Category Archives: Nature’s Playground

Nature Rocks

We are in a land of wild and rugged splendour. Over millions of years, earth, sea, wind and ice have sculpted the coastlines of Western Newfoundland. In Gros Morne National Park, cliffs with layered columns of shale and granite overlook tidal pools peppered with huge boulders. Further north, shallow sweeps of sandy beach skirt grassy shores. Throughout our stay, we embrace this interstitial zone between dancing seas and mountains’ cloudy crowns.

Sheaves Cove, Port au Port Peninsula, Newfoundland and Labrador

In August’s warm shine there is much to explore. The kids are as wowed as we are. It seems that every new turn unveils another breathtaking vista. Play comes alive in this place beyond any urban dreaming of it. Each striking landscape becomes an invitation to adventure. There is a palpable attraction for the kids to incorporate the natural world surrounding them as the central element in their activities.

On the Port au Port Peninsula to the south, a rockbed stream rushes over a precipice and into Sheaves Cove below. It is one of two ‘hidden’ waterfalls whose whereabouts are made known to drivers on The French Ancestors’ Route 460 by handmade, roadside signs. Sometimes it’s like this – as easy as one, two, three – climb, jump, and hop.

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There is a whisper of danger as they jump down onto the rock slabs that are nearly level with the stream’s last few metres. A stumbled, false landing could propel them right into the water. From the looks on their faces and the excited conversations, it’s clear that the kids are experiencing an adrenalin jolt each time they leap off the edge.

I find myself cautioning our youngest and directing her to not jump off one of the higher rocks. Looks like killjoy papa is not practising what he preaches. Lila though is not one to give up easily. She chips away with repeated requests and finally I relent. Turns out she is more than capable and in this instance has no difficulty keeping pace with her older siblings. Discovery and fun are the touchstones here as our trio stretches their abilities and their repertoires.

Back within the boundaries of Gros Morne, experimentation and pushing limits continues in a rush of low tide, sea spray parkour. Below Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse, the terrain is uneven with moist sand, pooling water and assorted natural debris underfoot. No one run follows the same route as its predecessor and the kids wind up each burst across the rocks with a ta-daa like flourish.

Low tide parkour games at Lobster Cove Head in Gros Morne Natinal Park

Spatial orientation, rapid risk assessment and sure-footedness are all being called on as the kids pick their way through the randomly strewn boulders. They test their abilities by navigating different paths through the maze and pursuing new personal best times. Fortunately, papa can rely on his precision, built in steamboat counter to clock each run.

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Conditions here are perfect – a light, salt breeze, the rhythmic roll of sputtering waves and some time to leisurely while away in simple pursuits. Our spontaneous, unplanned rock hopping adventure is the highlight of the day.

Further up the coast in Green Point, the cliff face reveals a geological storybook. This rock of the ages plays an important role in our understanding of how the earth developed way, way back in the day (apologies for the technical language here). For the kids though, the primary attractions are the climbing challenge and the tactile sensations of the tidal pools.

Green Point, Gros Morne National Park where the rock of ages collide

The kids are all about getting to the top. Each of them proceeds at their own pace meandering up the natural steps and stairs, pausing along the way to examine interesting outcrops. The relatively gentle slope and the unfamiliar rock formations present just the right amount of challenge. The ascent is invigorating and builds confidence in judgment and physical abilities.

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What goes up must come down and the skills developed on the upward journey are in even greater demand on the descent. The kids gingerly pick their way over the rock testing for stability. As they hit the flats, the pace and hazards change. The rocks around the tidal pools are wet and slippery and require a cautious approach. It’s worth the slow going to see and touch crabs, sea urchins and other creatures. From land to sea and back again our contented crew chalks up another playful outing.

Kids adapt to this place easily embracing the awesomeness of the natural world’s unmitigated wonder. Intuitively they understand the value of safeguarding this beauty, this diversity. The large expanses largely unfettered by human development emphasize that nature does indeed rock and provides unlimited potential for outdoors play, adventure and discovery.

Tablelands, Gros Morne National Park

Gros Morne has become one of our new favourite places to get away and we hope to return every couple of years. It’s not always easy to find the time or the resources to visit places like these. Look for what’s available closer to home and take advantage of green, natural spaces. Your kids will thank you for it and if you’re urban dwellers like us, you might just enjoy getting out of the city…

Earlier this year a new resource supported by the Lawson Foundation, OutsidePlay.ca, was developed for parents and caregivers to help them “manage their fears and develop a plan for change so their children can have more opportunities for risky play”. If you’re wondering about risk and play, this is a good source of information and a great place to start.

May the play be with you…..

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Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Morning

Ed’s note – since the demise of Storehouse, I have been at a loss as to the best way to display images linked to PlayGroundology stories. I’ve gone back to tumblr to try and capture the look and flow of a series of larger images. This is my first tumblr post in a number of years. It’s the visual companion to this WordPress post.

We’re at chickadee corner waiting for birds. In sub-zero weather, the black capped chickadees drop from surrounding trees landing gingerly on upturned palms. With soft, rapid pecks they gather seeds before retreating to nearby cover. We are breathless as they alight oh so briefly on our hands. The timorous beating of their hearts is exhilarating and humbling. Today there are no chickadees and the girls are momentarily disappointed.

tumblr photo story here or click through on image above

Fortunately, there is plenty to do when stopping by the woods on a snowy morning. A freshly fallen tree beckons for solo and duet balancing. After several back and forths, the girls discover a small dip nearby.

