Category Archives: play outside

Edging Toward a Homework Revolution

One glorious Wednesday afternoon our girl shoots out of the school bus and barrels through the front door. She’s a lively one, a meme-maker in her own right. Talking quickly she brings us up to speed on the shocker event of the day. The wonder and surprise of the unimaginable are still fresh. Her bright eyes shine as the words tumble out.

Les Girls arriving home

“I can’t believe it. I’m so happy. Do you know what we actually have for homework tonight? Madame said our homework is to go outside and play. Nothing else, just go outside and play.”

Entries in our youngest daughter’s Grade 6 daily agenda are for the most part predictable. Homework is a recurring theme – reminders of what needs to be done in the coming days, dates for tests and quizzes, notes about special school events. On this day of days there is just one entry. It’s crisp, clear printing, nearly jumping off the page, loudly exclaiming – Aller Jouer Dehors – Go Play Outside.

If it’s in the agenda it must be true

No cajoling or threats, veiled or otherwise, were necessary for her to dive right in. Literally in this instance with old mattresses serving as a soft landing for belly flops or back flips before they’re moved curbside for garbage collection.

Playing outside with friends is the default after school activity in our neighbourhood. The homework bogey imposes structure intruding on more open-ended, oblivious-to-time pursuits. Homework is kind of like kids interruptus. It verily begs the question ‘why homework?’.

None of my four older children had ever come home with a similar assignment. In our experience play as homework is a new phenomenon, quite a singular event. Reaction to a tweet on the subject broadly indicates support for more play, less homework.

Enthusiastic reception on Twitter

 

Now I don’t have a stellar memory for details but I do know for sure that 50 years ago the kids in Mrs. Salmon’s Grade 6 class at Elkhorn Drive Public School in Toronto did not possess agendas. For the most part we learned in class, were set temporarily free for recess and then most importantly were released at the end of the day to go home and play. No agenda needed on the journey.

Grade 6 – 1967-68

In the best of all possible worlds, fun and play should be expansive experiences for kids. Ask yourself, are there ever enough hours in a young life to miss out on kaleidoscoping fun?

Getting students to go outside and play as a homework assignment is a step in the right direction. It’s getting them closer to setting their own after school agenda. Given their druthers most grade schoolers would choose play over any form of school work.

It’s true that not all children have equal access to play. While it is important to improve access for all, it is also critical to support grass-roots activities that can lead to meaningful change – more kids, spending more time playing, with no agenda other than their own.

The play as homework continuum could be effective in jurisdictions where homework is de rigueur or required by education authorities. Introducing play as homework once or twice a week could have a meaningful impact for the children as well as teachers. It could be integrated into the curriculum through student presentations and discussions on play activities.

The late educational reform icon, Sir Ken Robinson, addressed the often overlooked value of play during a presentation at a Halifax conference.

Play for young people is actually essential. It’s a way in which they literally flex their muscles.

So really, why wouldn’t we want our kids out there flexing? Read more on Sir Ken’s play perspectives here.

And what of homework itself. In a 2019 piece, The Cult of Homework, The Atlantic examines the multiple faces of the homework beast. Scholastic, the kids’ book folks, thinks that rationales for homework are underwhelming. They share their perspective in Down With Homework. A 2016 article in Time, Is Homework Good for Kids? Here’s What the Research Says, suggests a ‘weak correlation between homework and performance’ and further that it may not be ‘helpful’ for students in primary school.

Let’s applaud and support teachers who look for new and simple means to engage kids in what they do best, play. I wrote Madame a quick email on her foray into play as homework and included an image of the tweet. She wrote back saying the email had made her day, her week, no her month. The kids were beaming again today as play was assigned as homework for the second time.

more play, less homework

I’d love to hear from others who have similar stories. Hopefully this is more widespread and if not perhaps together we can make it so. The essential ingredient is willing teachers. We know that for the most part given the chance kids will play…

Balls and balls of fun at the Outdoors Loose Parts Emporium

“Play outside” is a regular refrain at home from us adult types. It’s not that the three kids are unfamiliar with the concept. Sometimes they just need a little impetus, an encouraging word. On most days, they are outside playing for hours on end. Our son is in the habit of calculating how long he’s been outdoors on a given day and then enumerates his activities – pick up basketball, road hockey, man tracker, catch the flag, fishing, biking, or just playing around in the backyard with our assortment of loose parts. The girls do likewise just not as sports fixated….

