Category Archives: PlayGroundology

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…..

When Simple Just Rocks

Sir Sandford Flemming Park in Halifax, Canada now has two towers stretching skywards, carving out distinctive vertical planes. The new arrival is not as tall or venerable as the early 20th century Dingle Tower commemorating the establishment of responsible government in Nova Scotia. Although it may be the shorter of the two, it represents a cachet of a different order altogether.

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Tower of Play

The tower of play, framed by durable and dense black locust pillars and encased in steel core poylester wrapped rope, is a hive of activity during opening weekend. The structure is a beacon, a homing signal for kids on the lookout for a whoosh of excitement. As people arrive, reactions are squarely in the eye popping, can’t believe this, wonder zone. Kids sprint toward the installations at this playscape located not far from the city’s urban core. I can hear sharp intakes of breath and high frequency, surround sound squeals of delight are registering very audibly.

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The tower’s hollow core is a scramble of movement. It’s like the kids are aloft in the rigging of masted sailing vessels, or scaling the walls of a medieval town. Ever upwards hand over hand on a perpendicular climb to the top followed by a rapid descent on the slide. Repeat once, repeat twice, the merriment is endless.

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“This is the best, it’s awesome,” shouts Lila as she looks about for her next adventure. It’s just a hop, skip and a jump away. She spies a plot of sand with a pump firmly planted close to one of its borders. It’s a popular spot and she has to wait a few minutes before she gets a turn making the water flow.

Water and Muck

The Kaiser & Kühne water pump is well primed. Lila’s enthusiastic exertions let loose a modest cascade of the clear, wet stuff. Water sprouts out the spigot and carves narrow channels as it flows downhill in the sand – magic in the making.

I think back to a phone conversation I had with Cornelia Oberlander, Canada’s doyenne of landscape architecture, a few years ago. She shared with me what she had adopted as a self-evident truth borne from her decades of involvement with children in play spaces. I paraphrase her here – all children really need for play is some sand, or earth, water and a place to climb. That’s a check, check and check at The Dingle.

Despite the coolish temperatures, kids are immersed in the water experience. There are soggy mittens, dark patches on the knees of pants and the squelchy sound of soakered wet footwear. The water casts a powerful spell transforming sand to muck of varying consistencies and creating ever changing topographies.  There is an irresistible quality to mucky dirt and having the license to get all messied up.

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Climb and Balance

There is also something for the climbers, balancers and jumpers. Take a dozen or so bark-stripped logs, create a frame with upright anchors and then connect the rest on different planes, angles and inclinations. Think levitating 3-D pick up sticks with netting underneath. This logs akimbo installation offers challenge, fun and a little risk depending on how adventurous the child chooses to be.

climber-1Click here or on photo above for log climber slide scroll show

There are a number of different techniques on display at the climber – the straddle hop, the creep and crawl, the slither, the sure-footed mountain goat, the bear hug and the koala. Kids find their own comfort zone and move accordingly. Inching along with arms and legs wrapped tightly around a log à la bear hug seems to offer the greatest security particularly for the younger children.

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The netting at the climber’s base is a great spot to goof around, crawling under, wobbly balancing with feet on rope, lying back and taking in the big, blue sky. And let’s not forget jumping, the airborne launch from the climber’s highest heights and getting pulled oh so quickly back to earth with a small, soft thud.

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Maintain Play Momentum

There’s more – a balancing log with bark intact, the ‘easy as 1, 2, 3’ climbing bars,  a small embankment slide, a stump stairmaster cluster, a tyke sized climber next to the water pump and the don’t try this in enclosed spaces #playrocks percussion station. Lots to do, try and experience that encourages physical activity and the development of gross and fine motor skills for a wide range of ages.

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This natural play area, by Canadian design and build firm Earthscape, is a welcome departure for urban Halifax where there has been a bit of a blight on the variety of play opportunities available to kids in public spaces. A notable exception to off the shelf solutions over the years are playscapes on the waterfront which have benefitted from the leadership of the Waterfront Development Corporation and co-funding models.

