Category Archives: guest post

Party

Editor’s note – this is a guest post by Tom Bedard taken from his blog Sand and Water Tables. PlayGroundology has had a few guest bloggers over the years and with one exception, that would be this one, I had some connection with the writer. This time around Tom doesn’t even know I’m sharing this piece. I’m doing so because Juliet Robertson suggested to a group in her network to share this piece as a tribute and honour to an individual who has contributed much to children and the world of play. Read on to find out about the best retirement party ever, a brilliant take on bringing people together through play.

Serendipitously, I was at a similar party earlier today in Middle Musquodoboit, Nova Scotia to celebrate the opening of a natural playground that was built with love through broad community engagement. I will be posting about the Natural Resources Education Centre’s Natural Learning and Play Space later this week.

I have been thinking about retiring for over a year. One of my big concerns was: What kind of party do I want because I knew the families in our program would want to throw a party. That was especially true because my colleague and mentor, Lani Shapiro, whom I have worked with for the past eight years, was retiring with me. Lani was the parent educator in the program and had worked very hard with the families to build a community, a community that looks inward at its values and outward to use those values to build a bigger, more inclusive community. To be true to our values, we wanted a celebration that included past and present families. We wanted a celebration that would bring them all together, not to talk about us, but to talk with us and with each other. We also had an obligation—yes, an obligation—to have the children be an integral part of the celebration.

In early winter, I had a meeting with an group of educators I meet with on a monthly basis to talk about large muscle play in the classroom. As we were leaving the meeting, one of the members off-evenhandedly asked another member about their adventure play event at his school. That question was all that was needed for the light to go on. I had read blogs over the past couple of years that talked about adventure play events. The one I have seen the most is Pop-up Adventure Play. It just so happens that the member asking the question is involved in Twin City Adventure Play. In January, I asked to meet with the group to talk about the possibility of doing our retirement party. I liked what I heard and asked them to give me a proposal I could send along to our advisory council. When the advisory council saw the proposal, they were on board immediately.

Fast forward to last Saturday. Parents had been gathering cardboard boxes of all sizes, cardboard tubes, fabric, sticks, rods, tape and you-name-it for two weeks. It was time to party. All the materials were laid out on the lawn.

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It might look like a recycling nightmare, but this was the invitation for the children to play.

The coordinator gathered the volunteers for a brief training, a training that encompassed their role in the event.

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Essentially they were to act as play workers to step back and monitor the play from the background and to only intervene when play looked dangerous. They were also encouraged to help other adults step back to let the children play.

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Of course, as the children arrived, they knew immediately what to do. No instructions were necessary; no dividing up into groups; no dividing into age groups. This was their play space to create their own narratives.

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As the afternoon progressed, more and more people came and everyone kept busy. The adults got to visit and the children played. Old acquaintances were renewed and new friends were made.

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There were short bursts of rain throughout the afternoon, but that did not dampen play. In fact, when it would rain, the adults retreated under the eaves of the school and the children kept right on creating, usually fabricating little shelters from the rain.

At the end, there was a little talking to the group about us and we got to thank the families for all they had given us over the years.

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As I drove home from the event, I could not stop smiling. I was ecstatic; I was floating on air. Ostensibly the families had come to celebrate our retirement. In actuality they came to celebrate a community; a community of families they had helped build over the years that respects children and their rights, that respects others and are not so quick to judge; a community that knows how to build community and will carry on.

We had well over 400 people who came and went throughout the afternoon. Sadly, I did not even get to talk to everyone who came. So let me now say to all of you: thank you for a splendid party. It was a superb sendoff.

P. S. I need to send a special thank you to Seniz and Damian from Twin City Adventure Play for creating the framework for our community to pull off this event. I hope others come to see the value in your work and guidance.

I also need to give a special thank you to the planning committee who spent many hours planning the event not really knowing what would happen but having the faith and conviction to make it happen. Thank you Nora, Vanessa, Anne, Brianna, Becca, Ella, and Dawn. You throw a great party!

