Category Archives: CBC

The Pure Joy of Goofing Around

Can there possibly be a more endearing premise for a documentary than kids and a far-flung menagerie of animals starring in a true life scientific investigation? Invite a few academic luminaries along to drive the narrative and you get a story that must be told. “The pure joy of goofing around” as host David Suzuki intones during the opening sequence while a gorilla in a shallow pool spins around in absolute abandon.


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The Power of Play debuts on Canada’s most popular and beloved science series, CBC’s The Nature of Things later this week. The documentary examines one of the most compelling and richly layered activities of kids the world over – PLAY.

But wait, it’s more than just kids having fun, more than homo sapiens and their primate cousins even. The filmmakers take a walk on the wild side trekking far beyond the somewhat predictably playful domestic dog and cat to check in on other species from the worlds of mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles. Be ready to get acquainted with the lighter side of turtles, rats, hamsters, elephants, an octopus and even a komodo dragon.

A year and a half in the making, Nova Scotia’s Tell Tale Productions shot kids, animals and passionate advocates of kids’ play and animal behaviour in Norway, the US and Canada. What we see are kids being kids, animals being animals and the scholars speaking to why we should care about human and animal play, why this spontaneous and intrinsically motivated activity matters.

There is something in our deeply rooted nature that is able to communicate with a whole range of life on this planet.

Gordon Burghardt, Reptile Ethologist

The show is as entertaining as it is informative exploring little known aspects of animal behaviour. Who knew that fish play and I don’t mean some anthropomorphic Nemo-like gyrations. It took hours to capture a short segment showing a fish playing with a tin foil decorated ball at Dalhousie University’s Aquatron Laboratory. The investment of time is representative of the effort and patience required to understand how play displays in animals outside our relatively constrained domestic orbits.

Behavioural ecologist, Johnathan Pruitt’s research leads him to conclude that, “things like play occur all over the animal kingdom.” I now admiringly think of Pruitt as Spider Man. His startling discoveries about public displays in the not so secret lives of – you guessed it, spiders – are expanding our understanding of play. And it’s not just any old spiders, his painstaking study is drawing back the veil so to speak on social spiders, a small subset of arachnids made up of a mere 20 species worldwide.

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Spoiler alert – there are seriously cute cats and other social media sourced clips of inter-species play in the program. Tune in to see some surprising pairings and determine yourself if there is a clear winner in the cute sweepstakes. As Suzuki comments, “the impulse to have fun seems to cross all kinds of divides in the animal kingdom.”

Bonobos give play pride of place. It is a core component of their social interactions. Their adoption, or adaptation of play differentiates them from their close relatives the chimpanzees. A frequent chimp response on encountering other groups of their own species is to fight. Bonobos are more prone to make play, not war.

Play is pervasive in bonobo society…  It’s difficult to understand if empathy is at the basis of play, or if play is at the basis of empathy…

Primatologist, Elisabetta Palagi

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Empathy brings the journey squarely into the camp of human experience. The program’s timing is spot on as caregivers, researchers, educators, healthcare and recreation professionals and journalists are examining attitudes and benefits associated with play, risk, resilience and independence. In the process there is a reset underway of some more recent cultural norms.

Over the last two or three decades in North America and to a lesser extent Europe a pervasive adverseness to exposing kids to risk has supplanted independence, unsupervised play, and many aspects of outdoor kid culture that were thriving right through the 1970s.

The preoccupation has been so pronounced in some quarters that in the UK for example the fixation has been tagged cotton wool culture, known too in other jurisdictions as bubble wrap kids.

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Informed by observation and evidence-based findings across a number of disciplines, there is a meaningful shift taking place related to risk. International collaborators Mariana Brussoni and Ellen Sandseter from Canada and Norway respectively are changing the way we perceive risk as it relates to kids at play.

I came to the counter-intuitive conclusion that engaging in risk was actually a very important aspect of preventing injuries.

Mariana Brussoni – Associate Professor, University of British Columbia

Individually, each of the university-based researchers have devoted years of investigation to various facets of play. Brussoni recently launched outsideplay.ca “to help parents and caregivers gain the confidence to allow their kids to engage in more outdoor play.” Sandseter published seminal work for her doctoral degree – Scaryfunny: A Qualitative Study of Risky Play Among Preschool Children.

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Together they are being inspired by the children around them and are currently collaborating on remodeling playgrounds in eight Norwegian child care centres with the goal of making them more thrilling. Sandseter has it on good authority what it is that triggers those thrill factors. Through her interviews with children, she has developed a risky play inventory.

They (the kids) usually say it tickles in my tummy. I get so happy and so excited that I just had to laugh out loud.

