Category Archives: London, England

The Singing Playground

Our Nellie-Rose loves to sing and we love to hear her sweetness fill the air. There is a lightness about her when she breaks into song. She shines from the inside out. New tunes arrive at our house via Nellie nearly every week. She learns many of them from her teacher who loves to share the gift of music. Already our grade one girl has acquired quite a repertoire. Most of the songs I’m unfamiliar with because she’s in a French language school. Maman is Québecoise and she knows them all which comes in handy when Nellie’s lyrics aren’t quite spot on, or if the tune sounds a little off key.

The Singing Playground II

Imagine my great delight when I discovered The Singing Playground tucked away on the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood’s patch of the interweb. The interactive painting features recordings of playground songs and was created by Dan Jones an East Ender (London) painter and writer. For over 40 years he has been collecting recordings of the songs kids sing while at play. Mosquito One, Mosquito Two (below) was recorded by Coral for the Camden Council World Music Project.


“The 148 games in this painting and the accompanying recordings (over 300) were collected mainly from children in primary schools in London, including Arnhem Wharf, Christchurch and Hermitage Schools and the Summer University in Tower Hamlets, Winton, Primrose Hill and St Alban’s in Islington, Oakington Manor in Wembley and Haverhill in Suffolk. There are also games from the Camden Council World Music Project and material contributed by Amnesty International human rights campaigners.” (Source)

The Singing Playground will be on exhibit at Rich Mix’s Lower Cafe on Bethnal Green Road, London from February 6 through 28. If you’re like me and can’t make it to London in February, click on The Singing Playground image above and meander through the wonderful selection.

This online treasure will be a great source of new songs for Nellie-Rose and there’s a French offering too – Promenons nous dans le bois. Our four-year-old, Lila, who loves to belt out a tune in her own right, won’t be far behind big sister.

Thanks Dan Jones – profiles here and here – and thanks to the V and A Museum of Childhood.

scan2192_21Dan’s painting of Christ Church School, Brick Lane in 1982, as reproduced in “Inky, Pinky, Ponky”, a book of playground rhymes.

Remembrance of Things Past – Playing in London

The first wave of commuters have already done their thing at Canary Wharf’s temporary ‘live young evian playground’. Their gamboling about on a spontaneous break as they make their way to work or school has set off snow machines and for many triggered crisp memories of past play escapades.

Tufnell Park Primary SchoolTufnell Park Primary School, London – 1955. Source – City of London.

From the outside looking in, London is a great city of play. Distinguishing characteristics include its adventure playgrounds scattered throughout the city, a top notch organization, London Play, that advocates on behalf of children and families and likely the highest concentration of playworkers anywhere in the world (a great interview with Penny Wilson on play philosophy of playworkers).

Vauxhall Primary SchoolVauxhall Primary School, London – 1965. Source – City of London.

But there is still a need for action in support of play in the UK’s largest city.

Nearly half of children in London surveyed say they do not play out as much as they like. London Play aims for every child in the city to have high quality, accessible and inclusive play opportunities. London Play campaigns for more and improved play spaces and services, and support playwork in the capital.

Ainsworth Nursery School PlaygroundAinsworth Nursery School, London – 1972. Source – City of London.

This morning in Battersea, Wandsworth Against Cuts is occupying the Battersea Park Adventure Playground in a last ditch effort to save it from demolition. Click through here for a story that ran last night on ITV’s London Tonight reporting on the occupation.

Battersea Adventure Playground - ITV

A call to action to London commuters enjoying a spot of play over the next few days at the Canary Wharf and Finsbury Park ‘live young evian playgrounds’ – play needs your active support and participation. Get out and play with your kids, empower them to play outdoors on their own, support organizations like London Play, Play England and your local adventure playground. Ask your elected representative what they’ve done for play lately.

Laycock Primary SchoolLaycock Primary School, London – 1974. Source – City of London.

Commuters, remember your days of childhood play – adventure, imagination, discovery, friendship and fun and think about what you can do for play.

