Category Archives: PlayGroundology

A Playsmith’s Unwitting Apprenticeship

Editor’s note

Play Outdoors Magazine is relatively new on the Canadian play and publishing scenes. Well known educator Dr. Beverlie Dietze is at the helm rounding up content from educators, practitioners and researchers. As editor, Dietze has a keen eye for stories that inform and inspire. You can get a preview of the Winter Issue here.

Play Outdoors Magazine – New Kid on the Block

Beverlie generously invited me to contribute a piece to this fourth issue that has just come off the press. Originally entitled The Accidental Making of a Play Enthusiast, the article appears below.

Leave of a lifetime

It all starts with 180 days of magic. For six months we savour everyday wonder. With our two small children in tow we embrace familiar spaces and explore faraway places. All the while, we are grateful for this seemingly endless parental leave horizon.

Open-ended adventures are daily occurrences. Frequently they are set in motion by our 2 1/2-year-old son Noah and his ever-expanding collection of good ideas. In our experience, good ideas lead to play. Play leads to laughter. Laughter leads to more good ideas and so it goes, a virtuous circle of discovery and joyfulness.

Anything is possible

Indoor road hockey is high on the good ideas greatest hits list complete with a rendition of the national anthem. Balls of all sizes, colours and bounciness factors that are ready to be rolled, kicked and thrown about are not far behind. Then there’s noise making par excellence, impromptu rehearsals with pots and pans clang-a-banging experimental compositions that only a father can love.

At six-months-old, Nellie-Rose’s merry gregariousness, fascination with touch and vocal orchestrations are play writ large. She is Miss Social Butterfly giggling, cooing and making eyes with everyone around her. With great intensity she moves her head this way and that following older brother’s escapades. She desperately wants to be part of the independently mobile club. Before long she’s moving under her own steam, uncontainable.

Nellie – raring to go

Play is a daily staple for the four of us and almost as sustaining as the air we breathe. For our infant and toddler duo, it is the main event interrupted only by basic needs like sleep and hunger. There is learning, there is bonding and just plain fun. It is all an incomparable gift.

Our hands are full, but we still have wiggle room to learn a few new tricks and not just of the parenting variety. I’ve had my sights set on getting up to speed with social media. Headfirst I plunge publishing a blog that recounts our family adventures throughout this 180-day trajectory.

One day on a visit to see grand-papa and grand-maman, we swoop down on several playgrounds in rapid succession in their hometown of Sorel, Quebec. My father-in-law is in his element. A physical education teacher, he knows all the best spots. He’s an attentive tour guide and his enthusiasm takes us by storm.

Playground Beat

Sorel is an early adopter of promoting playgrounds on its municipal website. This simple method of raising public awareness along with grand-papa’s discerning concierge persona inspires a new venture for the kids and I. On our return to Nova Scotia, we get ready for some extended play escapades as we kick off our own urban playground tour. We launch Playground Chronicles, one of the first blogs of its kind in Canada, to share details on outdoor city spaces dedicated to our youngest citizens. The first post features our neighbourhood park.

Hold on tight

In short order we’re criss-crossing Halifax putting playgrounds through their paces. Each post contains photos of the equipment at the featured playground(s), a narrative describing what is on offer at the location and a link to a pin drop on a dedicated Google map.

It’s a marvelous past time. Over the course of the blog’s four-year lifespan, Noah, Nellie and youngest sister Lila, who is born into the mayhem, are steadfast companions on the playground circuit. Noah bestows the ‘good idea’ brand on our project and keeps a mental running inventory of the places and equipment that meet his good housekeeping seal of approval.

On arrival at each new venue, there is a clamoring to get out of the car and then a burst of energy propels them into the new play area. The chorus starts almost immediately.

“Papa, papa, watch me, watch me.”

“Can you push me papa, can you push?”

“Look at me, look at me papa, I can do it myself.”

It’s a chance for the kids to strut their stuff, to demonstrate accomplishments and a dash of derring-do. For my part I utter an occasional cautionary ‘be careful’. In rare circumstances there are heart-stopping moments.