Ellen Sandseter – Professor, Early Childhood Education, Queen Maud University College

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Independent, adult-free outdoor play is not dead but it’s greatly diminished and that’s a concern for the health of our kids now and into the future

The pre-school children in Trondheim, Norway embody the adventure, the boldness, the hope that we can take back play. There is a renaissance, a resurgence that will help counter some of the problems we are seeing linked to overuse of devices and screen time, to low self-esteem and more serious mental health issues in young people.

As adults, parents and caregivers we have a responsibility to be play enablers in our communities. So how do we go about advocating for play? Tuning in to The Power of Play is a great first step.

There is much more that I have not touched on here so choose a healthy snack, kick back, get comfy and play ‘watch a doc’ on Sunday, January 20 at 8 pm EST….

Let’s give the last word to Stuart Brown. A student of play for over 50 years he aptly sums it all up.

What you find is that it’s necessary for a sense of optimism, fulfillment, for a sense of competency, for a sense of an authentic self. These are all components that play produces and many more for the well-being of individuals.

Stuart Brown – Founder, The National Institute for Play

PostScript

  • Huge finding – girls play outside more when unsupervised. I can corroborate this here at home with our two girls, 11 and 9. PlayGroundology friends are you noting this too?
  • Those who participated in the making of the film overwhelmingly felt that it was an honour, a significant opportunity to help present research to a broad audience that documents the far-reaching benefits of play.
  • David Suzuki loves this show and and immediately saw the wisdom of the message about play. He was a real outdoorsy kid and encourages his kids and grandkids to do the same.  He biked to the playground where he did the standup for this show.
  • The film is being distributed internationally by SidewaysFilm. To date sales have been made to Sweden and Finland.
  • The Power of Play‘s director, Christine McLean remembers being shooed outdoors with her siblings on cold winter days so her Mom could wash the kitchen floor. Mom wrapped them up warmly and gave them shovels and spoons to keep them busy in the snow. Looking back McLean sees those days of play as one of the best gifts their mom ever gave them. Where do your play memories take you?

 

The Power of Play
Sunday, January 20 at 8 pm EST on CBC’s The Nature of Things
(check local listings)
Production company: Tell Tale Productions
Producer: Erin Oakes
Director: Christine McLean

 

PlayGroundology on CBC’s Maritime Noon

Today, I’m an in studio guest with Norma Lee MacLeod, host of CBC Radio’s Maritime Noon. We’ll be talking playgrounds and I’m looking forward to hearing from listeners in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia about their perspectives on the state of public play spaces. If you’re a PlayGroundology friend in the Maritimes, tune in for the conversation. We’ll also be giving away a copy of Brenda Biondo’s beautiful photography book – Once Upon a Playground.

I’ve cobbled together a few storify stories that Maritime Noon listeners and regular PlayGroundology readers can explore. Just click through on the bolded titles below or the accompanying photos and you’ll be whisked away to curated content that includes journalism, videos, blogposts and more.

One resource that I would like to single out that may be of interest to listeners is No Fear – Growing Up in a Risk Averse Society (free download) written by British play advocate Tim Gill and published by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

And now, on with the storify content.


Adventure and Loose Parts

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A Greater Risk

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The Makers
Toshiko storify

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Right to Play
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Resources for Play
Glasgow Green storify
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If you are able to tune in to today’s program, thanks for listening and thanks to the Maritime Noon team for making it happen.

The Kids Are Alright

The kids are alright, well actually these ones are quite spectacular. On opposite sides of the Atlantic this week media are reporting on stories of two groups of youth helping to make their communities better places.

In Halifax, capital of Canada’s Ocean Playground, Hope Blooms, a community social enterprise walked away with a significant investment following their pitch on a nationally broadcast TV show, Dragon’s Den.

The Hope Blooms line of salad dressing made from what they plant and harvest in community gardens is a hot seller. The six Hope Blooms members who pitched the five dragons on the show in Toronto were able to raise airfare to get there in short order. That’s because they are well known, loved and supported by the larger North End Halifax community.

They went to the show, which aired last night, with a $10,000 ask promising 5% royalties until the loan was paid back. They walked away with $40,0000, no strings attached and promises of promotion and product placement by the four dragons who came forward to support their venture.

The story resonated far and wide in Halifax where it was a topic of conversation throughout the day around the city. It struck a chord with the dragons too (Hope Blooms segment of the show available here – may not be accessible in all countries) and was part of the CBC’s national news broadcast yesterday evening. A great story of community, commitment, passion and engagement. Hats off to the youth of Hope Blooms and may their ideas and hard work continue to bear fruit.

Over in the UK in London’s East End, a group of primary kids in Hackney is raising funds for a school playground. Three years ago the school raised funds to help build a playground in Kenya. Now it’s their own Millfields Community School that is in need.

