Category Archives: Play

Short Meditation on Play

There’s nothing comparable to the ricocheting crescendos of laughing kids engrossed in play. In urban environments and natural settings, kids just want to have fun.  Is there anything more hopeful than a gaggle of kids playing together, leading their own adventures?

Our kids live to play. In the morning they are thinking of what they will be doing after school with their friends. It’s a simple and compelling rhythm. Each day the dance varies but it is always recognizable.  It’s been about 50 years since play has been my ‘core’ activity. I think it’s high time that I start to nudge it back in that direction.


I’m going to look to my own kids for inspiration and see if I can plug into a little  of their mischief and merriment. Moments spent in play with them are thoroughly enjoyable.  I count myself as fortunate when I’m invited to participate, or get to see this play up close. It fills my heart. In fact, I’ve been dreaming of a job as an embedded photographer documenting the spontaneity of kids at play. Please recommend me if you hear of any openings.

And there’s always a vicarious bump of adrenalin and excitement when I witness kids immersed in the moment. The tumultuous racket of school recesses never fails to grab my attention. The next time you pass by a school during recess, stop, look and listen.


For the 15 minutes of glorious release, the school playground is like an orchestra in motion, kinetic soundscapes of bobbing colour. This is where the kids rule, where they run, talk, laugh, find common cause and resolve disputes. This is where their thirst for free form fun is getting quenched. When I do get the chance to hear it, that rolling wave of sound made possible by a critical mass of kids, I invariably smile. It takes me back to my own childhood, to british bulldog, red rover, tag, sports and the freedom to play.

Where are you transported to when you imagine yourself at play?

Looking for Your Stories

My PlayGroundology alter ego is looking for your stories to share with attendees of Halifax’s 4th annual unconference – Emergent Learning. I have submitted a successful proposal to be an unpaid speaker at the event which is attended by educators, policy makers, parents, members of the medical community and others from across our part of the world here in Atlantic Canada who care about education.

Emergent Learning  graphicEmergent Learning Unconference – Halifax, Nova Scotia, October 2015

I’ve entitled the presentation, Risk, Resilience and the Renaissance of Play. If you have an anecdote, a photo, an infographic or video footage that illustrates the subject matter I will be speaking to, I’d love to hear from you. I will credit everything I am able to use.

Emergent Learning my sessionPresentation outline – Emergent Learning Unconference.

I’ve already had the opportunity to connect with some ‘play people’ in Australia, the UK, the USA and Canada and would be pleased to gather additional stories form these venues as well as other parts of the world.

Help PlayGroundology tell the story of Risk, Resilience and the Renaissance of Play. The final presentation will be available for sharing in November.

Thanks in advance to all those who are able to share stories. You can leave a comment here or write to playgroundology ‘at’

Emergent Learning PostBackyard fun – simple pleasures with a twist of risk

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 @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…..

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…..

A Gift for all Seasons

This Christmas season remember the priceless gift of time. It’s a surefire winner for all ages, particularly kids. At a constant exchange rate of 60 seconds per minute, it is the richest currency we have to share. For young kids parental presence in the best present that money can’t buy. This is one of those self-evident truths but I know from experience that it’s remarkably easy to lose touch and get whisked away in the hurly-burly bustle of daily life.

As a young kid growing up in the 50s and 60s, I was fortunate that my parents made time for family fun – walks in Toronto’s High Park and Edwards Gardens, trips to Niagara Falls, picnics at Bruce’s Mills. As we got older, friends were frequently invited on our adventures espousing the ‘more the merrier’ credo.

Niagara FallsNiagara Falls with Mom and Dad, circa 1960

Sunday evenings, after a busy week, we gathered around the old black and white TV to take in Walt Disney’s latest adventure. Then there was cubs, soccer, hockey, bottle drives, camping, skating and so much more. From a kid’s perspective, my folks made it all look so easy. They were always there to show us how, to support, to encourage, to comfort.

Dad and Me skating At a neighbourhood rink in Toronto circa 1965

As a young lad in Scotland, my Dad never saw skates never mind lace on a pair. This didn’t deter him from trying it out as an adult and getting proficient enough to help me get up on my wobblies and open the door to a childhood of winters filled with the fun and thrills of skating and chasing vulcanized rubber around a rink.

