Category Archives: Playgrounds Québec

PlayGroundology’s Roots

Just back from a trip to Mé’s hometown, Sorel, Quebec. It also happens to be the birthplace of PlayGroundology. The three wee ones, Mé and I spent the Easter weekend with Mé’s immediate and extended family. It’s always great to get there and be welcomed into the fold. And the kids, well they jump for joy every time we hit the road to visit les grands-parents. I’m right there with them, I understand their excitement. For all of us Sorel is ‘play central’.

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It doesn’t seem to matter what time of the year we arrive, playfulness is in the air. The maestro, the impressario is grand-papa Raymond. The now retired primary school physical education teacher knows how to hit all the right notes. And we of course have the gift of stepping outside of our domestic and professional daily routines.

In July of 2008 we spent some quality time hanging out in Sorel. Raymond got Noah-David and I out to different playgrounds almost every day. At nearly three-years-old, Noah was adventurous and wanted to try everything. He was a climber, a slider, a swinger… Those couple of weeks with Raymond made up the most concentrated burst of playgrounding we had ever done and the first time we had visited a series of playgrounds day after day.

Started herePlayGroundology started here

The sun drenched weather, the fun and simplicity of the activities and the Ville de Sorel’s posting of playground locations online inspired me. In the summer of 2009, I started blogging about Halifax, Nova Scotia’s playgrounds in Halifax Plays.

As I started to explore, I gained an appreciation of the richness and variety of the playground world – design, landscaping, preservation, community engagement and of course the intrinsic value of play itself. It was clear that there was an abundance of interesting historical and contemporary stories to share from a variety of international sources. PlayGroundology made its debut six months after Halifax Plays hit the streets.

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There was enough warmth in the air this Easter weekend for a couple of playground excursions. We took the five minute walk through the ‘magic pathway’ (a pedestrian connector between two streets) over to Parc des Trembles. This playground, one of our favourite stops in Sorel, is a like an old friend even though it’s over 1,000 kilometeres from our Halifax home. We know the swings, slides and obstacle course like the back of our hands. The familiarity brings comfort, warmth and even after all these visits a tinge of excitement. There is as much love, memories and milestones invested in this park as any of our local playgrounds in Nova Scotia.

We made time to get over to grand-papa’s old school too. We all wound up with soakers as our feet crashed through a thin layer of ice and into shallow puddly pools below. It wasn’t enough to deter us from scampering about the old equipment or trying out the new gargantuan multi-climber.

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There was plenty more play during those few days in Sorel – horseback riding with the cousins, swimming, floor hockey and a trip to Brossard to see the Montreal Canadiens practice. We love the time we spend together in Sorel’s playgrounds. They’ll always have a special place in our hearts.

Postscript to The Science of Play in Today’s Parent

Today’s Parent, a Canadian magazine, ran a feature in their June issue on playground trends and designs – The Science of Play. Sarah Lazarovic’s article provides an excellent overview of some of the current thoughts and perspectives on the world of playgrounds. She draws on a number of knowledgeable people in Europe and North America to illustrate the story. As founder of the blog PlayGroundology, and a novitiate playgroundologist, I was very pleased to be asked to contribute a few comments.

When Sarah and I spoke, I prattled on and on and on. Her questions provided some airtime to share thoughts on a topic I’ve become passionate about. I now have a modest couple of years under my belt researching and conducting interviews that eventually wind up as posts in this blog. My kids and I have also racked up some practical experience putting close to 100 playgrounds in five provinces through their paces. Just today, my son Noah-David piped up to me en route to one of our current local favourites, “Papa, we’re playground explorers, aren’t we?” Our hometown adventures, captured since the summer of 2009 in Halifax Plays, are just about to get underway for this year.

Home on the Range – Halifax

The Science of Play hits all the high notes on its whirlwind tour. Sarah does a tremendous job of connecting the dots on a story where the subject matter defies stereotyping or pigeonholing. There is no one size fits all when it comes to public playspaces. Sarah’s interview for the Today’s Parent story was a chance to share some of the playground knowledge I’ve acquired in the recent past. More importantly, the story presents a significant opportunity to build on Canadian conversations about what goes on behind the scenes of playground planning and development – discussions around policy considerations, design and financing models for example.

