Category Archives: Giver

Reality TV is Venue for Playground and Community Building with Tomorrow’s Leaders

Local governments and communities in Ontario, Canada have an opportunity to improve on and build new public play spaces through a kid fueled reality TV show. GIVER is now queuing up for its third season. Co-produced by Sinking Ship Entertainment – makers of the smash hit Dino Dan and other critically acclaimed children’s titles – this show is hands on design, community engagement, team building and leadership development.


TVO, Ontario’s public broadcaster, is airing simple, authentic community stories that demonstrate what kids are capable of accomplishing given the opportunity. Each episode ends with the celebration of new play opportunities. It’s a format that’s worked well the first two seasons and resulted in some industry recognition.

2013 Youth Media Alliance Awards of Excellence
• Winner – “Best Television Program, All Genres, Ages 6-8”: Giver
• Nomination – “Best Convergent Website”:

PlayGroundology first checked in on GIVER as it was getting out of the gates in season one. Now that the show is established, we’re hoping there will be an expansion beyond Ontario and into other provinces perhaps even other countries.

In the meantime, we’re happy to help producer Kristen McGregor spread the word. Applications/Calls for Submissions for interested Ontario communities close on March 1. Don’t miss the boat!

Season two of GIVER begins airing April 30 on TVO.

Kids and Playgrounds Co-star in New Canadian Reality TV Show

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.

Hamilton, Ontario’s Future Park – artist’s rendition

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.

Hawkesville, Ontario – Pyramid Movers

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.

GIVER screenshot

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.

Click through on image to TVO’s GIVER page.

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.

Postscript to The Science of Play in Today’s Parent

Today’s Parent, a Canadian magazine, ran a feature in their June issue on playground trends and designs – The Science of Play. Sarah Lazarovic’s article provides an excellent overview of some of the current thoughts and perspectives on the world of playgrounds. She draws on a number of knowledgeable people in Europe and North America to illustrate the story. As founder of the blog PlayGroundology, and a novitiate playgroundologist, I was very pleased to be asked to contribute a few comments.

When Sarah and I spoke, I prattled on and on and on. Her questions provided some airtime to share thoughts on a topic I’ve become passionate about. I now have a modest couple of years under my belt researching and conducting interviews that eventually wind up as posts in this blog. My kids and I have also racked up some practical experience putting close to 100 playgrounds in five provinces through their paces. Just today, my son Noah-David piped up to me en route to one of our current local favourites, “Papa, we’re playground explorers, aren’t we?” Our hometown adventures, captured since the summer of 2009 in Halifax Plays, are just about to get underway for this year.

Home on the Range – Halifax

The Science of Play hits all the high notes on its whirlwind tour. Sarah does a tremendous job of connecting the dots on a story where the subject matter defies stereotyping or pigeonholing. There is no one size fits all when it comes to public playspaces. Sarah’s interview for the Today’s Parent story was a chance to share some of the playground knowledge I’ve acquired in the recent past. More importantly, the story presents a significant opportunity to build on Canadian conversations about what goes on behind the scenes of playground planning and development – discussions around policy considerations, design and financing models for example.

It’s in that spirit that I offer this postscript to Sarah’s article in order to expand on a couple of the points and provide some context around one of my comments.

Comparatively speaking, from what I have seen in eastern Canada, there is a lack of creativity when it comes to playground design in this country. All we have to do is look overseas to Denmark, Germany, the UK, Sweden and Finland where design is flourishing. Their towns and cities have not been overtaken by the march of composite plastics and prefab metal posts and beams.

Although creative design is not a hallmark of the Canadian playground ethos, it is not totally absent from the landscape. There are bright spots well worth a look. Nestled on the Mountain in downtown Montreal is Salamander Playground – green grass, grand trees and a water orb. In the nation’s capital, Strathcona’s Folly is a time capsule playspace made from architectural bric à brac, a treasure of form and texture.

Water Orb – Montreal’s Salamander Playground. Click here for Original Designs slideshow.

The Magdalen Islands’ Boats are anchored safely ashore as they crash and crest through imaginary seas. And as home port to Canada’s East Coast Navy, maritime traditions run deep in Halifax and now kids can pretend they’re on a diving adventure à la Jules Verne on their own orange submarine. In Winnipeg, there’s Assiniboine Park Playground opened in the spring of 2011 that puts nature front and center. I’m hoping someday to get out to Richmond, B.C., just to test and tour that funked up Garden City Park Playground.

In Halifax, we are well served by the number of playgrounds – over 300 – and by high maintenance standards. But with the exception of our orange submarine, we’re kind of sparse on the discovering new design frontiers department. As parents, if we’re not satisfied with the current state of playground design then we have a responsibility to band together and engage our municipal governments and/or school boards to bring about change. This is not change just for the sake of it. It’s about creating enticing spaces with public funds that will help to break the pall of physical inactivity which is becoming endemic. It’s about valuing creativity in our children and local designers and fashioning space that calls out for imaginative play.

Canada could benefit from a voluntary sector organization that focuses exclusively on advocating for play on behalf of kids. These organizations exist in Europe and Australasia. I’m thinking here of Play England and its independent sister organizations such as Play Wales which hosted the 2011 International Play Association World Conference.

These groups conduct research, develop policy guidelines, compile and curate online resources, work with and challenge government, deliver programming and fulfill an important role in the public promotion of play. They are a non-commercial voice of sanity. In the US the social entrepreneur group KaBOOM! does similar work promoting play through Playful Cities USA in addition to spearheading playground builds with local communities.

On the question of costs, customized designs local or otherwise, can be more expensive but this is certainly not always the case. If there are no requests for alternative playground designs being made of a municipality then the path of least resistance is a trip to the numerous manufacturers who provide tried and true professional service that does not deviate from code and embodies more of the same old, same old. With price tags running anywhere from $100,000 to $500,000 they’re certainly not in the ‘cheap’ category. Playgrounds are big business.

Ontario’s public broadcaster TVO with Sinking Ship Productions has co-produced the first season of a show that’s all about do-it-yourself improvements and renos to local playgrounds by the kids who use them. Each project comes in at $10,000 cash with additional donations and volunteer labour. It’s an interesting model that might catch on. Read about it soon here in PlayGroundology.

Thanks to the editors at Today’s Parent for assigning this article. This is a conversation that should continue to grow. There is more to this universe of play and playgrounds than meets the eye. I don’t have any sophisticated media monitoring tools at my disposal but I sense there is an uptick in Canada’s mainstream media on coverage that focuses on play and playgrounds. I’ve seen stories on TVO, heard them on CBC Radio and read them in The Globe and Mail, The National Post, The Toronto Star, The Calgary Herald and The Vancouver Sun to name some that come immediately to mind.

Keep the play movin’.