Category Archives: PlayGroundology

Just One More Scoop – Dufferin Grove Park

​”Just one more scoop”, the father intones to his pre-schooler for the second time in as many minutes. “It’s time for us to go.” Here in the southeastern reaches of Toronto’s Dufferin Grove Park, the three-year-old digger boy is busy moving dirt from a deep channel to level ground in the most ginormous kid’s sandpit in Canada.

Welcome to Shangri-la for kids, a place where dirt rules. Here kids build, dig, and create worlds of their own making with shovels, scraps of wood and a dedicated supply of glorious running water. Above this constantly changing excavation site is a whispering canopy of mature maples. Even on the hottest days there is respite from the sun.

In the early 1990s, the playground started as a ‘big backyard’ neighbourhood space with the sandpit as its central feature. Community engagement, affordability and adventurous, drop-in play were the key founding principles as relayed in this presentation that captures the back story and some of the history of this enchanting space that captivates kids from pre-school to just shy of pre-teen.

“The cost of setting up the adventure playground was $5660, with another $5000 for doing programs there: $11,660.”

More than 20 years after its establishment, this quiet success continues to have star attraction chops. For those in the know, it is a highly desirable destination where simplicity – dirt, water, dig, build – provides a solid foundation for independent play.

On my first visit, I chatted with a couple of moms who were there with their pre-schoolers. It is their favourite public playspace in Toronto. Many share this opinion. Both women travel by car, or bus to give their kids the chance to enjoy themselves in this sandpit-like-no-other. I now have it on the highest authority – my soon to be two-year-old granddaughter – that this is the funnest!! place to play….

One brilliant May morning on a recent Toronto trip, I visit Dufferin Grove’s sandpit with its rivulets, gullies and hillocks of dirt. The action underway is an unfurling tapestry. There is an almost imperceptible hum of discovery under the trees. The kids are zoned in, under the spell of a space that invites them to just play, to fashion time measured in scoops of dirt and pails of water.

As I’m getting ready to leave, there is a wonderful serendipitous moment. I bump into Jutta Mason. We have corresponded about the play universe but never met. Jutta is an indefatigable champion for public community spaces in general and for this space of play in particular. Time didn’t allow for much more than hellos, a hug and a promise on my part to connect when I am in TO again. That will be part II of PlayGroundology‘s Dufferin Grove story.

Stay tuned later this summer for first person accounts from Jutta and Mr. PlayGroundology as he goes to the Grove for the first time with his granddaughter. We’ll also have the opportunity to discover the Centre for Local Research into Public Space (CELOS), a strong community-based research model established by Jutta and other community volunteers.

Until then, bear in mind that ‘just one more scoop’ at Dufferin Grove’s sandpit is a tough concept for kids to embrace. From what I’ve seen on my visits, the kids are happy to stay as long as possible. Some even design and build temporary shelters…..

Play the Mother of Invention

Is play the mother of invention? A child’s nurturing Mom can certainly set the stage for a life of discovery, a journey through the imagination and the material world. The resilience and depth of a mother and child’s bond is like no other. It helps engender confidence, assurance, empathy, laughter and love.

So today, make this more than a Hallmark occasion. Do a little jig for your Mom, maman, mami, reny, haakui, mataji, muter and thank her for all the scrapes she let you get into, for all the train wrecks she rescued you from and for the uncounted hours of play she let you revel in as a child. Let’s dance…..

Play may be the mother of invention but I think we can be pretty sure that in those far distant days of hunting and gathering, of setting sun neanderthals that it was the women who invented play.

To Mélanie, the maman of our three young sproglets, I’m so happy we’re all together to share this dance. Every tune, we learn new moves. Let’s keep shakin’ it.

To my Mom, Helen – we got some wonderful flowers yesterday and tied them to the two trees by the big rock where you liked to sit. I can see you with the sun streaming down as you take a quick hop on the swing and let your toes kiss the sky.

To my daughter Makyla, our new, next generation mama, enjoy the journey, savour as much as you can and take five whenever the opportunity presents itself. It’s a marathon – the best you’ll ever run.

To Nicole, ma belle mère, thanks for all the attention and sweetness to our family, particularly the kids. Bonne fête des mères.

Happy Mother’s Day and after your jig, why not a cuppa tea….

Worlds Of Their Own Making

It is a grand day. Together, my son, my papa and I join forces to make a bow and arrow. It is something our lad has been wanting for too long. We find the perfect sapling in the beaver lands, a small stand of birch and alders close by the shore of a suburban lake. The green sapling has plenty of spring and is just the right size.

Back in Grampa’s garage, Noah uses his new lock blade knife, an axe my papa has just given him and a few simple tools to transform that sapling into an archer’s bow. Outside he draws back the bow string and lets fly his first shot. It whistles up the side of the house and into the backyard. His face is radiant. His eyes sparkle. He paces off the distance – 17 metres.

The bow, and the arrow made of dowel rod are his newest treasured possessions. Not far behind are the knife and axe firmly situated in the pantheon of wow. In the outdoors world of a young boy he has become rich beyond the singing of it.