What makes a favourite?


Editor’s note – It is always a pleasure to welcome guest writers to PlayGroundology. Mark Schwarz suggested the idea for this post when we got together for a lunch in Halifax at the tail end of last year. It’s a serendipitous time for me to post this as I’m just returning from a trip to visit my first granddaughter Evelyn. It was a wintry Toronto time for me, not as balmy as it is in Mark’s home away from home.


Mark Schwarz (aka Grandpa) is the co-owner of Earthscape, an award-winning Canadian custom playground design-build firm. He spends a few months each year in Australia with some of his grandchildren who provide valuable insight as playground testers for his sometimes zany ideas. He began his career as an engineer but the kid in him got the better of him and now his business is play. He has visited playgrounds around the world, always with an eye to evaluating play value and site design.

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Grandpa: “What are your favourite playgrounds in the world girls?”
Akira: “Muddy’s. That’s all.”
Elora: “Yeah, just Muddy’s”

Cairns, a small city in tropical Northern Queensland, Australia, is home to the world’s most successful playground. I know, I know everyone has their favourite playground, so why does Muddy’s get the top vote from almost everyone who has visited?

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The latest visit by my granddaughters and I demonstrates some of the great design ideas embodied in the playground which gets consistently high visitor traffic, in a city of 140,000. In the 4 years we’ve been coming to Cairns, we’ve visited Muddy’s 10 to 12 times. Most of our visits have lasted 1.5 to 2 hours. The most recent visit was on a Sunday afternoon, 32 Deg C, partial sun and cloud. 150 to 200 people were spread throughout the playground area, even when a rainstorm blew through for a half hour.

This is the most used playground we’ve been to, including 20 or so playgrounds we visited in Sydney, AU, and the much more costly Blaxland Riverside Park, built for the Sydney Olympics, Muddy’s ranks as Tripadvisor’s #2 Activity in Cairns, which is the highest rank for a playground I’m aware of.

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Great things about the playground:

– Landscape Architecture. Canopy of fig trees covers most of the site. Gardens break up views and create rooms of distinct play zones.
– Themed seating integrated throughout site. Parents can sit throughout site. The 150+ people on site Sunday all had places to sit, in the shade, close to their children. Many playgrounds we’ve visited have no seating, and those that do are rarely shaded.
– Custom themed. The playground is a mix of standard manufactured play equipment, and themed playable sculpture, art, and site amenities like seating and BBQ shelters.
– Integration. The site doesn’t read like most playgrounds – plopped from space onto a site. Circulation, plantings, play equipment, streams, BBQ area, cafe, musical instruments are integrated into cohesive design.

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– Multi-generational appeal. The BBQ areas and cafe are used by all ages, and the water features appeal to both parents and children.
– Water. This is tropical Australia, so we’re always overheated and sweaty, especially while running around a playground. Water is integrated throughout the site, in streams, fountains, a splashpad, and water walls. The splashpad is used mostly by children, the other features are used by all ages. Most of the adults don’t have bathing suits, so they cool down by walking in streams, getting partially immersed in fountains, and hanging out in the mist from the splashpad.

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What elements make up your favourite playground? Leave us a comment….


 

Pop-Ups On The Road 2014

Itinerant playmakers and PlayGroundology friends Pop-Up Adventure Play are on the road in a big way this year. PlayGroundology asked Suzanna Law if she could contribute a guest post to share some of her thoughts and experiences about the group’s recently concluded US tour. We’re happy she took us up on the offer. Stay tuned for future tour dates, perhaps you can organize to have them come to a community near you. I know we’ll be looking for an opportunity to bring them to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Exactly two months and eleven days ago, I was a ball of anxiety. I was in a snow storm with my colleague Anna and her two children battling our way to Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA to meet Morgan, our other colleague. As the car fought its way through the thick blanket of snow, I started to wonder if a two-month tour of the USA was a good idea.

