Category Archives: Play Advocacy

Movement of Play People

Play shines a little brighter today as the Pop-Up Adventure Play team continues to shape its luminous dream. Since 2011, Morgan Leichter-Saxby and Suzanna Law have been bundling their passion, knowledge, love of kids and playwork into irresistible shared pop-up experiences in locations around the globe.

Loose parts rodeo - Parish SchoolLoose Parts Rodeo, Parish School, Houston, Texas

The New Adventure Playground Movement: How Communities Across the USA Are Returning Risk and Freedom to Childhood chronicles their whirlwind 2014 USA tour. Ten states, a shoestring budget, 10,000 plus compact-car-fuelled miles on a coast-to-coast odyssey that – insert drum roll here please – had over 2,000 participants come out to play.

Pop-Up Adventure Play
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The book is a great primer for those on the lookout for affordable, alternative, community building play opportunities. I suspect Suzanna and Morgan are secretly embarked on a plot of world domination and this is their introductory manifesto. With any luck, there will be more to come.

Their point of departure is quite straightforward.

We believe that every child knows how to play, and needs only time, space, opportunity and maybe a little support in order to do so. Climbing trees, making box forts, loitering in hammocks – these are the experiences every child needs and deserves.

The reader is introduced to key people and movements that influence the authors’ outlooks on play, children and the supportive roles of adults. This includes a quick sketch on adventure playgrounds where John Bertelesen, the first staff person at the original adventure playground founded in Emdrup, Denmark in 1943, is quoted.

I consider it most important that the leader not appear too clever but that he remain at the same experimental stage as the children. In this way the initiative is left, to a great extent, with the children themselves and it is thus far easier to avoid serious intrusion into their fantasy world.

And there’s the rub, how do we as adults do our best for kids in play environments? As students of playwork (both authors are pursuing doctoral programs in the subject), supplemented with on the ground experience in a variety of settings, Suzanna and Morgan share their perspectives on this very question in a practical way. It’s about giving kids space, supporting discovery, curiosity and exploration without dominating or directing what’s going on.

OpenBook1The book is full of images from their cross-country trek providing a visual inventory of loose parts materials

The story focuses on their visits with play enthusiasts and advocates across the USA who hosted workshops and pop-up play events and in many instances opened their homes to our erstwhile playworkers turned authors. Readers meet Jill Wood from the Parish School in Houston, Texas, Erin Marteal from Ithaca New York’s Hands-on-Nature Anarchy Zone and Craig Langlois from Pittsfield, Massachussets’ Berkshire Museum.

Left to their own devices, kids will take an unscripted, organic, meandering journey along the path of play. At pop-up play events overflowing with loose parts, there’s a natural mystic blowing through the air. The atmosphere is charged with squeals of delight and eureka moments as the creative and sometimes anarchic machinations of kids at play lets loose. This kind of play, invaluable in and of itself, has broader reverberations as the authors point out.

Children playing outside are both the symptom and catalyst of a healthy society: their presence in public space demonstrates community networks while strengthening them.

There are plenty of gems in this compact volume including fun-filled and informative photos, personal stories, useful resources, playwork principles and references. The New Adventure Playground Movement: How Communities Across the USA Are Returning Risk and Freedom to Childhood is a manual, a roadmap and a gentle manifesto all rolled into one. The book is available in many bookstores but can also be purchased directly from the authors which will provide them with a little more zip for their ongoing activities which include – surprise, surprise Pop-Ups World Tour 2015.

Postcard 4 CRGet ready it’s #PopUpsWorldTour2015

Editor’s note – Suzanna has been very helpful to me over the years and did some excellent skype assisted hand-holding as we prepared for a loose parts event in Halifax last fall. I can attest that the Pop-Up Adventure Play course is full of excellent content and is creating a growing network of play people who are moving it for the kids. The kids had a blast at our loose parts play extravaganza and it was absolutely exhilarating for the the adults who helped pull it together.

Run Jump BuildClick here or on this pic to link to a photo riff of the Halifax loose parts event.

I’m forecasting intermittent, meteoric pop-up showers in the play world. This book by Morgan and Suzanna, pop-uppers extraordinaire, will be a great help to communities who want to explore the magical radiance of play.