A going concern

One day the kids rush off in separate directions. I’m speechless when I locate two-year-old Lila. She is two-thirds of the way up a 12-step set of stairs leading to the top of a double-twist slide. Almost instantaneously, I’m right behind her. I didn’t know I was capable of moving so rapidly. She finishes the climb and whooshes down the corkscrew. Disaster averted, I can breathe again. In all our playgrounding years that was our closest call to an injury.

now and then

Early in the tour I notice some recurring themes. Off-the-shelf playground equipment from major manufacturers seems to be the prevailing flavour, resulting in a sameness in playspace after playspace. Old faithfuls, like roundabouts, are extinct. The up again, down again teeter-totters are on the endangered list. Playgrounds are underpopulated. Most children are accompanied by parents.

Can’t catch me

The continuing adventures of our merry band of playgrounders starts me thinking. Initially, I’m drawn back to my own childhood as a point of reference. In those mid-1960s grade school years, it seemed we had a little bit of everything at our fingertips. Outside our 4-storey, 80 unit apartment building was the sweetest little patch of green, a four-acre park that was a gathering place, a central play zone. This shangri-la valley was given over, for all practical purposes, to us kids for our exclusive use.

Dense bush outposts were firmly rooted on the high ground with solitary trees sprinkled here and there along the slopes. The flatlands were wide and deep, perfect for baseball, kite flying, British bulldog, imagined battlefields and just about any other tomfoolery that came to us.

Also on the flats, a smattering of playground equipment strung out in a straight line – swings, slide, monkey bars, rocket climber. They weren’t so much a destination as peripheral fixtures there to be used should the fancy take us. The landscape itself was the set with the playground pieces frequently relegated to prop status.

In that rosy rear-view mirror, wall-to-wall play seemed to be the norm. We roamed by foot, by bike, by public transit. Except for Saturday morning cartoons, or other television spectaculars, outdoors with friends for hours on end was the place to be.

To be sure, we all had rules to observe and break (at our own peril). By giving us unsupervised time and space to play, our parents were investing us with trust. The trust promoted agency. We were able to call the shots, to make decisions within reason on what, when, where, who and how we played. Every day was a blank slate. Our default was to go in search of fun.

rediscovering just play

The more I googled about contemporary play, the more I understood that since my days there had been a wild swing of the pendulum in the opposite direction. I learned that mobility and range were continually being reduced, that children were growing up in play environments that were decidedly risk averse and that their rights, including the right to play, were being curtailed, or worse trampled upon.

In the web

Fortunately, there has existed for some time a broad international coalition of individuals and organizations whose objective is to see play flourish. This group includes sculptors, playworkers, landscape designers, urban planners, community activists, academics from a variety of disciplines, health and recreation professionals, environmental advocates, authors and many more.

To take a bit of a deep dive into the current play world, I turn to a by now tried and true medium. Six months after the Playground Chronicles launch, a new blog, PlayGroundology hits the streets. The first of what will be more than 450 posts features a Manhattan play installation, ‘Playground’ by American sculptor Tom Otterness. From the outset I receive lots of encouragement from laypeople and others more heavily invested. People I contact are generous with their time and knowledge. It’s a welcome, recurring trait.

Playground by Tom Otterness

PlayGroundology publishes international content with stories from Sweden, Singapore, Ghana, Denmark, Australia, France, Chile, Vietnam, the UK, the US, Canada and other points around the world. In my virtual walkabouts, I get introduced to adventure playgrounds, loose parts, museum exhibits, documentaries, works of art and NGOs dedicated solely to play. Off blog, in the real world I create a backyard loose parts emporium, help organize workshops, public information sessions and play events. Who knows what’s next?

Let the journey continue

Nearly 15 years have passed since the experiences of that parental leave nudged me along the path of play. There is still ample meandering left. In the years to come, I predict that safeguarding the right to play and helping to make it flourish will become more of a political act. Knowledge and experience of play in a time of crisis will continue to be an important asset to help children who through no fault of their own find themselves in impossible situations.

It’s been a great journey so far and along the way I’ve been doing my best to embrace a ‘just play’ ethos.

i

End note

Thank you to my love Mélanie and to our three kids. None of this poking around the play world would be possible without Mélanie’s unreservedly good humour and patience. As for the kids it has just been wonderful to share parts of their play journeys over the years. Now that they are almost all in their teens and play is no longer in quite as high rotation in their daily lives, it’s wonderful to see how it continues to stand them in good stead.

As kids my brother and I had a lot of freedom, plenty of opportunity to discover and make mistakes. Our parents were always there for us in the good times and bad. We got a great start in life as this clip of mom and dad as young parents celebrating my birthday – about three-years-old I’d guess – captures.