The kids have banded together along with some professional musicians to record a song penned by a community member and former teacher, Johnathan Hart. A digital download of Christmas is £0.99 and 20% of sales will be donated to UNICEF.

More on the Hackney kids in this story from East London Lines. If you want to hear some sweet voices and help their cause, click through here.

Inspiring stories showing what young people can accomplish in the name of community.

Are Playground Injuries Really Where We’re Hurting Most?

Last week Canada’s national public broadcaster, CBC, aired an item on playground injuries. The lead pretty much summed it all up, a numbers story that fell short on broader context.

“More than 28,000 children are injured every year on playgrounds across Canada, and the rate of hospitalizations has gone up by eight per cent between 2007 and 2012, CBC News has learned.”

CBC Playground Injuries copy

One thing is sure, no one wants to see a child injured. I live in Halifax, Canada a city with more than 300 playgrounds. My kids and I have played at about 50. They’re well maintained, mostly of the predictable off the shelf variety that address safety concerns and are light on excitement. In the last few years, I don’t recall any media reports about serious injuries.

Now I’m sure we can make playgrounds safer. How about thick foam landing mats as ground covering like those that welcome pole vaulters as they fall earthward, or maybe getting kids suited up in protective gear? While I don’t want to make light of safety concerns, overzealousness on the safety scale reduces the ability of kids to experience and assess risk on their own. For a great resource on risk and play, read Tim Gill’s No Fear – Growing up in a risk averse society (free download).

I was disappointed in the CBC story and felt shortchanged. How many injuries occurr in homes, automobiles, skater parks? Where do playgrounds fit in the kid injury stats? Fortunately, others were thinking along the same lines including Chris Selley who shared her perspective in the National Post‘s Full Comment section of the paper.

“For 2010, the CIHI database of major injury hospitalizations contains 1,918 patients under the age of 20. Of those injuries, 387 (20%) were caused by falls. And of those 387 falls, just 12 (3%) involved playground equipment.”

The tenor of the CBC item may have left some parents alarmed, not to speak of cash strapped municipal governments whose capital budgets are the primary bankers for playground design, installation and maintenance.

DSC07730Halifax’s submarine playground, one of the few custom designs in the city

In truth though, the casualty here has to do with not reporting the bigger story – children are spending less and less time outdoors in self directed, independent play. It is not clear what long term repercussions will result from this societal shift that started taking place decades ago.

During the same week the CBC item was aired, two articles were published in the US. In the magazine aeon, Peter Gray wrote about the changing face of play in his article, The Play Deficit. He brings a researcher’s rigour to the subject.

“Over the same decades that children’s play has been declining, childhood mental disorders have been increasing.”

In The Atlantic Cities, writer Sarah Goodyear reflected on Gray’s article in her piece entitled Why our kids need play, now more than ever. Her conclusion is forceful.

“The problem is so deep and systemic that it must be addressed at all levels of society, beginning with the family. If you have kids, ask yourself if they are getting enough time to explore and run around.”

It was a great week for play in the US. This past weekend saw people gathering in Pennsylvania to promote and discuss The Philadelphia Declaration of Play. Click here if you would like to sign the Declaration or just find out more about this initiative.

Philly Declaration of PlaySome members of the Philadelphia Declaration of Play project

North America is not alone in the diminishing play scenario. The UK has a well documented challenge to contend with also. Take a look at Play England’s Love Outdoor Play campaign then ask yourself where the greater benefit lies. Is it in shining the light on the value of increasing independent play opportunities and addressing the root causes of its decline in the digital age, or is it in the relentless pursuit of safety at playgrounds?

With all due respect to those who have suffered playground injuries (and those who report on them), there is no doubt that safety issues are important, but we need to get at where we’re really hurting on a much more significant level – the shrinking role of play in our children’s lives.

Editor’s note – I was contacted by one of the reporters doing research for the national component of the CBC story. During a 20 to 30 minute conversation, I offered information on risk as it relates to play, suggested designers who provide alternatives to modular, ‘off the shelf’ playground equipment and pointed out other well established play traditions such as Europe’s adventure playgrounds that differ dramatically from the Canadian experience.

I followed up this conversation with an email that provided additional resources. Given that all my prior experiences speaking about play and playgrounds with CBC had been very positive, I was surprised that none of the background, particularly the linkages to risk as it relates to play, saw the light of day. I had been invited to do an on-air interview for the regional item coming out of Halifax but unfortunately this fell through due to scheduling conflicts.

I do hope there will be subsequent opportunities for CBC to examine the decline of independent play and its causes as well as the work that is being undertaken in Canada and around the world on behalf of kids to reverse this trend.