I hope that during a future play tour Morgan and Suzanna will drop into Nova Scotia and share their spark. After all, we’re Canada’s Ocean Playground…

Today Only: Popping The Bubble Wrap with Tim Gill in Halifax, Nova Scotia

If you’re in the Halifax area, we hope you can join us at 2:30 this afternoon at the funked up Halifax Central Library to hear about risk and play from Tim Gill, one of the UK’s leading thinkers on childhood.

Risky play is crossing a lake with not a lot of rocks (to step on)…..

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Tim Gill - Public Event Poster 8x11A helping hand to adventure……

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Tim Gill - Public Poster Library Screens Draft 1-01Getting Out on a limb

Hope you can join us at the halifax central library….

halifaxcentrallibrary3Photo credit – Alexa Cude

100,000 Welcomes – Tweeting in Tim Gill

Tim Gill will be in Halifax in just a couple of days as he wraps up a cross country tour focused on kids and play. This week, Nova Scotians may have read about Tim’s public talk scheduled for May 17 in The Chronicle Herald or heard him being interviewed on CBC Mainstreet.

out on a limb riskyplayout on a limb risky play

I’ve been contributing as a volunteer to a great team that has made Tim’s visit to Nova Scotia possible. Please join me in a big shout out to Stepping Up Halifax, the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness, Halifax Public Libraries, members of the organizing committee and all those who have assisted with promoting the May 17 event.

I’m asking PlayGroundology readers to help tweet up a little storm in that 100,000 welcomes kind of way to make Tim feel right at home in Canada’s Ocean Playground. Please feel free to use any of the photos below on Twitter, Facebook or other social media channels to say welcome Tim and promote Sunday’s event.

Here’s a suggested sample tweet that any of the #riskyplay photos below can be attached to:

Jump up 4 #riskyplay w @SteppingUpHFX @timrgill May 17 http://on.fb.me/1CHb3yQ @hfxpublib #playmatters

The Wave riskyplayriding the wave risky play

Backyard adventure riskyplayBackyard Adventure Risky Play

SwingJump riskyplayswing jump risky play

make believe sailors riskyplaymake believe sailor’s risky play

Jump for riskyplayJump for risky play

Four in a Tree  riskyplayFour in a Tree

Boat Magdalen Island riskyplayCharting the Course for Risky Play

Hoping you can spare a few moments to tweet and share these photos…..

In Praise of Loose Parts

In play, ‘loose parts’ are skirting the edges of nirvana. Ask any kid. Now they probably won’t call them ‘loose parts’. They’re more likely to use the generic and all encompassing ‘stuff’ prefaced by cool, awesome, or great. It might even go the way of ‘this stuff is epic’.

Simple play is best for kidsStudents at Emmaus Primary Catholic School – Melbourne, Australia. Photo: Jay Town. Source: HeraldSun

Wood, rope, tarps, tires, milk crates, cardboard boxes, fabrics and apparently hay bales too can make up a loose parts inventory. It’s what the kids do with it that’s a real blast. They create, they build up and pull down, they improvise, they move, groove and PLAY!

Now, thanks to Australian researcher Brendon P. Hyndman we have empirical evidence that loose parts in primary schools go way beyond a good thing. From the perspective of increasing physical activity, engaging a broad cross-section of kids and being light on constantly squeezed budgets, this study shouts out ‘Eureka!’ embrace loose parts play.

Here are selected comments from A Guide for Educators to Move Beyond Conventional School Playgrounds…. published in the Australian Journal of Teacher Education.

the way they interact with each other…it’ s lovely to listen to…the co-operative play has really increased…they do negotiations…interactions between levels has been fantastic

kids in my room have mixed with kids they wouldn’t normally hang out with…there’s not a…set number that can or can’t be involved

students became a lot more complex in what they did…it was a real journey…there was…dragging, pulling and moving…then came the building phase…then came the dramatic phase…but all of those remain there

Quantitative data, as the charts below demonstrate, also offer a compelling storyline – given the opportunity, kids will choose to build and play with a variety of loose parts so much so that it becomes the dominant play activity.

Ausie Journal of Teacher Education

Given that many kids in Australia and elsewhere are getting the bulk of their physical activity and play within the school setting, in excess of 50% in some instances as cited in Hyndman’s study, these findings are significant.