 

They never missed a chance to ask how our respective projects were developing. On the play side of things, my dad thoroughly enjoyed the public spaces loose parts extravaganzas I helped organize. He couldn’t get enough of watching the kids doing their own thing.  It always brought a smile to his face. Thanks for reading….

 

Stronger Than Ever

Editor’s Note – This poem, written by our daughter Nellie-Rose circa nine-years-old, was uncovered during a deep cleaning of my home office this weekend. It speaks to me of our times and of play’s elemental beat. She no longer remembers the significance of the title. It’s included as part of the original work. I’m ready to immigrate to Cloud Cove and sing this anthem loudly…

Cloud Cove’s National Song

Outside in the sun we love to play.
It’s what we do every single day.
We climb up trees and go on our bikes
And play with friends day and night.

We live in our world altogether
Now we are stronger, stronger than ever

Everyone come, come play in our world
We are going to have some fun altogether
Now you know that we stay together
You can’t split us up even if you’re better

We live in our world altogether
Now we are stronger, stronger than ever.

Uncharted

With a large map weighted at the corners spread out before her, our youngest is charting future adventures with an erasable marker. I have to get in quick for a photo before her first odyssey is wiped clear.

I visit every zoo in Canada and get those poor animals out of there. Go to all the spots the animals live that I saved and go to Amazon!!!!! Click to enlarge

A few years ago this was a recurring activity on a map affixed to her bedroom wall. It coincided with a head over heels embrace of Dora The Explorer. Oh the places our then 6-year-old would go!

This brand spanking new map had been tucked away in a closet waiting to be found on a proverbial rainy day. No better time for maman to break it out as we’re well into the coronavirus deluge now – uncharted territory for families, neighbourhoods, communities and governments.

I can almost taste the resilience of this mapping play, imaginative, forward looking, new worlds creativity. The activity is a nimble pivot from news shared with the kids earlier in the afternoon – no longer would friends be allowed to come to our house to play indoors or outside in the yard.

7 years later from Amazon – find water animals help them if needed. Meet new friends and take them on my journey. Bring my Kids! And dogy

Our newly self-imposed isolation and social distancing followed a series of disruptions impacting primarily the kids – cancellations of spring basketball, Cubs and Scouts, cinemas, an overseas vacation and the big grandaddy of them all, school – the learning, playing and socializing space.

We are not alone of course. This is happening across vast areas of the globe. UNESCO estimates that on March 18 more than 861 million students in over 100 countries would be out of school for varying lengths of time. It seems that the world is grinding to a halt as the virus tries to overtake us.

Public health professionals and journalists are working zealously to inform citizens of important life saving actions that can help to curb the virus’ spread. People still have so many questions and not all have a ready answer. Sometimes once you think you’ve got one, you hear a different response and have to assess which is most likely to be accurate.

Two days ago I couldn’t find anything authoritative related to the risk associated with outdoor neighbourhood play. Should we have the kids out playing in a pandemic? One public health expert indicated that the risk would be low if the place in question was not experiencing community spread.

This was my doctrine for a day until I heard from a city councillor and then a design and build playground company, both from other parts of Canada. Their comments on PlayGroundology’s Facebook page nudged our family into limiting outdoor play to the backyard with our kids only, no friends.

Backyard – just siblings, no friends

From there it was an almost effortless drift into significantly reducing our in-person social interactions at an earlier date than we might have otherwise considered. This may ease the transition to full self-isolation when public health authorities call for it. If you are weighing what action to take, you may find this piece from the BBC helpful, Coronavirus: Should you let your children play with other children?

Before we know it the maelstrom will be upon us here on Canada’s eastern edge. Our merry little nuclear family is fortunate to be part of a community with plenty of conscientious neighbours.  On a more macro scale, as citizens of a high income country, we are beneficiaries of a relatively robust public health infrastructure, educational system and government leadership. We know that this is not the case for many throughout the world.

Just seven days ago we were wrestling with whether we should be cancelling an overseas vacation. We had been wavering for a couple of weeks and then the Canadian government decided for us when one week ago they issued travel advisories recommending against non-essential international travel.

I have no idea where we will be seven days from now. Do any of us? As we seek to understand, cope and vanquish this virus, let’s be responsible in our personal actions and think of others.