Danone, great play branding on the ‘live young’ campaign. The evian playground promotion presents an excellent opportunity for Danone to determine how it can contribute to improving the play possibilities of children throughout the world. What a leading edge, corporately social responsible engagement that could be – a great addition to other good works the firm supports such as the Danone Ecosystem Fund.

For more images of play in London check this 2012 pictorial in The Mail Online – wonderful images.

Today’s last words, and squeals of excitement, on play in London go back to 1963 and the first filmings of the Seven Up! series by acclaimed British director, Michael Apted.

London UK – Thirsting for Play

Remember the YouTube Roller Babies craze? The folks at evian are back. Later this month, the mineral water behemoth is inviting Londoners to ‘live young at the evian playground’.

For a brief window of time at locations outside the Canary Wharf tube station (January 7 – 9) and Finsbury Avenue Square (January 10 – 11), commuters will be able to take a load off and reconnect with their childhood. Swings and see-saws will propel the players through winter skies and trigger snow machines generating micro-localized flurries.

It will be interesting to see how well this play travels the social media circuit. There is great potential for fun and fine photos, video and commentary. All the better if this living advertising on a public stage brings more focus to the value of play for adults and kids. Watch for more on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and other platforms in a campaign organized by Havas Worldwide with social powered by we are social.

Evian, when you’re done with the equipment London side, could you send it across the pond to your Nova Scotia cousins? We’ve had a right miserable winter drought here and could use the machines to generate some snow in our backyard all whilst enjoying a good swing and teeter-totter. Of course, we’d make them available as a community resource.

All the best to those London commuters who choose living and playing young. Just one thought before we leave this topic – any chance of modeling a makeshift slide on those Canary Wharf escalators? Talk about getting to work on a wing and a prayer. May the smile be with you…

3174829808_9e6fc525bd_bPhoto credit – Okko Pyykkö. License – CC BY 2.0.

London Calling…. And The Winner Is

How cool, how awesome, how brilliantly, boundingly beautiful is an awards show for playgrounds? Not just any old playgrounds mind you, though there’d be nothing wrong with that, but adventure playgrounds in a world metropolis. Pinch me London is this a dream? No not a dream, all very real and fun.

The judging for this annual event took place last week. Winning playgrounds were recognized at Finchley’s Phoeneix Cinema where kid-produced videos were screened to the great delight of adventure playgrounders from around the city. The coveted title of London Adventure Playground of the year went to Glamis, Tower Hamlets. Full results are available here.

Funding cuts have resulted in the recent closures of some of London’s adventure playgrounds. The awards, first held in 2002, highlight the value and contributions the playgrounds make to kids’ daily lives. In a news release, London Play chair Melian Mansfield encouraged ongoing support for these community assets.

These are safe havens, often located in relatively deprived parts of London, where children can challenge themselves, be active, make friends and have new experiences. Any borough which is facing difficult financial decisions and is considering making cuts to play should watch these films and think again.

I first encountered adventure playgrounds shortly after I started the PlayGroundology blog. I’m still amazed at the care, creativity and seeming chaos that are are the hallmarks of their vitality. I am disappointed that they have not caught on in any real way in North America. I want to get our kids over to London in the next few years to be adventure playgrounders and experience even just for a few days some of the magic and magnificence of these endangered play spaces.

Bravo to London Play and the 95.8 Capital FM’s Help a Capital Child teams for making this a not to miss play event.

Here’s an archival gem from 1964 excerpted from the initial installment of the acclaimed British documentary Seven Up!. Does anyone know the name of this adventure playground?

For more on adventure playgrounds: London Play; Play England; UK Playground Adventure (great photos).

Treasure Maps and Playground Pirates

In North America, it’s the season to see bands of pint-sized pirates, cowboys, astronauts, superheroes, Mario Brothers and others out and about in the streets in preparation for the annual Hallowe’en pilgrimmage. Our Nellie-Rose took on a swashbuckling persona at a recent visit to a community centre party. She makes for a very fetching pirate captain I think – eat your heart out Johnny.