 i

Frequently, I imagine being an embedded photographer traveling with a gaggle of kids, documenting their adventures over the course of a few days. As much as I’d like to join our local neighbourhood play crew, I’m not as limber as I used to be and my stamina is far from top notch when compared with the pre-teen set’s seemingly limitless reserves of energy. But maybe I could tag along if I could create something inventive like the multi-colour catapult, or a manual massage rocker, hand crafted pretty much from scratch.

In any event, even if this dream job could be realized, I’m not sure they’d have me for more than short bursts of time. Let’s face it, one of the attractions of independent play is getting away from the inquisitive gaze of grown ups and their sometimes penchant for ‘interfering’, or putting a stick in the spokes. Though I’m not sure I’d have much gumption to get out of that rocker and poke a stick in any spokes!

So, I’ve done the next best thing. I’ve become a member of play crews organizing pop-up, loose parts events for kids in public spaces. For the last few months, I’ve been hanging out with the Play Outside NS play crew. The first event of the  Summer of PLEY series (Physical Literacy in the Early Years), was a loose parts shindig on the Halifax South Common, that wrapped earlier this afternoon. I’ll echo a comment a lot the kids were using – “this is awesome!”

Check out this DIY swing created by the Dupuis family who were at a CanadaPlays crew organized event in the same location two years ago. I was happy to be part of the instigators on that crew who created some loose parts fun and buzz with American and Brit friends from Pop-Up Adventure Play. There were other returnees from the initial Halifax South Common loose parts pop up too. It was great to see their undiminished enthusiasm.

Global TV and The Chronicle Herald took the time to steep themselves a little in a series of eureka moments seasoned with chaos light. The videographer and writer had plenty of material to work with. Many thanks to the parents who agreed to have either themselves or their children interviewed. Thanks to the journalists as the media coverage will help spread the word about how much creative fun kids have with loose parts.

One family on vacation from Newfoundland explained to Global TV viewers that they spontaneously joined in the festivities. When they saw cardboard forts being constructed as they whizzed by the event, they started searching for the first available parking space and made their way over. The father thought that loose parts are how play should be…

Before I bow out and go play in nature at Kejimkujik, I’ll give shout outs to another couple of crews I’ve had the pleasure to play with. Drum roll please – let’s hear it for the Youth Running Series loose parts crew, the originals from five years ago. The Adventure Play YHZ crew did an October loose parts pop-up where pre-schoolers in costumes ruled the roost. Last but not least is the Cubs loose parts crew – we will be reconvening in September.

Thanks also to all the businesses that have helped put on these events and other bodies who have helped to make them happen.

may the Loose Parts be with you

Until next time, goodbye forts, pirate ships, DIY teeter-totters and swings, restaurants, club houses, teepees and of course let’s not forget whichamajoogers….

PS – I met the most wonderful gentleman who was visiting his grandchildren in Halifax. Being of a certain age, we were both reveling in the shade and got to talking. Turns out both of us were in Dakar, Sénégal at the same time more than 40 years ago. We swapped a few stories from back in the day and then got back onto the play track. Pleasure to meet you Ralph Kendall…

For Nova Scotia readers, find out more information on the great events still to come in the Summer of PLEY series at Play Outside NS.

 

The Greatest Show

There is a whisper of warm in the air this fine Montreal day. It’s not hot though by any stretch. A grimy, grey urban snow is stubbornly hanging on over much of the grass and scrub land.

Next to a rail line, in the shadow of the Van Horne overpass, two kids play in a narrow strip of what was once underutilized, neglected space. It’s now part of a regreening that embraces this Mile End neighbourhood – marshalling land and engaging community participation to help preserve and expand nature’s footprint.

The kids, members of the Le Lion et La Souris family, are immersed in a pas de deux. It’s a timeless dance where mud and melt water are the sacraments. The two lads are so engrossed in this organic world of their own making that my arrival barely registers a passing notice.

As the boys stir up foul looking concoctions and pour potions into vessels and through the slats of a pallet, they open a window and let me in. The kids and I check each other out by goofing around with some spontaneous sound and word games.