This then triggered a whole wave of other thoughts: Will the hosts be ready for us? Would the little yellow car we chose be able to complete the journey? Are we really ready for this? But really, my biggest question was this: Was I going to make it to the first stop of the tour? Turns out I had nothing to worry about. Two months and six days on, after “sleeping for a thousand hours” (as Morgan put it) the tour is complete and I am ready to reflect on my adventure. And wow, was it incredible.

PopUp1Here is our little yellow car! It traveled through 28 States and did around 11,000 miles!

Let’s talk about some details first. Ever since Pop-Up Adventure Play was formed about 3 years ago, we have been invited to communities across the world but primarily in the USA. People have been wanting to find out more about playwork and to find out how they can bring more playful opportunities into their own homes. Above all, they wanted some people who have worked in the field before to come into their community to tell everyone that play is a good idea.

The biggest barrier to our visits has been the cost of travel which isn’t always an enormous amount, but is a stumbling block for many. Having mulled over this for a while, we decided to organise a tour! This would reduce travel costs as we’d already be on the road, and we would also be able to go where we would be invited. And that’s how we began the Pop-Up Adventure Play and Special Guests Tour 2014!

PopUp2Cardboard Sledding at Bernheim Arboretum in Kentucky

As the Tour Organizer, I had a personal aim of getting 7 locations on the tour. In my mind, it would be a success if I had one event every weekend. Morgan and I would form the core tour team and we would bring in our friends to be part of the tour. Using a combination of social media and reaching out to some of our existing contacts, we started the tour with 14 confirmed locations. Two weeks into the tour, we had somehow booked another 2 stops on the tour and had reached our limit: Pop-Ups Tour 2014 would be a 16 stop tour. I still can’t believe it.

PopUp3Chasing the robot at Manhattan Beach, CA

Oh goodness, and how could I not talk about our Special Guests? Grant Lambie, Andy Hinchcliffe and Erin Davis joined us for parts of the tour, bringing their expertise to communities who asked for a little extra; who wanted knowledge and experience that we didn’t have. They truly brought an extra spark to the tour, supporting us with their know-how, encouragement and car care.

Some really stand out moments of the trip have been with hosts at their locations. They have been absolutely amazing and inspirational, standing on the frontline of what feels like an American Adventure Play movement. They are brave and bold, and determined to create a playful, adventure-filled future for their children and for the communities in which their children live, all the while working within a society that isn’t all too familiar with play for it’s own sake. I have been blown away by their passion for play.

PopUp4Adventure Playground at the Parish School in Houston, TX

PopUp5An incredible place to play in Cary, NC

It may have been hard work driving a tiny yellow car across the US and stopping mostly to deliver workshops, run Pop-Up Adventure Playgrounds and to sleep, but it was totally worth the journey. Anxiety and tiredness aside, the Pop-Up Adventure Play and Special Guests Tour 2014 was a complete success. I’m so chuffed (British for “really pleased”) about this whole thing which you can read more about on our blog and am proud to announce that we’ll be doing this all again in 2015! If you want to be part of our next adventure, please email me on suzanna@popupadventureplay.org.

PopUp6Bouncing off the inflatable loose parts in Portland, OR

Playground Postcards

It’s a real pleasure to welcome a new contributor to PlayGroundology and a new voice to the international conversation on play and playgrounds – Rachel Hawkes Cameron. I met Rachel earlier this year at a downtown coffee shop – not a playground in sight. My ears were wide open as she told me about her studies and the thesis that she was preparing at the time. She wanted to speak with me about what I had picked up during my playground blogging over the past few years. For my part, it was the first time I had met a flesh and blood person who was studying playground design – what a treasure. I encourage you to check out Rachel’s thesis – see the link at the end of this post.