The effects of the loose parts intervention were measured at various stages over a 2 1/2 year period and engagement remained steady.

“…teachers’ perceptions were that student exhibited increased amounts of excitement, engagement, creativity, problem solving and physical activity during their play with the introduced movable/recycled materials.”

Loose parts are an important part of the playwork canon and have strong roots in the UK within adventure playgrounds and with groups such as Pop-Up Adventure Play. David Rockwell’s Imagination Playground has also a taken a page from the loose parts experience in the creation of the big blue block play environments.

Loose Parts

All hail loose parts. They are the jazz of play bebopping the kids along in a wonderfall of spontaneity. There are downsides though that can’t be dismissed. As more and more schools, neighbourhood groups and play schemes embrace loose parts, it just might start proving difficult to source the ingredients – milk crates, cardboard boxes and of course hay bales!

Here are the kids, subjects of the research study, in action at Emmaus Catholic Primary School in Ballarat, Australia as reported by WIN News Victoria.

We hope to get something on the go in Halifax this summer and we’ll let you know how it turns out. I have just started to put together a menu of ingredients and am wondering where I will be able to acquire some of them at little or no cost. If any readers have put together a loose parts play event, I’d love to hear from you.

Many thanks to Brendon Hyndman for his grand research. You can follow him @Dr_BPH.

Dads4Play on Father’s Day

Ok Dads, tomorrow is our big day. Let’s take the opportunity to get outdoors with our kids and play.

Did you know that only 5% of 5 to 17-year-olds in Canada get the recommended amount of daily physical activity? (See most recent stats in ParticipACTION’s 2016 Report)

Did you know that play “can provide a basis for the transformation of wider communities?” as reported in the 2014 publication by the Children’s Play Policy Forum – The Play Return: A review of the wider impact of play initiatives (updated).

Did you know that in the US kids spend an average of 7.5 hours a day using entertainment media? (Source: USC Rossier Online)

IMG_0276Photo credit – Vincenzo Ravina. The three younger kids and I at the submarine playground, Halifax, Canada.

Dads, we are part of the problem but with a little effort on our parts, we can be part of the solution.

Tomorrow, take the Dads4Play pledge. Think of the fun you’ll have and the memories you’ll make with your kids.

Now repeat after me. I pledge to:

– play outdoors a minimum of 3 hours per week with my kids

– connect my kids with nature at least twice a month

– share my play experiences with other dads

– improve my own physical fitness

– use the hashtag #dads4play when I tweet about kids, play and dads

Think about it, the best thing about father’s day is kids. So let’s get out there and do it for them. Give them the gift of play.

This Father’s Day message was brought to you by PlayGroundology.

DSC08680Father’s Day treasure trove of gifts

If you’re like our household, the kids couldn’t wait until Sunday to give their gifts. I was festooned with mine as I arrived from work last night.

Nellie-Rose made me a bookmark with a drawing of her and I skating on one side and a beautiful photo of her on the other side with hearts and a happy father’s day greeting she printed herself.

Noah-David’s drawing on a tile was of him and I outdoors on a recent road trip we made to Guysborough, Nova Scotia.

And according to the survey that Lila-Jeanne (3 1/2) completed with the help of her child care provider, I’m really good at ‘hula hoop and juggling 5 balls’. Apparently I spend most of the day playing outside with them too. The survey, which had a few other insights such as ‘I always say phone numbers’ made up the inside of Lila’s card to me.

So happy father’s day to you too papa. Thanks for those days of play way back when, for the time we spent together, the holding hands and the letting go. Hey, give me a shout if you want to take the pledge and play outdoors with me 3 hours a week. Cheers

Alex, Dad&Beaumont

Two nights only ;-)

where has all the playing goneConcept and design – Rachel Hawkes Cameron.

I’m jumping off the digital page early next month and into the Halifax Public Libraries system for a presentation and discussion on playgrounds and play.

Over the course of two evenings, we will look at the history of playgrounds, design, natural play, risk, adventure playgrounds, play advocacy and other topics.

If you’re in the Halifax area, please consider this your invitation to drop by. If anyone has friendly advice on dos and don’ts when presenting about playgrounds and play, drop me a line.

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’.