In these times of uncertainty it’s important to celebrate kindness and giving, to keep our eyes on decency, bravery, beauty and hope. There are great things going on, small gestures that touch many people. Here are a few stories we’ve come across. Do you have any you would like to share? If so, drop a line through the ‘Contact’ tab.

  • A Canadian doctor is helping promote good hand washing hygiene with a version of a well-loved nursery rhyme. I saw Dr. Nisha Thampi’s story on CBC’s The National earlier in the week.

  • In Brooklyn, New York, “neighborhood kiddos are going on walks but no longer can see their friends or go to playgrounds. Some of us are putting rainbows 🌈 up in our windows for them to spot as many as they can on a walk. Like a giant neighborhood wide I spy game. If you are wondering what you can do in this time – put a rainbow in your window to spread some joy!”

 

 

  • Nixon Modz was sad that he wouldn’t be able to see his mates at school or have a party to celebrate his 7th birthday. A tweet by his dad inviting people to send birthday wishes started trending and Nixon was flooded with reading material. Canadian political cartoonist Michael de Adder sent a one of a kind card….

  • And thanks to Dr. Sanjay Gupta who we have watched for so many evenings on CNN. His empathy, quiet compassion and unflagging pursuit of answers are inspirational.

Since this coronavirus has started its assault in our small corner of the world, our oldest girl has changed up her bedtime routine. She’s asked us to sing her goodnight song again. It’s back on the playlist after an absence of many months. There’s nothing like familiarity and a little comfort to warm hearts.

We hope you will find opportunities to play over the coming weeks and months. We’ll do our best and share good news about play with you. No new local coronavirus cases in China was by far the best news we heard yesterday….

And now for a five-step roadmap of how we can engage through this infographic  from the UK’s Eden Project Communities.

Many thanks to all the frontline and essential workers. Without you, we can’t imagine where we would be. Stay safe friends.

 

 

 

St. James Park Where Kids Play with their Food

Our trek starts at the Corso Italiano on St. Clair West. By foot, streetcar and subway we hop, skip and jump cross-town to St. James Park. It’s downtown Toronto just a few blocks east of Yonge Street and a nudge north of St. Lawrence Market and the Gardiner Expressway’s endless dump of traffic into the city’s core.

It’s hot – the still, heavy air is withering but it doesn’t dampen our anticipation. Behind orange barricades, my daughter Nellie-Rose and I eyeball the new playscape still under construction.

Alex Waffle from Earthscape brings us in behind the fencing. After donning our hardhats, we waste no time. Nellie dives right into play-test mode.  I try and keep up with her while shooting a few frames. A massive, empty cake cone plonked on its side invites discovery. In front of it, melting mounds of oozing chocolate, pistachio and vanilla ice cream.

Nellie-Rose sproings from pistachio to chocolate at St. James Park, Toronto

All food related elements are mega-mega. Asparagus stalks like towering totems with tips that look ready to munch serve as supports for staggered balance beams on varying inclines. The scale of it all. How many adventurous sprites will try and shinny to the top?

Alex Waffle, landscape architect and our Most Valuable Tour Guide

Stretch carrots form a tip to tip ‘V’ hugging the ground ready to be scampered across, emphasizing that vitamin A’s veggie queen can help keep kids sharp and healthy in more ways than one.

Carrots, good for the eyes and for getting some great air

It’s produce from the tables of giants, the kind that Jack would bring back down from his Beanstalk adventures, or that Sophie’s Big Friendly Giant might add to a pot of stew.

Stacked crates with stenciled markings dwarf us of mere human size. The crates anchor a slide and a rope bridge. On this visit, prior to the public opening, access is blocked but there is the promise of fresh berries.

On this day, still a little prep work to do on the crates and slide

At the rope bridge’s other terminus is a shelter proclaiming ‘FISH’ sporting a double side-by-side slide. Fish are attached to the shelter’s vertical columns serving as decoration and a climbing aid. Beveled tails allow for little fingers to get in behind, grab on tight and pull up.

Bevel-tailed fish provide little hands a purchase to help them climb

Just beyond the fish monger, weathered pilings evoke the old piers and docklands where some of the St. Lawrence Market goods arrived by lake in earlier times. Ladies and gentlemen, another play zone where Nellie is only too happy to let loose.

Round and round….

Doffing her cool yet constraining construction helmet, Nellie limbers up with 360° rolls on the bar – round and round, over and under, one big shock of hair nearly sweeping the ground. I’m starting to get dizzy watching her. Her upper body strength and sense of balance developed at circus school give her confidence making it all look easy.