Rachel will be participating on a panel discussion as part of Where has all the playing gone? two evenings of presentations based on the PlayGroundology and Halifax Plays blogs. For Halifax readers details on the presentations at the Alderney Library here. I’m looking forward to further posts from Rachel in the weeks and months to come.

Image AA make shift bicycle sits in Kolle 37 – a modern day adventure playground in Berlin, with treehouses built and maintained by kids with adult supervision.

As a child, our interpretations of the spaces in which we play aren’t necessarily analytical – a child who grows up scaling beams in a barn is not aware of his or her experience as being vastly different than the urban child’s daily interaction with monkey bars and metal slides. However, it is undeniable that these early experiences with recreational play can influence us as adults. Through play, we learn to problem solve, to share, to act independently.

As for myself, I grew up in downtown Toronto, attending elementary school in the eighties when it was okay to have a two-story wooden fortress in your playground. My family didn’t own a cottage and I was pretty highly scheduled what with ballet classes, swim team and piano, so my experiences with outdoor play were mainly urban. Yet I recall my experiences in the playground distinctly – the defeat of falling off the highest rung of the ladder, the accomplishment of getting up the nerve to jump off the swings when they are going their highest and – for me – the devastation when my soaring playground was levelled to make way for a pre-fabricated, innocuous and plastic “play structure”, as enforced by the city so as to prevent injury.

I reflected upon these experiences when I began my Master of Design thesis, which I completed in May at the Nova Scotia Academy of Art and Design in Halifax. Entitled “From the Playground UP: Can the design of playspaces influence childhood development?”, it is an examination of the importance of providing challenging, evocative playspaces to kids living in urban parts of North America.

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Because I was executing my research from a design standpoint (my undergrad was in Architecture), it seemed clear to me that visiting playgrounds internationally – specifically in Europe – was essential in gathering the immense possibilities for playspaces in North America, and possibly a way to understand what we’re missing.

Throughout the course of my thesis research, I visited playgrounds in Berlin, Amsterdam, Toronto, Montreal, St John’s, London and Barcelona. I designed a playground “recording template” for the purpose of documenting and comparing these playgrounds from a design perspective – what are they made of? how are they used? what challenges do they provide? what age group do they accommodate? I’ll begin by introducing my trip to Berlin and am excited to share more of my “playground tourism” photos and thoughts with you on this blog!

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This “Jungle Playground” in Berlin was located in a big park within an upscale residential neighbourhood. The designers, a company called SIK-Holz, uses primarily Robinia wood in its playgrounds, giving them an organic appearance, often leaving the material true to its original form. This playground was directed, but not prescriptive. The theme of “jungle” was supported by abstract animal sculptures and tall (like 30 foot) “palm trees”, not to mention a super long zip line, yet the story seemed open to navigation.

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The Rubber Playground was located in Berlin next to an elementary school. Tall, arched steel frames act as support to an intricate series of thick rubber sheets, which take form as swaying platforms, slides and ladders. The structure is truly a 3D labyrinth, one that requires both hands and feet to manoeuvre. Kids of all ages were climbing around, some bouncing on the sheets close to the ground, others venturing up to the top of the apparatus, negotiating the maze of rope and platforms.

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This structure, observed in Tiergarten Park in Berlin, welcomed kids of all ages. There was a sense of progression as a child would climb as high as they felt comfortable. It is essential to provide growing kids with play equipment that encourages them to negotiate their own domain – physically and psychologically. To use this pyramid at Tiergarten as an example, a child develops a sense of pride through their autonomy, their ability to conquer and overcome their fears. It is imperative that this child feel supported, as often the fear projected by a supervising adult can result in self-doubt. One thing I noticed in the playground in Berlin was the attitude of parents and guardians towards their kids’ play experience. It was either a casual observance or being actively involved. Rarely did I see “helicopter parents” hovering over a child, rather reassuring guidance seemed the norm.