Over the next 45 minutes, I marvel at their ingenuity and the consonance between do-it-yourself resourcefulness and budding resilience. It seems they are impervious to the wet and cold. They elevate scrabbling in puddles to a vocation, no, even more than that, to an art form.

“By giving children the space and time to play as they want — with each other, alone, in nature, with loose parts or found materials — Le Lion et La Souris is saying to children: you matter, what you like matters, how you play matters.”

Stephanie Watt – City Councillor for Rosemont La Petite-Patrie

 

In this minimalist setting the lads are attuned to each other’s company. They need little to inspire their colourful tapestry of play. With the exception of the occasional glance our way, they are self-sufficient in the moment, oblivious to the nattering adults.

Eventually the boys break away from the pallets and puddles opting for more vigorous shenanigans. Sticks are found and brandished about. There’s not a poked out eye to be seen, anywhere.

Running ensues in speeding bursts to hide, to get away. The tagged shipping container offers a great rope swinging escape route from marauding zombies. Then it’s an almost seamless transition into some mild rough and tumble, the older boy taking care not to overwhelm his younger friend.

This is my first visit to Le Lion et La Souris and I am amazed at this tour de force, this panorama of play. Now I’ve known about the community-based non profit for a few years. Last summer we both hosted our mutual friends – Pop-Up Adventure Play on their cross-Canada tour – presenting workshops and loose parts play extravaganzas in Montreal and Halifax.

“Children who get to be at the heart of their play learn to know themselves, to negotiate, to create, to evaluate and take risks, to play different roles, to work through emotions and challenges. For me, L&M makes our city more resilient and inclusive.”

Stephanie Watt – City Councillor for Rosemont La Petite-Patrie

 

It’s good to connect and learn how the small team at Le Lion et La Souris is evolving and making an impact. As I speak with playworker Gabby Doiron, she tells me how she had been invited to another Montreal neighbourhood, Pointe-Saint-Charles,  the previous evening. A group of mothers interested in establishing an adventure playground were looking for some information and inspiration. Forty years earlier a short-lived adventure playground had been a going concern in the community and these moms are hoping to bring a new one to life.

Those Pointe-Saint-Charles parents and others across the country are eager to see kids getting their play on, experiencing a wider range of play opportunities in public spaces. This is a conversation that is gaining steam at the grass roots level as well as within the mainstream media – witness recent articles in Maclean’s, Le Devoir and The Canadian Press.

Gabby is fully engaged in helping others others explore independent, child-led play. She’s moved from the academic realm, researching a Master’s degree focused on Cornelia Hahn Oberlander’s Expo 67 playground to playworking at the aptly named Champs des possibles in Mile End on Montreal’s Plateau. She loves the kids and the community-based model but stitching a budget together is always challenging.

The kids started breaking the ice. It was like a tiny pond. We started calling it The Lake because it got quite big and it was very deep…

Gabby Doiron – Playworker, Le Lion et La Souris

 

Here on this small strip of land, the possibilities for play run very deep. To explore, to be dirty, to fall, to hide, to swing, to run, to risk a tumble, to have some fun these are boundless wonders. Surely this is the greatest show and Le Lion et La Souris are exporting it to other parts of the city, to schools, parks, community groups, even to the Canadian Centre of Architecture.

Le Lion et La Souris continues to reach out and make connections. This summer they will host a course with the Forest School of Canada. Other communities can perhaps benefit from their go local, embrace global model.

This grass roots playwork is supplemented by a growing body of research in Canada on a variety of topics: risk and play – Mariana Brussoni; outdoor play – Beverlie Dietze and Diane Kashin; loose parts play – Caileigh Flannigan; and. unhealthy food – Sara FL Kirk. Supported by their institutions, governments and charitable organizations such as The Lawson Foundation this research is helping to define policy goals and influence a renewed understanding of play opportunities for kids in public spaces.

Walking away from the Champs des possibles I am rejuvenated. I’ve caught a buzz being up close to all that unfettered, unrehearsed play. I’m energized as I head north to Le Diola on Jean-Talon for a fine Senegalese meal with one of my oldest friends. Play on…

Now, last word to the kids.