By serendipitous happenstance, at the same time Nellie-Rose was suiting up for her arrgh me maties moments, my inbox goes ping with a London’s calling treasure. It’s a great email from Verônica telling me all about the new venture she’s embarked on with her partner Rodrigo – mapping the playgrounds of the world.

Map View – London

Following an afternoon in downtown London, these transplanted Brazilians were looking for a playground break for their daughter who was beyond bored after a shopping expedition. There was nothing in sight and when they used their mobile devices to look for something all that came up were Thai Restaurants and Sex Shops – not the fare they were interested in.

That experience inspired Verônica and Rodrigo to get mapping. They are setting sail and inviting playground lovers to join the crew. While adventuring, they will locate and mark treasure troves with an ‘X’, well okay, with a swing icon actually.

It’s early days for Our Treasure Map, its companion blog and Facebook Page so the number of sites are limited and concentrated primarily in London, UK. The plan is to reach out and incorporate already available information and track down new data.

Map View Brasilia

Our Treasure Map’s Brazilian friends have been busy loading up the platform with playgrounds from Brasilia, Rio and Sao Paulo. There’s plenty of room for adding more playgrounds and other child engaging activities and places. The site has a mobile version and the couple are working on developing an app too.

Rocket Playground at Ana Lidai Park in Brasilia.

When the sky is the limit, there’s lots to do and plenty of room to fly. I tried the ‘add a playground’ feature – it’s totally painless. Our Treasure Map now has its first entry from Nova Scotia a few kilometres from our home and not far from a popular swimming beach. Add something yourself and don’t forget the photos. They can make all the difference.

Verônica and Rodrigo are looking for feedback on Our Treasure Map 1.0 and will make changes and introduce new elements based on what they hear from users. So do drop into the Facebook Page and let them know what’s working for you and what you might like to see added. My parting comment – I love the little pirate guy, reminds me of our Noah-David.

Help chart the course of play and share your playground riches on Our Treasure Map. Happy Hallowe’en…

Next Post

Check out the best of London’s playgrounds with well known advocates and lovers of innovative playground design Tim Gill (rethinking childhood) and Paige Johnson (Playscapes). There is a parallel event happening in NYC too in this first ever and hopefully recurring Open for Play. My only disappointment about this great news is that I won’t be able to join all the playground aficionados in London. I’m sure there will be posts in both Tim and Paige’s blogs.

Félicitations for organizing what is sure to be a great event.

Rethinking Childhood

Glamis adventure playgroundMy plan to showcase some of London’s most playful places has been in the pipeline for a while. And now it’s around the corner. For all the latest info, follow this link to the mighty Playscapes blog – including handy onward links to the Open House website, with more details and maps for all the venues.

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Let the Games Begin

For the next 16 days the world will be watching the action unfold at London’s XXX Olympiad. This is a time of focused, high performance play when athletes try to exceed their personal best for the ultimate glory of a podium prize. There will be no shortage of superhuman accomplishments over the course of these two weeks, incredible stories of endurance, strength and skill.

I can’t help but wonder how many of the gifted athletes from all corners of the globe were risk takers at their local play places as they were growing up. Was outdoor play an important component of their early childhoods?

When all the medals are counted, when the athletes and fans have returned home and the brouhaha is a distant echo, the Olympic site will be reclaimed for the people of London and transformed into Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. One of the features will be a spanking new playground.

Click to enlarge

The designers were selected through a competitive process. You can read about it in Tim Gill’s blog Rethinking Childhood. Tim is a former Director of the Children’s Play Council now Play England and was a member of one of the juries that reviewed designers’ submissions.

erect architecture and Land Use Consultants (LUC) are the winners of the North Park competition. The London Legacy Development Corporation’s news release describes erect architecture as “an emerging practice with a strong focus on culture, education and play. Their buildings and playspaces have won several high profile awards for projects such as the Kilburn Grange Playpark in north-west London.”

Based on the design and the firm’s previous work, we can look forward to an exciting playscape taking shape post Olympics.