Earthscape’s Dingle playground may offer a compelling enough example for the City of Halifax to contemplate continued variety and the creation of additional signature playscapes in other parts of the city. Perhaps this is already under consideration.

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Wouldn’t it be as easy as 1, 2, 3 to engage with a representative sample of parents and caregivers to develop an overarching plan for play in public spaces for the city’s kids? Halifax could explore and embrace the growing interest in adventure playgrounds. Are these the city’s first steps in connecting the 3 Rs – risk, resilience and the renaissance of play?

Anyone with kids should take a dangle down by The Dingle. We had a great time and will certainly be returning even though it’s a 40 km return drive from home. Towering oaks, the Northwest Arm, wooded trails and the new natural playscape make this urban oasis a great place for play.

Thanks Earthscape and kudos to the City of Halifax for exploring new dynamics in public play spaces….

ScreenShot Mondays Redux – Le Lion et La Souris

In the early days of the PlayGroundology blog, I ran a regular series over the course of a year (2011-12) called ScreenShot Mondays that appeared twice a month.  I’m dusting it off and taking it out to play again. Fellow Canadians at Montreal’s Le Lion et La Souris are the inaugural subjects of ScreenShot Mondays Redux.

A few weeks back, I was reminded of the series when I reblogged Tim Gill’s piece looking at Mike Lanza’s travails following a feature article published about him in the The New York Times Magazine. Mike and his Playborhood were the subject of the first ScreenShot Mondays post in 2011.

Below is the original three paragraph preamble to the first ScreenShot Mondays.

Cyberspace is humming with inspiration and information on every topic under the sun and then some. This clickable, digital universe is ever expanding with new ideas and new perspectives coming on the scene at a dizzying pace. What a great place to play and discover what’s happening in the wide, wide world. It’s a virtual venue for passionate individuals and mindful organizations to share experiences and create content in every imaginable format.

A couple of Mondays per month, PlayGroundology will screenshot a cyberspot that focuses on playgrounds, or play. I hope that readers will dive in and explore. Even if you’ve seen the selection before, take a moment and check to see what content has been added recently.

le-lion-et-la-sourisLe Lion et La Souris

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Think of this as a very slow stumble upon, an invitation to relish something new or to revisit an old friend. Some of the people and places may be household names in the world of play and playgrounds, others not so much. I hope all will pique your interest in what they have to offer and further your own possibilities for playfulness.

Le Lion et la Souris are “inspired by playwork and forest school principles”. Pop into their site to see what they offer in terms of programs, training, community events and workshops. And yes, as their name suggests, they speak French and English.

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I’ll be in Quebec in about a month and who knows, maybe we’ll have a chance to meet. They’re located on the Plateau not far from a spot where a good friend of mine lived for years.

No grown-ups required

I love playing with our kids. It provides a window into their active imaginations and a glimpse into how they perceive the world around them. Almost always, play involves a sparkle of laughter and the occasional unsought aha revelation.

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With the exception of ‘watch me , watch me’ moments, or playing together as a family, the general progression these days, at least with our 9- and 11-year-old, is to a ‘no grown-ups required’ modus operandi of play. And this is how it should be.

As kids get older, they want to assert their independence and actively explore their environment without the at times overly protective demeanour of parental units poking and prying about in their affairs.

So when I can be a silent, non-intrusive witness not influencing the play, or when I am invited into the play zone via the ‘watch me, watch me’ command performance call, it’s a compelling treat that I enjoy savouring.

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Recently, I watched two kid driven play happenings from the sidelines. One, at our green place in Kejimkujik National Park, was a spontaneous riff on the popular recess game four square. Because the cement surface was so small, the game was rejigged to become two square.

There were about 10 kids playing who prior to the game didn’t know each other. Players ranged in age from 5 to 12 with both girls and boys represented. During the game, the kids assumed many different roles – players, coaches, referees and fans. The kids called all the shots, resolved disputes, jazzed up the rules and looked out for each other.