A defining feature of this hollow is a large, partially exposed, snow dusted boulder. The steep incline of its scalable face makes for a tricky ascent. In the end, after numerous unsuccessful attempts, it is ingenuity that wins the day and conquers the summit.

Next are the vertical climbs – hanging on and scrambling up trees so tall. The big mama conifer shelters the girls under its boughs. Close to the trunk the almost symmetrical branches are spaced like steps inviting the climbers skyward. They are all smiles and giggles from their perches on high until one gets fretful thinking she won’t be able to get down.

Closer to solid ground there is space for some casual boulder hopping. Each activity is rooted in connections with the natural environment. We embrace a wonderful simplicity, a sense of unhurried ease and familiarity. The light and breezy unscripted play is punctuated with moments of intensity fuelled by physical exertion and the sometimes fright of self-induced boundary testing. And then it’s over, time to bid the snowy outdoor morning adieu.

Just play,
play with mud, sand, sea
blocks and balls
sticks and trees
just play…

Look Mom No Safety Codes

Here are the wilds of the urban forest. Stands of birch and pine overlook a partially restored 19th century canal. Woods, rocks, water in ever-changing sequences shape the contours of possibility. And much is possible for young children alert to the rustle of leaves, or the allure of pathless terrain.

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At the convergence of two paths there is a feeding spot. Here chickadees take an airy dash from overhanging branches and alight for a heartbeat or two on small outstretched hands awash in seeds. Lila experiences her first solo close encounter of the chickadee kind and cherishes the fleeting lightness as it lifts from her fingers. The memory of their sparking touch lingers and surely will echo still, days, perhaps even years from now.

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Somewhere below the canopy there is an insistent tap-tapping. Nellie’s keen eyes pick out a woodpecker hammering away for some grub. She is at the ready with her camera, nature girl strikes again. One small step for woodpeckers, one huge leap for aspiring ornithologists.

Off the paths the ground is uneven requiring concentration and surefootedness. An old dwelling reduced to rubble makes for a teetering traverse as the girls negotiate their wobbly, winding way to flatter ground.

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And of course there is wood – tree trunks, cut logs, natural falls, roots, twigs, sticks, leaves, bark. There is climbing, balancing, posing, running, chasing and watching. The girls are a skylarking spectacular, curiosity and wonder never far below the surface. For the moments we pass through we are the guardians.

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The place is fraught with danger and risk, accidents waiting to happen at practically every turn. As if the land-based hazards are not enough, there is water in great abundance – a canal and a lakeful with beach to boot. All of these hazards elicit an exploration for the next fun thing, the one that will get the adrenalin pumping, get the hilarity surging and draw on skills real and imagined.

There are a couple of falls and no wonder – there are abundant above ground root systems, rock outcroppings and steep banks leading to the canal. The last is my only real concern because of the water temperature and and the heavy clothes we’re wearing. The girls tire of my harping to stay far back from the canal bank. I can’t help it, I don’t want to have to fish one of them out of water that still has a sheen of ice on it.

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The girls’ boisterous play generates a bit of a din but still this oasis is peaceful. Although I ask them to be quieter, I love to hear them calling each other’s names, having their young voices sweep through the space and claiming themselves as part of these natural surroundings.

We spend two hours in this nirvana for squirrels and dare I say for little girls too. It is a space where play is earthy and organic, where hands get dirty and faces smudged, where curiosity is piqued and the natural world held in quiet awe.

In the Woods

In this small urban forest, there are no safety codes for walking in the woods and the kids play free.

New Brunswick, Canada’s Call to Action – Get the Kids Outside

I heard the radio version of this promotion piece earlier today driving Nova Scotia’s highways. Just the soundtrack made me smile.

The visuals add to the fun. I hope this turns out to be a successful campaign for New Brunswick. The simplicity and beauty make for a powerful message. Be nice to see a series developed on the same theme.

Unplug the kids and go solar!!!

As this comes from Canada’s only officially bilingual province, there is also a French version.

Débranchez!!!

Out In The Big Play

On the rocks by the bay, my worlds come into alignment. One, two, three, they’re right in front of me.

We are out in the big play – sky, sea and rock outcrops as big as dinosaurs. The kids are breathless climbing the rockface, exultant as they stand tall at the top of a bluff.

Water is a liquid magnet, rock an immoveable castle. Nothing compares to the infinite possibilities of nature’s playground. Each rounded pebble is a beauteous discovery, each ocean weary wave a splash of excitement. Here we find glistening ice puddles crannied away in a craggy dugout.

Despite the cold, there is time to play in the sand. Belly down gets you closest to the action moving, shifting, moulding, making mounds. Here and there glistening clumps of seaweed are pushed up against the boulders.

What a great sensory experience with wind, grit, salt spray, uneven surfaces and a variety of textures. And then there are the physical challenges, the testing of limits, the discoveries – all in the name of fun.

Try and make space for a little nature playground adventure, you won’t regret it and the kids are pretty much guaranteed to have a good time.

These shots are taken about 8 miles as the crow flies from downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.