Kilburn Grange Adventure Playground, London. Source: UK Playground Adventure

If you’re in London with kids and aren’t taking in any Olympic action, or just need a break, check out London Play and click on their ‘Play in London’ menu button to find Adventure Playgrounds and more.

We can’t all be Olympians but we can all play, play, play…

London’s Somerford Grove Adventure Playground Makes The New York Times Magazine

There are four stunning, brilliant images in the March 1 edition of the The New York Times Magazine offering glimpses of children at the Somerford Grove Adventure Playground in London, England.

Photographer: Mark Neville, The New York Times Magazine, March 1. Click image to enlarge.

The entire Here is London photo essay by photographer Mark Neville is well worth a look. Images 7 through 10 feature the kids at Somerford Grove.

From my perch on the other side of the pond in Halifax, Nova Scotia I find the adventure playground images particularly striking. There is nothing similar in my experience here with which I can compare these photos. The playgrounds I’m familiar with in the North American context are by and large so antiseptic and predictable. Adventure playgrounds for the most part did not take root in Canada and the US. What a shame for us who live here. There are exceptions such as in Berkley, California but they are few and far between.

It’s no mean feat to keep an adventure playground running, or for that matter to get one up and going in the UK. Somerford Grove was the first to be built in London in over 20 years.

Source: Haringey Play Association. Click image to enlarge

Bravo to all those community members who are supporting the Somerford Grove Adventure Playground, to the Scouts, the kids and benefactors far and wide.

Source: Haringey Play Association. Click image to enlarge

What kid wouldn’t want to play here?

Signing off this post with Part Two of a three part video looking at anti-social behaviour that features Somerford Grove Adventure Playground.

Seven Up! meets Adventure Playground

I came across a reference earlier this week to the adventure playground scene in the British documentary Seven Up!. The ongoing popularity of this television documentary made it relatively easy to find on the wonderbox as I sometimes call the internet. The acceleration of the opening sequence is zippingly exhilarting.

The first installment of the documentary, directed by Paul Almond for Granada TV and from which this excerpt is pulled, was broadcast in 1964 when the kids were all seven-years-old. The subsequent docs were shot at 7 year intervals and directed by Michael Apted. 56 Up is expected to be broadcast in May 2012.

Play with a child until the age of seven and you have planted a seed that will bloom over and over through the years.

I wonder how many of the now aging adults remember that day in London nearly 50 years ago? After a party and a trip to the zoo, the kids had an outing at this unidentified playground. Was it the first and last time they played together? I say let’s get the remaining participants into playground scenes with their children and grandchildren for 56 Up.

The Up Series is widely acclaimed and now available as a boxed DVD set. Excerpts of the film are also posted on YouTube. Michael Apted is interviewed about the series here.

When my kids Noah-David (6) and Nellie-Rose (4) watched this footage earlier today, they wanted to know when we could go and play at this playground and why there weren’t adventure playgrounds where we live. I said we’ll try for a trip across the pond, or to California where the spirit and the manifestation of adventure playgrounds are alive and well.

London continues to be noted for its adventure playgrounds. Check London Play for more details.

Seven Uppers – thanks for this playground scene all those years ago. It is full of adventure, play and the magical breath of the moment.

Kids at Play II

If you haven’t already noticed, I’m infatuated with flickr. There are just so many great photographers posting striking photos for the world to see. I visit on a regular basis to see how people are capturing and documenting play.

Kids at Play II is the second installment of an occasional feature of images from around the world presented in PlayGroundology’s flickr photo galleries. Flickr galleries allow the curator to include any photo from amongst the 5 billion strong digital collection with two exceptions – the curator cannot include his or her own images and a contributor can choose to opt out of the ‘gallery’ functionality.

Photo credit – Jose Maria Cuellar, (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Worth a 1,000 words and more, these images tell the story of children at play in countries around the world. Despite differences in culture, environment and economic circumstances, these photos attest to a common language. Children everywhere have an innate desire to play – to have fun, to learn, to dream. As global citizens we have an obligation to ensure that kids who are in more difficult situations are able to more fully express their ability to play.

Kids at Play II (lightbox)

Kids at Play II (default)