With fort season upon us, the bow and arrow (version 1.0) will be a home-made toy of choice as he and his friends play in the woods in a world of their making. I will have to come to terms about identifying the appropriate time for the knife and axe to leave our property in his hands. I’m not ready to do so yet.

Stay tuned later this spring for the next instalment of when will knife and axe travel with the added bonus of a 1970s perspective on ‘worlds of their own making’.

Until then, enjoy the outdoors and time spent together…

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….

Trump Signs Executive Order Decreeing Free-Play Zones

In what seems to be a volte-face, President Trump has signed an executive order decreeing the establishment of Free-Play Zones in America’s borderlands. .

White House press secretary, Sean Spicer could provide no other details on the policy shift beyond speculating that, “it’s possible that the President’s unwavering support for free markets is having a trickle down impact and influencing his thoughts about play. Free markets – – – Free play. It’s not hard to connect the dots.”

Rose Garden’s new look

It is unknown yet if Congress, or stakeholders were brought into the loop in advance of the executive order being signed. In an apparent show of getting out in front of it commitment for the new policy direction, the Rose Garden is being transformed into an adventure playground in time for Easter.

There were no children present at the signing ceremony.

More to come on this April 1 breaking news story….

Thanks for Coming Out to Play

Thanks to your visits, comments, likes and and retweets, PlayGroundology continues to grow. Here at PlayGroundology central we’re pleased to have generated 500,000+ page views from play peeps in over 115 countries and welcomed nearly 500 subscribers (sign up today it’s FREE). Over on Facebook we’re zeroing in on 7,000 followers with 3,000 and counting on Twitter.

In Montreal, Sorel, Ottawa, Toronto, California, Falkland, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Paris, Halifax and on the biways and highways of Nova Scotia – PlayGroundology’s home base – I’ve met a lot of fine people who give their all for play.

I’ve made online friendships with folks who are passionate about sharing their time and knowledge in support of kids’ play. It’s nice to see people getting revved up when they are part of making a wider range of play opportunities available for kids in public spaces.

hey-play-peepsClick through on image for active links and blast off to out of this world play!

This is a thanks and a shout out to all of you. As parents and caregivers we are the most the potent force, and sometimes the most overlooked,  that can work with local governments to inform their decisions around play provisions in public spaces.

Our family continues to have some of the finest times on the play beat. Plain and simple, kids love to play. It makes them laugh, provides ample opportunities to learn about their own abilities, assess risk and gain confidence.

And along the way, we’ve been learning a lot about science, health, psychology and fun. We’ve been introduced to games like ballon poire, a game that is unique to schoolyards and playgrounds in the province of Québec.

Thanks for joining the PlayGroundology crew. We’re skipping to the beat of play. I hope you’ll continue to drop in on occasion and let your friends know about this digital playspace.

Looping through Estonian skies

As a kid, the ultimate playground fantasy was to go up, up and over on the swings. No matter how furiously we pumped, whether in a sitting or standing position, the arcs we traced rarely took us much higher than the first 90° quadrant.

1200px-kiiking_tartus Kiiking – Estonia’s answer to childhood fantasies. Photo credit – Eesti Kiikingi Liit

By my unscientific polling, the curiosity, if not the desire, of going up and over is universal. It’s a theme all my kids have talked and wondered about it at some point. And what parent has not heard the insistent refrain, “higher, higher” while pushing their child skyward to touch the passing birds, the clouds, the sun?

We all talked a good game of how exciting it would be to launch ourselves up and over wrapping the chain link around the bar and hurtling through a full 360° sky scrape. It was all pie in the sky musings though. None of us had the strength, ability or courage to loop the loop.

kiikingThe kiiking fields – Estonia. Photo credit – Eesti Kiikingi Liit

In fact our loop the loop dreaming was likely a physical impossibility. The chain links that our swing seats hung from were two to three metres in length. Chances are they would have collapsed if we were ever able to propel ourselves into the top of the second quadrant. Kiiking’s inventor Ado Kosk overcame this by using rods to attach the swing seat to the spindle and the rest, as they say, is history.

In Estonia, there is a cultural tradition of communal swings in towns and villages, swings that can accommodate multiple people at a time. Kiiking is a radical departure defining a new tradition of sport and athleticism. Since its invention in the mid-1990s, kiiking has won over enthusiasts in New Zealand, the US and various European countries. What are the chances of this new sport ever being part of an Olympic line up?

Look no further if you’re in search of a good workout and a risky business adrenalin rush – kiiking may possibly be your kind of activity. Kids are kiiking and I like to think that I would have the nerve to alley-oop, loop the loop. Tying in feet and hands, as is frequently done in competitive kiiking, is a safety factor that appeals to me.

Don’t ask me why but I think this late 20th century sport would be right at home as a component of Scottish highland games, or a modern day circus, perhaps even going back in time to the era of Astérix and Obélisk. Speaking of cartoon characters, couldn’t you just see Fred and Barney of Flintstones fame having a go with this?

Kiik it…..