Category Archives: Kejimkujik National Park

The Adventures of Vitamin N and The Play Rocks Kids

We encourage our kids to get daily doses of the outdoors. Whenever we can, we pack up the tent, tarp, sleeping bags, coolers, coleman stove, swimsuits, toys and then some and head out to our favourite campground in Nova Scotia’s Kejimkujik National Park – Canada’s far east.

Have you climbed a tree

Since the introduction of affordable digital cameras, I’ve snapped close to 100,000 photos. As recently as a decade ago, this volume would have been pretty much unattainable. I’m no photographer but given the high number of images, there is bound to be a few that don’t look too bad. I’ve selected some of these for this flickr collection – The Adventures of Vitamin N and The Play Rocks Kids.

VitaminN The Natural Choice

Kids, primarily my own, are the inspiration for this series which is being tweeted out as part of the Children & Nature Network campaign in support of Vitamin N. I was honoured to have been approached by the organization’s Director of Content Strategy and invited to participate in what they have dubbed the Vitamin N Challenge.

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The playful and penetrating inquisitiveness of kids comes alive in natural settings. They are awake to wonder, to life, to beauty. I like a French word that denotes a kind of heightened state – éveillé. It’s a word my partner loves to use when kids are spirited, engaged, questioning. These times with our kids remind me of my own childhood and my fascination with nature. This wonder was submerged for a few years but the family has brought it back to the surface.

We’re off to Kejimikujik again soon and I know we can count on reveling in many marvels disguised as simple pleasures.

Something happens to the temporal fabric here. There is a fluidity to the play – time continuum. Nothing empirical that I can put my finger on but I think we’ve all felt it. Our time perception behaves unexpectedly – a blurring, bending, compression and expansion.

Vitamin N keeps our guys hoppin’. Over the course of about 5 weeks the photo tweets have generated just over 30,000 impressions, a small and satisfying contribution to the overall campaign. Thanks to everyone who retweeted, liked and commented on the photos. More still to come.

Earlier this week I took five girls ranging from six to nine years-old to the largest natural playscape in Nova Scotia at the Natural Resources Education Centre in Middle Musquodoboit. I had a hard time getting the girls to leave as they were harvesting amphibians from the Frog Pond. Each of them was aglow with excitement.

Frog PondFrog Pond at the Natural Resource Education Centre’s Natural Playscape – the catch and release program was intensive…

Do you think #PlayRocks? Do you believe that kids can benefit from higher concentrations of Vitamin N? If you answer yes to one or both questions, then please share, like, tweet, or reblog this post and any of the photos in The Adventures of Vitamin N and The Play Rocks Kids flickr collection.

Even the smallest of the small are eager to explore.

In the ForestForest School, Fife, Scotland

Bold

Bold is a word I remember GH (Granma Helen aka my Mom) using frequently to describe my kids over the years. Most often she’d approvingly remark on one of the kids being bold related to an action she had just witnessed, or had been part of with one of the small crew.

As I remember it, the essence of boldness has to do with assertive behaviours and a certain je ne sais quoi attitude, an almost complete insouciance about consequences that might arise from actions not necessarily condoned, or embraced by the adult set.

Nellie was adorned with the bold mantle by GH on a regular basis. Her early forays into the bold zone were warmly and joyously received. This in part is due to them both sharing this empowering trait. GH as young woman of 19 left family and friends behind in Scotland to sail across the Atlantic on her own to be reunited with her love. It was a bold beginning to a new life in an unfamiliar country.

Les ChevauxNellie with tante Danièle’s beloved King and Prince in Sorel, Québec

“Freedom lies in being bold.”

Robert Frost

Granddaughter Nellie has been imbued with the bold streak from an early age. There is a mix of curiosity and fearlessness that helps to brew a good batch of bold. In the photo above, at just over two-years-old, she is getting up close and personal with Belgian draft horse gentle giants King and Prince.

Nellie’s maman Mélanie is also well versed in bold. She left Québec for Nova Scotia as a young woman to make a new home in another culture and language. Nellie has come by her boldness organically. Now I’ve had a bold moment or two over the years but not of the permeated variety that these two women and one girl exhibit. This is a matrilineal beat.

Bold & BrightA 6-foot jump on Rogers Brook Trail, Kejimkujik National Park, Canada

This bright beat of bold influences and informs play. There is a higher degree of risk taking, greater physicality and testing of limits. With Nellie it’s very apparent with climbing, jumping, swinging. She is a trailblazer for her younger sister and older brother. Where she leads, they will mostly follow.