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My exploration into the “emerging social science” that is playground design has only just begun but I am inspired everyday. Resources such as this blog are invaluable tools in expanding perceptions about what a playspace can be. I am truly excited to contribute my research to PlayGroundology and to be a part of the conversation!

An online version of my thesis can be found here and I can be reached by email: rachelcameron@gmail.com

All I Need to Know I Learned at the Playground

Today we feature a guest post from Meg Rosker. Meg lives with her 3 children and her husband on the beach in sunny Florida. She is a former public school teacher and blogs at Let Children Play. She started her website after she discovered that her son’s school doesn’t provide any recess for children after kindergarten. Now she writes to inspire families and educators to play and spread the word about its importance in the lives of all children.

Today I went to the park with my kids. This is part of our daily routine. We usually meet up with a few other families in the mid afternoon and play until dinner. Today I spent a great deal of time with my youngest son who just turned two. My older kids, 4 and 6, had run off to take a walk around the lake with their friends, so the little guy and I were left alone. We rode the big purple, bouncing dinosaur. I pushed him on the swing. He threw some mulch around.

I was bored. I wanted to talk to the other moms, but they were off walking around the lake too. Now I was bored and bummed. Then I remembered my blog. “Oh, yeah.”, I said to myself. “I write about play every day. In fact I write about how parents are supposed to play WITH their kids.” Oops.

We headed for the slides. I scooped him up and sat him on my lap and away we went, flying faster than a rocket down, down, down, around the curling elbows of the slide and then plop! out the bottom. It was fun. He ran up the stairs for another turn and another and another and another. By the third time I was making up games on the steps, jumping up and down as he went. By the fourth time I was singing, loudly. By the fifth time I was completely insane, singing, jumping, shaking my behind to some imaginary beat. He laughed and away we went down the slide…again.

I lured him over to the lake where he watched a great blue heron and then tried to wade into the water to chase the ducks. I calmly warned of alligators and snakes, but he only stared up at me with big, blue, blank eyes.

All too soon the older children arrived back at the playground and it was time to pack muddy feet and tired bodies into the van. It had been a playful day and I had been reminded of something really, really important.

Playing with our kids isn’t something we just discuss it is something we need to do. We need to play every day so that we can remember how important it is in our lives.

I believe that one of the reasons we have strayed so far from our natural tendencies to let children play is because in the rush of adulthood and all its pressures we have left our playful side to stagnate. In a fog of responsibilities and deadlines we have forgotten how much fun it is to play and how effortlessly we learn when we do. Instead we are passing along the same structure of evaluations and overly scheduled days that many of us dislike. Why not give the gift of play instead?

So what did I learn at the playground today? I was reminded that the experiences we gather while in play are invaluable. It is through spontaneous discovery that I recalled the importance of play. We must use play as a tool, just as we use science or math or reading. We must hold play as important and treat it as sacred. If we teach this to our children, if we show them that we can learn through play, they certainly will too.

Playground Access for All Abilities

The following guest post was written by Mara Kaplan of Let Kids Play. Mara has 15 years experience designing and operating inclusive playspaces. Let Kids Play provides accessibility services to organizations that operate playgrounds or other playspaces. In addition, Let Kids Play helps parents and grandparents select perfect toys for children with disabilities.

Mara is the editor of accessibleplayground.net which includes a directory of accessible playgrounds throughout Canada and the United States as well as providing significant information about accessible playgrounds.

Research study, after research study has proven that children need to play. Children need to play because it makes them healthier and less likely to become obese. Children need to play because it makes them more focused in school. Children need to play because it teaches them social skills that are essential to becoming adept adults. Although play has been decreasing from our landscape, many children are still out there playing on playgrounds.