The game went on for close to an hour. Players would drift in and out. There was plenty of cheering, laughter and respect all around. Participation was the winning element for each of the kids. From that perspective, each one of them was a champion.

A few days later our 9-year-old set up an obstacle course in the backyard with materials she could find at hand. I was invited to see the girls go through their

manoeuvres. Running the course was certainly the highlight of this kid-fueled play event. However, setting it up ran a close second. It’s the kind of activity that attracts kids to our house – a gathering place for neighbourhood play without a lot of intrusive supervision.

The following day I collected all the material strewn about and cleaned up the course while the kids were out of the house. I was working hard to regain that Home and Garden kind of look. I wasn’t quite able to pull it off.

The girls were disappointed that their handiwork had been undone. A little later, I had to leave the house and when I returned that evening all my good tidying work had been reversed. The obstacle course had mysteriously reappeared and it’s still there in one of its permutations….

I count myself as fortunate when I get to see this play up close. It fills my heart. I’ve been dreaming of a job as an embedded photographer documenting the spontaneity of kids at play. Let me know if you hear of any openings.

 

Getting out the Vote for the LA Renaissance of Play

If you love adventure, believe that risk in play is an important component of growing up and that independence to explore is the foundation of creative and critical thinking then please get out and vote for Santa Clarita Valley Adventure Play as part of LA2050.

Voting opened October 18 and closes on October 25. Don’t miss your chance to vote for and support the Renaissance of Play in LA. You can get more information on the submission and VOTE HERE – see right hand column of page.

NOTE – In order to vote in the 2016 My LA2050 Grants Challenge, participants must register for a free account and sign in. Use either social sign-in via Facebook or Google or an email account to register. Users will be emailed a link to click in order to validate the address.

It’s PAINLESS, using FB it took me less than 1 minute to cast my vote.

After you’ve voted and joined the Renaissance, pop on over to Santa Clarita Valley Adventure Play to see what else is new. While you’re at it, why not share with others that you’ve exercised your civic duty to the world of play by posting this lovely “I Voted” graphic on one or more of your social media channels…

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Get out the Vote for Play, Adventure, Kids.

California Dreamin’

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There’s a great play event coming to Southern California from February 16 through 19, 2017. Don’t dream about it, escape from grey sky winter days and experience a new adventure playground in development. This ‘campference’ is brought to you by the globe trotting good folks at Pop-Up Adventure Play and Val Verde’s Santa Clarita Adventure Play who will be welcoming participants to Eureka Villa.

The Campference will headline Professor Fraser Brown, Head of Playwork at Leeds Beckett University’s School of Health & Community Studies, Erin Davis, Director of the documentary The Land, and Jill Wood, founder of “AP” adventure playground in Houston, Texas.

Campference programming will also include a variety of hands on workshops, keynote Q&As, a screening of The Land, discussions and activities surrounding playwork theory and practice with National and International playworkers, and more.

Pop­-Up Adventure Play was founded in 2010 by Suzanna Law and Morgan Leichter­Saxby and aims to help make a children’s right to play a reality in every neighborhood by disseminating playwork principles to a range of audiences. Operating primarily in the US and UK, they provide long­ distance and in ­person support to play advocates in seventeen countries and recently completed a world lecture tour.

Santa Clarita Valley Adventure Play was founded by Jeremiah Dockray and Erica Larsen­Dockray in 2014 after Jeremiah began the playwork course. While working on a course assignment he came across an abandoned 2 acre park which is now the developing home of Eureka Villa Adventure Playground. It will be the only adventure playground in Los Angeles County.

Get your tent, sleeping bag and campfire stories ready for a Santa Clarita Valley Adventure this February. Early bird discount registration closes October 2. Last chance to register is January 16. Registration details here.

Oh and did I mention that Suzanna and Morgan (the dynamic duo co-founders of Pop-Up Adventure Play) have penned their own book and most recently

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co-published, with Australian friends Playground Ideas, Loose Parts Manual. You can get your free copy here.

PS – remember to bring marshmallows…..