Early on at the playground, monkey bars became the thing, Nellie’s signature piece, her calling card of bold. Just before her fifth birthday our wiry, wisp of a girl came down with monkey bar fever. She was determined and fierce in her pursuit of mastery and was able to draw on a deep reservoir of bravery.

soccer

Mastering this kind of equipment at an early age gives kids a chance to assess their own abilities, get comfortable with risk and celebrate their achievements. Now I do admit that when she took her first tentative monkey bar sorties at the tail end of 3, I was in helicopter mode. I’ve left that far behind and now trust Nellie’s confidence and ability to carry the day.

For Nellie bold is all about movement, height and a challenge. Nowhere is this more apparent than in a natural environment. Trees and erratic boulders on old glacial plains are meant first and foremost for climbing. Nellie is a Baroness in the trees. I am interested to see how the boldness will assert itslef as she gets older. We may be in for some hold on to our hats moments.

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Celebrate the bold in our children. It serves them well in terms of confidence, risk assessment and dreams – #playbold.

DSC02619Nellie leads climb up old tree overlooking cove – Kejimkujik National Park

“Boldness be my friend.”

Shakespeare

Whose woods are these?

Each summer we trek a couple of hundred kilometres to camp at Kejimkujik one of Canada’s east coast national parks. For the kids it’s an unparalleled play ecosystem – woods, water, wildlife, wonder. They always have something close at hand in the natural environment that is readily transformed into adventure.

This trip, we are tucked away in the far corner of a walk in area. The cozy comfort of familiarity is all around us. We’ve tented here several times over the years on solo family excursions and with friends. A small inlet is just down the path where rocks, a mighty old tree and gently rippling water beckon.

DSCF9583Gathering moss and lichen from old man tree

Since our last stay, old man tree is no longer reaching skyward. Cracked at the trunk and toppled, its growing days are over. But like the tree in Shel Silverstein’s story (original animation video) it continues to give. Now, it’s a in situ natural playscape – jungle gym, balance beam, bouncy ride.

In past visits when the tree was still stretching its branches and popping leaves to catch the sun it was ‘the’ climbing place. The two older kids risked their first unaided climbs here getting purchase on the rough bark as they inched up the trunk’s steep incline and made the tricky transition onto the primary branch that pushed out almost parallel to the ground.

GOnV8NDIFf_1386290135937From ‘The Book of Play’

There is a sadness seeing this green friend prone and broken down. It’s a tree that will stand tall in my memories as the kids’ starter climber, the bridge for their first magical trip from earth to sky.

As I walk to the playground to get the kids for a meal, they are shouting excitedly about their latest discovery. They’re juiced, bouncing around their find, poking about inside, adding branches to a rootsy, vernacular space.

DSCF9648Found shelter/den

For a few minutes this is the jackpot. All energies are devoted here as plans are hastily conceived to create a similar treasure. The rapid progression of seeing, touching and doing makes the possibility of actually being den makers all the more real to them. The den is perfection. It is cozy and built to their scale with branches and sticks gathered from the forest floor.

Back on the inlet’s rocky shore, Nellie-Rose starts floating leaf boats. Before long, the three kids are marine architects constructing moss boats with twig masts. An impromptu regatta gets underway with seven or eight of these ‘mossies’ getting launched into a lazy current and meandering out into open water. Two or three are crewed by tiny toads – Nellie’s touch – who sit transfixed on their small islands.

DSCF9850Mossie crewed by a toad

These moments of fun and inventiveness, of laughter and togetherness are timeless, a kids in nature blockbuster story in the making.

At night above the canopy we can see specks of shimmery light as stars flit about and satellites skip across the sky. There is something about natural open spaces that buffers the daily chaos, soothes the city’s madness and sparks delight like magic embers arcing in the night.

Whose woods are these I think I know
Their laughter’s sweet enough to sow
Lost in play they do not see
The lengthening shadows as they grow

These woods are airy, light and sweet
But I have miles to go before we meet
Miles and miles before we meet
The ones whose love makes us complete

(Apologies to Robert Frost)

A day played out to a natural rhythm and tucked in with the best night sky viewing Nova Scotia can offer.

Keji Night SkySource: Frommer’s

Thanks kids, thanks Keji – we’ll be back.

“Because they want to live in nature”

It’s raining frogs and toads during our visit to Nova Scotia’s Kejimkujik National Park. They are everywhere – carpeting the forest floor and playing hide and seek in the shallow water along the lake shore. Some are getting an up close and personal experience with our kids. The ministrations of love and affection are sweet to hear but undoubtedly terrifying for the amphibian class (do they have ears our kids want to know?).