According to the United Nations, 10% of the world’s population has a disability. Other studies in the United States and Canada have put that number as high as 20%. To create a good playground, design is incredibly important. During the design process, we must be conscious of accessibility issues to ensure that we don’t leave out 10-20% of the children. Playgrounds are often inaccessible because no one talked about it at the beginning of the design phase. Make sure that your committee includes people with disabilities, parents who are raising children with disabilities, and other stakeholders.

One of the major decisions you will need to make is about surfacing. If a child cannot get to the playground all of the other issues are moot. Therefore, you need to look at how people get from the parking area to the playground and ensure that there is a smooth path making it easy for people using wheelchairs, pushing strollers, or using other mobility devices to reach your playground. Then you need to think about surfacing. Except in the United States, there are no required standards on accessibility. However, in Canada, the UK and other countries there are voluntary standards dealing with surfacing and safety.

To make a playground truly accessible, you do not want to use loose fill. Loose fill surfacing such as sand, pea gravel, wood fiber, and rubber shreds is very difficult to push a wheelchair or stroller across. In addition, many parents who are raising children with developmental delays and autism have expressed concerns about their children eating loose fill or putting it into their nose or eyes. There are parents who are raising children with autism who will not go to a playground when the surfacing is loose fill.

Synthetic surfacing such as pour-in-place, rubber tiles, and turf designed for playgrounds are workable alternatives to loose fill. Although these options are all more expensive upfront, they do not require the constant maintenance of loose fill. The other benefit is you don’t need to add new fill on a regular basis. To meet safety standards, loose fill needs to remain at a certain depth, which requires regular purchases of new fill.

Once you have made a decision about surfacing—which is probably the most expensive decision you will make–you need to keep in mind that children’s abilities, regardless of their diagnosis are very diverse. Remember that all disabilities are not physical. There are children with autism and other sensory disabilities. There are children with a variety of learning disabilities and developmental delays. Therefore, you don’t have to put all of your money into a ramped structure. If you do include a lot of ramps there should be something significant to do at the top of the ramp. It should be recognized that it will never be possible for all users (whether they have a disability or not) to access all equipment or play activities.

The key to good playground design is for your playground to have a large variety of activities to attract children of all ages, heights and abilities as well as differing interests. There should be a balance of ‘easier’ more accessible play elements along with those that are more challenging. Consider including a variety of ground level activities. If there are not enough play elements that provide challenge, some children will go elsewhere to play, making the playground less inclusive or they will create their own challenge, making the playground more dangerous.

In this video you can see how children with disabilities do not need ramps to play.

Sensory play is important for all children and it is especially important for children with disabilities. Sensory includes movement as well as touch, sound, and smells. Parents have often expressed that the most important play equipment in a playground are swings. Playground manufacturers now make bucket swings with good seat belts to help children with disabilities position themselves in the swing.

Although the following video is long, it provides you with a understanding of the importance of sensory play. The video also demonstrates the positive impact good design has on children with disabilities and their parents.

Landscaping is another important part of playground design. Plantings can add great smells and textures. Landscaping can be designed to create quieter areas for children to have time away from the hustle and bustle of the playground. Landscaping can also ensure that there is shade over the playground. Shade is important for all children, but for some children with disabilities it is essential. If there is not natural shade, playground manufacturers have created a variety of ways to add shade to your playground.

To recap, here are the top ten things to think about when designing an accessible playground.
1. Make sure that “accessibility” stays on the table throughout the design process.
2. Include people with disabilities and parents who are raising children with disabilities on your planning committee.
3. Select synthetic surfacing for your playground.
4. Include a wide variety of playground activities.
5. If you are putting in ramps, make sure there is something to significant to do at the top of the ramp.
6. Provide a wide variety of challenge.
7. Include swings in your playground.
8. Provide a lot of sensory activities in your playground including movement, sound, and tactile.
9. Use your landscaping to enhance your playground by providing more sensory input as well as creating quieter places within your playground.
10. Make sure that your playground has shade.

If you have other questions about accessible playgrounds you can reach Mara at mara@letkidsplay.com