 

 

 

 

 

These Trees Are Meant for Climbing

Do you remember those first clamberings, the tentative propulsion upwards, the scrambled search for a purchase with feet or hands, a roughness of bark rubbing legs and arms as they grappled with the ascent?

The liberation of leaving the ground behind and entering the leafy expanse above was an exhilirating paradigm shift. The world opened up from that peculiar vantage point perched between earth and sky.

I remember the precariousness and shimmerings of fear, well okay sometimes it was a healthy dose. A sense of release fueled by the accomplishment of a successful climb was tempered by a general cautiousness underscoring a strong desire not to slip, misstep, or worst case scenario, fall from the tree.

Our kids have a couple of climbable trees in the backyard. They’ve become old friends. Each spring they are reacquainted – branches a little stronger, kids a bit bolder. The trees are a testing ground for dexterity, daring, judgment and strength.

We have had to talk them down on a couple of occasions after hearing the nervous yell for help when one of them ventured a little too high, a little too soon, or a little too quickly. These minor hurdles don’t put them off at all. The smallish specimens in our yard are a training ground for the wide world of trees. The kids always return to the climb undaunted calling out, “maman, papa – look, look how high we are”.

In the lofty heights, trees are also a resting place to get far from the madding crowds, a green sanctuary nurturing contemplation and dreams. After buds pop into full leaf, our favourite backyard tree is part of a fort complex and a great hiding place too as long as the kids can muffle their giggles.

And can we hear derring-do? Yes we can, it’s that contact thud as feet or other parts of the body hit the ground after the big jump. Once you launch, there is no going back. Gravity’s unforgiving pull returns you rapidly to earth. That airborne second or two packs one big wollop of excitement, a breath sucking aha of adrenalin.

The new tree climbing season is underway up in the northern hemisphere. This year, like previous ones, there are sure to be new exploits, higher heights and undoubtedly a scare or two. Keep on climbing!

Hug a tree today, or better still climb one.

If you’re looking for a great Earth Day story, look no further than Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. Sure to be a classic for many years to come.

“Once there was a tree and she loved a little boy.”

Do yourself a favour and get out into the trees….

More freedom to roam and outdoor play with risk good for kids says ParticipACTION

More freedom to roam and outdoor play with risks make Johnny and Jane more physically active says ParticipACTION in the The 2015 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity in Children and Youth (formerly the Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card).

The Wave riskyplayRisky play was the subject of a recent public presentation in Halifax with Tim Gill made possible by Stepping Up Halifax and the NS Department of Health and Wellness

Highlights of ParticipACTION’s 2015 report are available here and the full report, here.

ParticipACTION has also put together a handy social media kit and an infographic.

2015-Report-Card-Infographic-EN-FINALclick image to enlarge

Keep the kids movin’and give them some space to play unsupervised it can do wonders. In Dartmouth this Sunday, June 14, check out some outdoors loose parts play at the Findlay Community Centre.

Happy New Year – Play a Plenty in 2015

Happy New Year from PlayGroundology.

That’s me with the glasses and the big smile, hot off the presses today, as seen and lovingly portrayed by our five-year-old Lila-Jeanne. It’s a pretty good likeness too but I think we’d be safe swapping the dimensions of the head and torso…

Me by LilaPapa by Lila-Jeanne

That’s Lila swinging away in the vid back in the day when she was a wee babe of 9 months. It was shortly after she was born that I started down the PlayGroundology road. I was home at the time on parental leave. Hanging together for 9 months is one of the greatest gifts our little family has ever experienced.

Nearly five years later, PlayGroundology is a journey that’s still fresh. It seems that there is always something to discover in the world of play whether it’s old and overlooked, or new and untried.

Although I’ve been writing less often the past year, my interest remains constant. With the help of some others, I’ve branched out to create play events in the broader community. The contact high from watching the kids at these events is a powerful reminder of the natural zing that’s buzzing through the air when kids, permission and creative play intersect. Plans are now getting underway for next spring, summer and fall.

Thanks for subscribing, for reading, for your comments. I hope you’ll travel with us this year as we continue our passion play. Drop us a line, we’re always interested in your stories.

Check our companion sites on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, flickr, Storehouse.

Get the kids outside, give them some space and let them go…..