Now don’t get me wrong, I liked my presents under the tree too – army helmets, daisy air guns, eldon race sets, trains, dinky cars, hockey equipment and a veritable panoply of gifts through the years. These presents were an enjoyable part of my world but none of them could ever hold a candle up to my parents’ steady, unwavering and loving presence.

~Alex, & mum25Christmas morning circa 1966

A few days ago I asked our three young ones how they would like to spend their time over the holidays. It didn’t take them long to whip up a list. It warmed my heart that the activities are centered on us doing things together and embracing simple pleasures all easily attainable. Here’s a selection of what we’ll be doing:

  • play ponies with papa
  • go skating at the oval
  • go swimming
  • make cookies with maman
  • have a christmas party
  • play outside
  • watch hockey with maman
  • make puzzles
  • go sledding

We have a couple of snow activities in there which might be a bit of a stretch given the weather forecast for the next few days. We’ll do our best on that front…

Our kids are similar to kids the world over as The Other Letter, an IKEA video I came across recently illustrates.

As much as we love to spend time with our kids, we don’t see ourselves living for, or through them. We like to see it more as living with them. That means giving them the time and space to play by themselves, with each other and with friends. This gives them the opportunity to create their own adventures, their own worlds and establish the first stirrings of independence.

We consciously try not to overschedule and we encourage a bias for the outdoor world of play over the digital. Melissa Bernstein of the Melissa & Doug toy company shares some practical tips for holiday season play in this recent Huffington Post article.

Our skates are sharpened, our game playing skills are getting dusted off, an intergalactic mini sticks championship will be getting underway at the Eastern Passage Coliseum soon (aka the downstairs rec room) and we will be doing our best to give and get the most out of each 60 seconds per minute.

So let’s all check our time and unwrap it slowly – a playful presence is the greatest gift we can give…

Playing the Dragon

To the south and west of the Argyll Forest in Scotlands’s Bute and Argyll region is where the mythical beast can be found. As we round a corner on a narrow winding road shaded by towering firs there is the rocky, rough hewn dragon.

Dragon III


We are on high alert so we can pull over and admire this roadside gift to travelers. Located somewhere between Tighnabruaich and Loch Tarson, the rest of the Nova Scotia band had seen the beast on their way overland to Islay in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides a couple of days earlier.

The dragon sighting was one of the first stories I heard when I rejoined our gang in Islay. My youngest daughter, Lila-Jeanne, had warned me to watch out for dragons just before I left for Scotland. It turns out she was right on the money.

With two grandchildren and a son in tow, my papa, the only Scot among us, is taking no chances. It’s time to play the dragon.

Dragon taming


The skill he demonstrates in handling his prod suggests earlier encounters of the dragon taming kind. With the dragon subdued, we all take the time to stretch our legs, enjoy the tall, tall firs and get ready for our final dipsy-doodle through the hills to the day’s last ferry in Dunoon.

Thank you to the builders of what could be Smaug’s baby cousin. You instilled a dash of lightness, fun and play in our day. For me this dragon will forevermore be known as Lila of the Towering Firs. Who says dragons don’t exist?

Towering Firs


More adventures from Scotland’s Glasgow Green, Edinburgh and Islay in coming posts.

Dragons and Clouds

Later today I take off for Scotland. More than 50 years ago, my mom took me on my first trip to the land where my parents played as kids. Times were tougher for them growing up. World War II set the tone for their early childhood years.

It was 1962 when Mom and I took that flight on a BOAC transatlantic plane from Toronto. Before we landed at Prestwick I got a tour of the cockpit, talked mom’s ear off, slept some and was airsick. We stayed in Grampa and Granma Morgan’s home in Larkfield, Greenock for two or three months. Mom had hopes of giving birth to her second child back home and having a wee Scot. In the end, that didn’t work out. My younger brother was born back in Canada.

Memories of those first Scottish days are still fresh. They have texture, taste and smell. I was the spoiled wee grandson while I was there and mom took me on some grand adventures notably to Glasgow for some shopping where I picked up this most excellent sword and shield….

DSC06166All dressed up with no dragons to slay

Apparently this weaponry would stand me in good stead now as my youngest daughter Lila-Jeanne informed me the other day to watch out when I was in Scotland. I asked her what I should be watching out for to which she replied, “dragons”. She got this notion from big brother Noah-David and thought it worthwhile passing on to her papa. At four-years-old, she is just a little younger than I was when I made that first trip. And the world turns.

