Category Archives: PlayGroundology

Nature Rocks

We are in a land of wild and rugged splendour. Over millions of years, earth, sea, wind and ice have sculpted the coastlines of Western Newfoundland. In Gros Morne National Park, cliffs with layered columns of shale and granite overlook tidal pools peppered with huge boulders. Further north, shallow sweeps of sandy beach skirt grassy shores. Throughout our stay, we embrace this interstitial zone between dancing seas and mountains’ cloudy crowns.

Sheaves Cove, Port au Port Peninsula, Newfoundland and Labrador

In August’s warm shine there is much to explore. The kids are as wowed as we are. It seems that every new turn unveils another breathtaking vista. Play comes alive in this place beyond any urban dreaming of it. Each striking landscape becomes an invitation to adventure. There is a palpable attraction for the kids to incorporate the natural world surrounding them as the central element in their activities.

On the Port au Port Peninsula to the south, a rockbed stream rushes over a precipice and into Sheaves Cove below. It is one of two ‘hidden’ waterfalls whose whereabouts are made known to drivers on The French Ancestors’ Route 460 by handmade, roadside signs. Sometimes it’s like this – as easy as one, two, three – climb, jump, and hop.

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There is a whisper of danger as they jump down onto the rock slabs that are nearly level with the stream’s last few metres. A stumbled, false landing could propel them right into the water. From the looks on their faces and the excited conversations, it’s clear that the kids are experiencing an adrenalin jolt each time they leap off the edge.

I find myself cautioning our youngest and directing her to not jump off one of the higher rocks. Looks like killjoy papa is not practising what he preaches. Lila though is not one to give up easily. She chips away with repeated requests and finally I relent. Turns out she is more than capable and in this instance has no difficulty keeping pace with her older siblings. Discovery and fun are the touchstones here as our trio stretches their abilities and their repertoires.

Back within the boundaries of Gros Morne, experimentation and pushing limits continues in a rush of low tide, sea spray parkour. Below Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse, the terrain is uneven with moist sand, pooling water and assorted natural debris underfoot. No one run follows the same route as its predecessor and the kids wind up each burst across the rocks with a ta-daa like flourish.

Low tide parkour games at Lobster Cove Head in Gros Morne Natinal Park

Spatial orientation, rapid risk assessment and sure-footedness are all being called on as the kids pick their way through the randomly strewn boulders. They test their abilities by navigating different paths through the maze and pursuing new personal best times. Fortunately, papa can rely on his precision, built in steamboat counter to clock each run.

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Conditions here are perfect – a light, salt breeze, the rhythmic roll of sputtering waves and some time to leisurely while away in simple pursuits. Our spontaneous, unplanned rock hopping adventure is the highlight of the day.

Further up the coast in Green Point, the cliff face reveals a geological storybook. This rock of the ages plays an important role in our understanding of how the earth developed way, way back in the day (apologies for the technical language here). For the kids though, the primary attractions are the climbing challenge and the tactile sensations of the tidal pools.

Green Point, Gros Morne National Park where the rock of ages collide

The kids are all about getting to the top. Each of them proceeds at their own pace meandering up the natural steps and stairs, pausing along the way to examine interesting outcrops. The relatively gentle slope and the unfamiliar rock formations present just the right amount of challenge. The ascent is invigorating and builds confidence in judgment and physical abilities.

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What goes up must come down and the skills developed on the upward journey are in even greater demand on the descent. The kids gingerly pick their way over the rock testing for stability. As they hit the flats, the pace and hazards change. The rocks around the tidal pools are wet and slippery and require a cautious approach. It’s worth the slow going to see and touch crabs, sea urchins and other creatures. From land to sea and back again our contented crew chalks up another playful outing.

Kids adapt to this place easily embracing the awesomeness of the natural world’s unmitigated wonder. Intuitively they understand the value of safeguarding this beauty, this diversity. The large expanses largely unfettered by human development emphasize that nature does indeed rock and provides unlimited potential for outdoors play, adventure and discovery.