…almost touching ground

The bars and the ice cream bounce are at the top of Nellie’s list of highlights but we aren’t able to give everything a whirl as the playscape is not yet at 100% completion. There, in the near distance still not quite ready to zip is something we’d both like to put through its paces.

Spin, spin, spinny

The roundabout brings a smile. In our Nova Scotia home – and many other parts of North America – the once common roundabout , or merry-go-round – is on the endangered list. Most of them have been hauled out of their native playground habitat as a misguided safety measure. We’ll be back to ride this eight station g-force popper on a subsequent TO visit. I can almost feel the sweet dizziness of it now.

Hats off to the municipality for giving the green light to this virtuous circle of spin and to Earthscape for a deft design touch. Kids, hold on and get acquainted with the wheel of fun.

Heading to the main gate, we thank Alex Waffle for a great behind the scenes visit. Kids, when you want to play with your food, get your folks to bring you on down to St. James Park. We say goodbye to this foodalicious play spot knowing we’ll be back on our next visit with the grandkids in tow.

Thanks to Nellie-Rose my inveterate player-tester for all these years in playgrounds, campsites and backyards throughout eastern Canada. For our daredevil girl it’s a two thumbs up day even if the construction helmet sometimes seems to have a life of its own.

No kid size construction helmets…

Nellie and I both need to grab a bite. Alex’s last name inspires us as we search out a brunch spot. Le Petit Déjeuner on King St. East – a quarter million eggs since 2002 – calls out to us. Nellie goes for Belgian waffles with a  swirly tower pf whipped cream – mmmmmmm…. or as they say in Québec miam, miam.

Before we head back uptown, we hit the market – literally a three minute walk away through the fragrant gardens in St James Park. Bounty, everywhere.

Fruit stalls St Lawrence Market

Outside the South Building, Nellie spies a stall with silver jewelry. Everything is made from recycled silver extracted from various sources. She chooses a a fine chain and a small medallion, a gift for maman. Thanks Mélanie – you made it possible for the two of us to adventure this day.

St. James Park Playscape – design and build by Earthscape with PMA Landscape Architects as project landscape architects.

Thanks Earthscape Alex what a great host and a huge shout out to the Earthscape family who know a thing or two about creating award-winning public play spaces for kids.

#playrocks  #playeveryday  #playmatters #playeverywhere

Kids and Freedom – Tim Gill’s HuffPost 9 Plus 3 from PlayGroundology

Great list from Tim Gill on giving kids more freedom in a recent edition of UK Huff Post. Each of the 9 items listed in the article will help kids blaze a trail to greater freedom. Together they are a powerful recipe for fun, discovery and stretching limits.

I’m supplementing Tim’s list with 3 additions of my own (10 through 12) to make it an even dozen. Send PlayGroundology a comment if you have items to add to the list.

10. Create opportunities for your kids to explore and play in the natural world. If you have green spaces close to where you live, set the children free to explore. If not, take them to a park, a ravine, to the woods, the seashore – many opportunities for play will present themselves and the benefits of spending time in nature are well documented. Do caution about potential hazards.

Because They Want to Live in Nature

11. Make your home a play zone. I’m not talking anything grandiose here, no large infusions of cash for play installations or play houses and such. Get a few loose parts – milk crates, tires, inner tubes, tarps, ropes, cardboard boxes, a few planks of lumber and let the kids have at it in the backyard. There are hours of self-directed play and discovery with this kind of material and your yard will become a very popular destination. No backyard? Get a small group of parents together and explore what’s possible on lands managed by your local authority.

In Kids We Trust

12. Listen. Listen to your kids about what they would like to do. They have great play ideas. Make the space and time to embrace some of them and enable them to happen. Listen to yourself, remember the play adventures you had as a child – savour, share with your own kids…

Fort Summer

Support play, independence and resilience – get the kids outdoors to explore and have fun.

 

Open House – Pop-Up Neighbourhood

This is a big shout out to the Pop-Up Adventure Play crew – Zan, Morgan and Andy. One year ago, they touched down in Halifax to kick off a very successful cross-Canada summer tour.

Click here, or on image for photo story.

Kids and adults alike had a great time creating and destroying over the course of nearly three hours on a sun washed summer afternoon. Check out some highlights in the photo story by clicking through above.