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We’re far from the city with nothing but flimsy nylon fabric between us and a heavenly night sky. The stars spill across the dark, a swirl of light, a timeless dance of now.

One of the many beauties here is that the days are unhurried and filled with simple pleasures. For the kids it’s pretty much eat, sleep, play, explore. And, at almost each and every step, there is so much to discover – acorns, leaves, chipmunks, pine cones, new camping friends. There are playgrounds too strategically positioned throughout the camping areas.

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Something happens to the temporal fabric here. There is a fluidity to the play – time continuum. Nothing empirical that I can put my finger on but I think we’ve all felt it. Our time perception behaves unexpectedly – a blurring, bending, compression and expansion.

Rustling leaves share secrets on the whispering breeze. Each moment is eternal. The adult clock is on a time out, a suspension of schedules, of punctuality, of linear progression. In its place, rippling concentric circles, a slipstream of possibilities.

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Then it dawns on me, this glimpse of unhurried, this gift of deep and light, of seconds falling uncounted is much more like the treacly time that sticks to kids when they are engrossed in play. What a great place to be. I reach back to childhood moments reveling in the impossible wonder of nature at Bruce’s Mills, Algonquin Park, Mile 91. They were rich times. Thanks to my folks who took us hand in hand to discover life off the beaten trail.

Walt Whitman nailed it way back when – before we plugged in, before ultra-urbanism, before the atomic clock.

THERE was a child went forth every day;
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became;
And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.

The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass, and white and red morning-glories, and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird,
And the Third-month lambs, and the sow’s pink-faint litter, and the mare’s foal, and the cow’s calf,
And the noisy brood of the barn-yard, or by the mire of the pond-side,
And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there—and the beautiful curious liquid,
And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads—all became part of him.

From There Was A Child Went Forth

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Our youngest Lila-Jeanne is desperate for the tiniest of frogs that she cups in her hands to migrate to Halifax. She is planning on how she will care for this little life. Nothing that we say dissuades her. Finally big sister Nellie-Rose weighs in and gets her on side with leaving the frog behind. She closes her argument with one simple statement. “Lila,” she says, “it’s because they want to live in nature.”

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We wrap up the trip early but there’s still time left for a little back country teeter-tottering before we hit the road for the city. Bumped up on top it’s a whole different world.

As we leave Kejimkujik a white tailed deer breaks through the trees. The doe stops in her tracks and looks at us – timeless.

I want to give a shout out tonight to a writer who has shared a ton of stories on outdoor play – Bethe Almeras, The Grass Stain Guru. Thanks Bethe for all your great words and ideas, keep ’em coming.

Teetering on the Brink of Extinction?

In some jurisdictions a longish trek is needed to teeter your totter on a see-saw. They are not as common as they once were in PlayGroundology’s Halifax home. It’s quite possible that the genteel wilds of Kejimkujik National Park’s campgrounds about 2 1/2 hours out of the city have a healthier and more robust see-saw population.

DSC01739Keji National Park playground – Nova Scotia, Canada

I hope Keji’s red see-saws have protected status. Their well-being and continued existence should be championed if ever public pressure due to misguided fears related to safety results in calls for their removal.

See-saws are one of the mighty trio of conventional playground equipment along with slides and swings. They have been much maligned in recent years as harbingers of injury. Granted kids have to be taught not to get off and let their friend plummet to earth. Likewise it’s important to ensure that one’s chin is nowhere near the upward trajectory when sending the equipment whistling up and down with the force of one’s arms while standing on the ground. Then I guess we shouldn’t discount the fear of falling off while at the top of the game…

Not all is lost, in some places the see-saw is flourishing. If big is a public display of affection and acceptance then Berlin is a safe habitat. Potsdamer Platz’s Tilla-Durieux Park offers rides on super-sized see-saws possibly the largest scale in the world. This space teeters on imaginative ups with none of the tottering associated with overly cautious downs.

1499502228_6eb078314a_oPotsdamer Platz, Berlin. Photo credit – Sebastian Niedlich. License – (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Despite their standard lever and fulcrum make-up, see-saws do come in various guises as depicted in the Teeter-Totterus flicker gallery. Eighteen fine photos from flickr photographers.

Before dispensing with the ups and downs completely I thought it worthwhile to share some research. Behold a class experimenting with physics. Where was this school when I was a teenager?

Long live the see-saw – respect their right to rise, fall and rise again.