This trip is bittersweet because earlier this year my mom passed away. I’m going with the best guy in the world and we’re carrying mom in our hearts. He’s the man I’ve always looked up to, admired and loved, the man who showed me how to make a fire with twigs, one match and plenty of puffing breath – my papa.

I’m looking forward to taking in the Play Summit conference on Sunday and experiencing my first adventure playground – Baltic Street Adventure Playground in Glasgow.

Baltic St Adventure Playground



Also hope drop in on the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art to see the Atelier Public #2 exhibit curated by Katie Bruce. One of my older daughters, Halifax emerging artist Alexa Cude will enjoy getting back to GoMA, an old haunt from a couple of years back. She is joining us on this family trip too along with one of her cousins.

Also on the play beat will be a flip over to Edinburgh to meet som other fine play folk. A big thanks to Mairi for helping me to connect with people in my short window

My parents got us over to Scotland a few times when we were still young. The last time was for a few months when I was 14. Dad was in France at the time and I did quite a lot of skipping out on school. It was also my first solo trip from Greenock to Edinburgh, or more precisely Murrayfield. I saw Scotland kick France’s ass and enjoyed myself to no end in the stands.

It was a 2 train trip in each direction back and forth in one day. Great trust in a young boy of 14 – thanks mom, thanks dad. We’re doing the same for our kids. One of the three young ones has been to Scotland and experienced the wonders of the Outer Hebrides on the Isle of Scalpay. Now it’s for the tow younger girls and the eldest to get over for a visit.

Good family time, fine play people and maybe a little fish and chips and eggs and slice and other Scottish delicacies

On the day of the dragon Lila was full of Scotland. After the dragon story she looked at me and said.

“Scotland is like a cloud.”

I didn’t really see the link but went along with her and said, “Ok.”

At that point she commented:

“Then you’ll be walking on clouds.”

cloudsIn the clouds. Photo credit – Adrian Beard – thanks

Given the progression it sounded reasonable so I said:

“I guess I will.”

And then her finale.

“So you’ll be walking on air.”

Hard to refute the logic.

Tomorrow morning, Heathrow’s international air hub

Tomorrow night, fish ‘n chips, and walking on air with dragons.

Scotland here we come…

The Joy of Play

I love playing with our kids and watching them as they create new worlds, discover simple pleasures and push physical boundaries. In play, they are brightly shining lights, beacons of now inviting me to join them and momentarily let go of my adult sensibilities.

I’ve become more attuned to the intrinsic benefits, beauty and magic of play in the last few years. Our favourite venues are outdoors and it seems that for the kids every excursion and each new setting are opportunities to let loose. This is a visual year in review with our star players.

In 2014, our plan is to keep on playing and make the most of priceless moments. Wherever you are, we hope you’ll join us for the joy of play.

The Book of Play

Welcome to PlayGroundology’s first ‘book’ project – The Book of Play. I hope you will enjoy the images and accompanying text.

Haiku - The Book Of Play

I have been wanting to do something like this for quite some time but I’m not gifted in the graphic design department. Haiku Deck sorted that for me with their simple and elegant approach to presentations.

Recently, they made their platform available in a desktop environment, see Tech Crunch. That got me and 1000s of other newbies playing in their sandbox. It was a good play, build, create experience and I will be back for more.

The positive response to date and the number of people checking out the deck make me think that this little project can grow and be sustained over multiple editions. Plus, I’m happy to share with you that the team at Haiku Deck has selected The Book of Play for the ‘featured presentations’ section of their site.

If you have compelling photos of kids at play from anywhere in the world that have a creative commons license, please drop me a line. I’d love to include them in subsequent editions of The Book of Play. I’d also like to hear your comments on this first issue.

Two more images before we go. The first is my parents and I back in the day. We all had a more youthful blush about us in those ancient times and Mom is absolutely stunning. Papa I wish you many more years of play on your 79 day and thank you for all the fine seasons we’ve spent together.


The last image features a photo of a man loved by hundreds of millions in every corner of the globe, a man whose compassion, courage and conviction made this world a better place. Thank you Nelson Mandela for the great gifts you fought for fearlessly. Amandla!

Nelson and young boyPhoto credit – STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Get outside and PLAY

It’s officially summer now up here in the northern lands. The weather is too nice for writing. Instead I’ll share this photo. I reckon it’s worth about 1,012 words.


Happy playing and may the weather be smiling on you, wherever you are.