They’re having fun, becoming community minded and learning practical life skills by refurbishing, rebuilding and renewing their public playscapes. GIVER, targeted at the six to nine-year-old demographic, is part sweat, part play and part problem solving with a dash of magic thrown in for good measure as the clip below shows.
Even for the creators of successful series like This is Daniel Cook and Dino Dan there were some unanticipated learning curve moments as GIVER was coming out of the starting gates. When Johnson received a $460,000 quote on the show’s first playground design, he thought it was all over before they even had a chance to begin. With a budget of $10,000 per playground, Johnson knew that they would not be able to rely on standard design or build approaches.
Not surprisingly, the path to success was grounded in community engagement. The GIVER team called on local businesses to donate supplies and on volunteers to help with construction. Experts were available to advise on safety issues and the kids themselves generated some do-it-yourself design.
Donations of time, labour and materials in conjunction with more modest designs helped the show stay within budget. The GIVER teams, local kids were recruited from each community, were able to create memorable experiences, playable public spaces and stay within budget.
Johnson thinks the playground posse from Hawkesville (population – 300) might just have put together the best finished product in the show’s first season. Kids there now have a giant sandbox that Johnson is hoping is the biggest in Canada, an 8′ tall pyramid climber and a sandcastle with a hidden passageway. Local craftspeople were instrumental in making the design come to life.
This flickr slideshow captures the impressive transformations the kids reigned over in four of the participating communities – Hawkesville, Hamilton, Etobicoke and Batawa.
In the course of the first season there has been a lot of learning. Johnson wants to do his best to share the GIVER experience as widely as possible. Blueprints of the designs will be posted online for other communities to use and adapt. Currently there is a tip sheet available on what is becoming an extensive website.
We’ve met so many communities that have been fundraising for years trying to build a playground because they think it’s $400,000. If we can share some hints on how we can build with proper approval processes and some of the scarier things you think you can’t do, I think we’ll find that they can build these things for $10,000 to $15,000 just by activating people in their community.
Another important plus in this process of community engagement is pride, ownership and a strong link to all those individuals – kids and adults – who helped create something new. Without exception, usage of the GIVER playspaces skyrocketed when compared with pre-show levels.
So what do the kids think of all this? If you live in Ontario, you can find out by tuning in at 6:30 p.m. EST Tuesdays. Check the TVO schedule for additional air times. If you live in Canada, you can view previously broadcast episodes online here or by clicking through on the image below.
If you’re from somewhere else in the world and can’t generate a Canadian IP address then you’ll either have to be satisfied with Johnson’s take on it, or start up your own GIVER type show. If you do the latter, please flip us a note.
“It’s great to see the sense of pride in the kids from what they’ve accomplished. It’s a director’s dream. My favourite thing to shoot was the final interviews with the kids. Invariably each would say that they feel like they can do anything now and that they were proud that they helped their community,” he says. “One little girl wished that she could do GIVER every day.”
The last word goes to Pat Ellingson, creative head of TVOKids.
It’s all about kids doing something to help others and connecting to their communities. GIVER shows just how amazing, intelligent and caring young people can be. It’s wonderful to introduce a child to something new. Every episode you see the light bulbs coming on. It was like watching education in action, a spark was being created. Kids were engaged. It was the best classroom.
Thanks TVO, Sinking Ship Entertainment and all the kids giving something back to their communities. Let’s hope you’ll be back for subsequent seasons.