If you are intrigued by pop-up play and loose parts, then maybe Pop-Up Adventure Play’s next Campference in Houston, Texas is for you – details here.

Reeling through the Years II – Somewhere over the Rainbow

Thanks to PlayGroundology’s 500+ subscribers and readers from over 140 countries, the blog has clocked nearly 600,000 page views since January 2010. I had no idea at the outset how it would all play out. It’s a great ongoing adventure and journey of discovery.

This hobby, morphed into an unpaid vocation of sorts, has opened so many doors. I meet play ambassadors from around the world and hear from readers on how they are inspired by specific posts. Most of these encounters take place online but it’s been a real treat to meet some folks in person in Glasgow, Toronto, San Diego and right here at home in Halifax.

There are just so many inspiring stories about play and kids. There is also a lot of important advocacy work to be done to ensure all kids have an opportunity to play. As PlayGroundology gears up for its ninth year, we’ll be sharing some of our milestone stories with you throughout the month of January. I hope you enjoy this second installment.

Kids at Play – flickr Photo Gallery – July 29, 2011

Flickr is a great source of visuals for play. This is one of the earlier flickr galleries I put together. There have been over 2,000 views but I think the quality of the photos of kids from around the world playing is very evocative and well worth a look. Let me know what you think if you click on through.

All told I’ve curated 35 galleries. Among them is Swedish Aesthetic which was picked up and promoted by the flickr blog. There is really nothing quite as marvellous as a fine shot of a kid at play.

The Playground Paradise Principle – Malmö, Sweden – February 6, 2012

It’s not everyday that you’re going to see a rainbow slide. Truly they should be de rigueur wherever small kids gather. This Swedish city has embraced the value of play and has become a bit of a destination for families from other parts of the continent. The municipal government even offers study tours of their play spaces that also includes pitches for the locally invented puckelball.

Paradise might be a bit of a stretch but Malmö, Sweden is quite simply playgroundalicious. It’s the kind of place that would inspire Mary Poppins to gather her young charges around her and umbrella them off to adventure – up through the atmosphere/ up where the air is clear/ let’s all/ go to Malmö.

So if anyone ever has spare airline tickets to Malmö don’t forget to give me call. Copenhagen would be fine too, I’d just take a drive across the Oresund bridge…

Sir Ken of TEDalot on Play and Learning – May 6, 2012

British education reformer Sir Ken Robinson’s TedTalks have racked up millions of views. He is a great storyteller who is passionate about his subject matter and audience. I was lucky enough to see him in person at an event in Halifax several years back and used it as an opportunity to reach out and ask about play.

There are three key terms when we come to think about play. The first is imagination, the second is creativity and the third is innovation.

Sir Ken warmed to the play topic and waxed on for about 5 minutes which you can read about here.

The Unbearable Lightness of Swinging – June 28, 2012

When was the last time you had a swing? It’s been too long for me. I really must remedy that.

There’s something cosmic about swinging, a certain je ne sais quoi. Swings are all grace and simplicity as they trace their airy arcs. In downward sweeps there is the tickling acceleration of free fall. Then as the pendulum tracks the outer bounds of its trajectory, the weighty hand of gravity pulls down.

A couple of more installments coming your way over the coming weeks.

Play Words from Canadian Press

On occasion, I get contacted by members of the press interested in reporting on some aspect of play. It’s always an exciting opportunity to contribute to a broader public conversation.

As a matter of course, I do my homework, prepare background info, offer other contacts and, whenever possible, provide some insights related to the particular perspective the journalist is researching. Back in the day when I was a freelancer for daily newspapers and CBC Radio, one of the biggest recurring challenges I encountered was paring down information-loaded interviews from several sources into the story to be filed.

Hats off to Canadian Press journalist Linda Givetash who filed a story that has appeared in media outlets across the country. You can read her piece, which speaks to the changing face of playscapes in Canadian cities, by clicking here or on the image below.

Thanks to Canadian Architect, the article got some additional play online including the Twitterverse ⚡️

How does the media in your community, or country report on play? Do the articles they write, or broadcast help further the public conversation?

In 2018, here’s toasting to increased media interest in issues related to play, childhood health, development and safety and the linkages between risk and resilience.

Photo – Grandpapa Raymond’s old school – Sorel, Québec.

Twitter Moment photo of plane and control tower in Toronto’s Downsview Park sourced from Earthscape.

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.

i

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.

i

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.

i

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…..

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  ….