Tablelands, Gros Morne National Park

Gros Morne has become one of our new favourite places to get away and we hope to return every couple of years. It’s not always easy to find the time or the resources to visit places like these. Look for what’s available closer to home and take advantage of green, natural spaces. Your kids will thank you for it and if you’re urban dwellers like us, you might just enjoy getting out of the city…

Earlier this year a new resource supported by the Lawson Foundation, OutsidePlay.ca, was developed for parents and caregivers to help them “manage their fears and develop a plan for change so their children can have more opportunities for risky play”. If you’re wondering about risk and play, this is a good source of information and a great place to start.

May the play be with you…..

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Pop-Up Play Photo Splash – An Even Dozen

In late July, the Pop-Up Adventure Play crew kicked off their cross-Canada tour in Halifax hosted by CanadaPlays and PlayGroundology. It was a blast – three events in two days culminating in a pop-up play extravaganza on the Halifax South Common. We estimate that more than 200 kids showed up over the course of the 2.5 hour event.

This post is less words, more pics. So here’s the even dozen generously shot by my photographer daughter Alexa. You can check her on instagram here at seriouslyalexa. She has been tagged by enRoute magazine as one of the top 10 Instagrammers in Canada to keep your eye on. Thanks Alexa!

Houston, this is Halifax – we’re ready for blast off

 

Halifax’s Hyde Park Corner – free speech, free play…

 

DIY spool ‘n beam teeter-totter

 

Up

 

and over…

 

We’ll go this way and that way

 

Flintstones on Safari

 

Hold on a sec lads, let’s consult the plans

 

Looking good – finishing touches

 

Knight in Shining Armour

 

Playing outside of the box

 

A fine afternoon that brought out the child in all of us…

 

Thanks again Alexa and a shout out to Robert Smith Sr. for hanging out for the day and giving us a big hand with the clean-up. He started his play days in earnest back in the 1930s. Along with our mom Helen, he gave his two boys free rein to explore, discover and experience risk…

A huge nod, let’s put their names up on a neon marquee, to Suzanna, Morgan and Andy the international troubadors from Pop-Up Adventure Play who helped to bring us all together.

Finally thanks to all those who made the public talk at Halifax Central Library, the workshop at The Pavilion and the Halifax South Common pop-up possible. It takes a village…

​Boxes – MEC, Canadian Tire (Dartmouth Crossing and Cole Harbour), Leon’s, Giant Bicycle and Sportchek

Bric à brac – OC Automotive, Kent Building Supplies, Halifax Plays and Bike Again – what a great bunch of volunters there – if you like biking, check out their Facebook page

Family bloggers and purveyors of fun – urbanparent.ca, itsy bitsy haligonians and Family Fun Halifax and assemblage who have helped spread the word.

Global Halifax and the Community Herald who did stories and all the other media outlets who have given us a hand by printing or broadcasting public service announcements about the events.

Thanks also to the team of volunteers who worked on this event – Bridget, Caileigh, Maura, Niki, Shitangshu, Tanya.

I have to thank my wife and kids too for putting up with my early mornings and late nights over a couple of months. They have been very kind.

Last, but by no means least, thanks to the Province of Nova Scotia’s Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage who have provided financial assistance to help defray costs, as well as equipment and networking to spread news about the events. Halifax Recreation has been invaluable in providing advice, donating some space and encouraging volunteers. Halifax Public Libraries has given us this space for today’s public talk in Paul O’Regan Hall and promoted the event. Enterprise Rent-A-Car has provided a cargo van at no cost so our loose parts schlepping could proceed with greater dispatch.

Thank you also to all the kids who came and played, smiled, laughed, jumped, ran. On that day with all of you, the Halifax South Common was the most marvelous place to be in the entire world  ….

 

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….