It’s in that spirit that I offer this postscript to Sarah’s article in order to expand on a couple of the points and provide some context around one of my comments.

Comparatively speaking, from what I have seen in eastern Canada, there is a lack of creativity when it comes to playground design in this country. All we have to do is look overseas to Denmark, Germany, the UK, Sweden and Finland where design is flourishing. Their towns and cities have not been overtaken by the march of composite plastics and prefab metal posts and beams.

Although creative design is not a hallmark of the Canadian playground ethos, it is not totally absent from the landscape. There are bright spots well worth a look. Nestled on the Mountain in downtown Montreal is Salamander Playground – green grass, grand trees and a water orb. In the nation’s capital, Strathcona’s Folly is a time capsule playspace made from architectural bric à brac, a treasure of form and texture.

Water Orb – Montreal’s Salamander Playground. Click here for Original Designs slideshow.

The Magdalen Islands’ Boats are anchored safely ashore as they crash and crest through imaginary seas. And as home port to Canada’s East Coast Navy, maritime traditions run deep in Halifax and now kids can pretend they’re on a diving adventure à la Jules Verne on their own orange submarine. In Winnipeg, there’s Assiniboine Park Playground opened in the spring of 2011 that puts nature front and center. I’m hoping someday to get out to Richmond, B.C., just to test and tour that funked up Garden City Park Playground.

In Halifax, we are well served by the number of playgrounds – over 300 – and by high maintenance standards. But with the exception of our orange submarine, we’re kind of sparse on the discovering new design frontiers department. As parents, if we’re not satisfied with the current state of playground design then we have a responsibility to band together and engage our municipal governments and/or school boards to bring about change. This is not change just for the sake of it. It’s about creating enticing spaces with public funds that will help to break the pall of physical inactivity which is becoming endemic. It’s about valuing creativity in our children and local designers and fashioning space that calls out for imaginative play.

Canada could benefit from a voluntary sector organization that focuses exclusively on advocating for play on behalf of kids. These organizations exist in Europe and Australasia. I’m thinking here of Play England and its independent sister organizations such as Play Wales which hosted the 2011 International Play Association World Conference.

These groups conduct research, develop policy guidelines, compile and curate online resources, work with and challenge government, deliver programming and fulfill an important role in the public promotion of play. They are a non-commercial voice of sanity. In the US the social entrepreneur group KaBOOM! does similar work promoting play through Playful Cities USA in addition to spearheading playground builds with local communities.

On the question of costs, customized designs local or otherwise, can be more expensive but this is certainly not always the case. If there are no requests for alternative playground designs being made of a municipality then the path of least resistance is a trip to the numerous manufacturers who provide tried and true professional service that does not deviate from code and embodies more of the same old, same old. With price tags running anywhere from $100,000 to $500,000 they’re certainly not in the ‘cheap’ category. Playgrounds are big business.

Ontario’s public broadcaster TVO with Sinking Ship Productions has co-produced the first season of a show that’s all about do-it-yourself improvements and renos to local playgrounds by the kids who use them. Each project comes in at $10,000 cash with additional donations and volunteer labour. It’s an interesting model that might catch on. Read about it soon here in PlayGroundology.

Thanks to the editors at Today’s Parent for assigning this article. This is a conversation that should continue to grow. There is more to this universe of play and playgrounds than meets the eye. I don’t have any sophisticated media monitoring tools at my disposal but I sense there is an uptick in Canada’s mainstream media on coverage that focuses on play and playgrounds. I’ve seen stories on TVO, heard them on CBC Radio and read them in The Globe and Mail, The National Post, The Toronto Star, The Calgary Herald and The Vancouver Sun to name some that come immediately to mind.

Keep the play movin’.

A Year in Play

I traipse our three young ones around to a lot of playgrounds here at home and when we’re on the road. It’s an adventure for all of us – a chance for Noah, Nellie and Lila to test their physical abilities and to hang out with new kids. Play of course doesn’t need a ‘playground’. Play happens anywhere a child is given the freedom to let loose with their imagination and their natural inclinations to fun and discovery.

Waterfront, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Click for slideshow

Being able to witness and take part in their play is one of the huge bonuses of being a parent. It also helps put some of the pressures and frustrations of grown-up life into perspective. I hope you’ll enjoy these few photos that provide a bird’s eye view of our year in play. If you haven’t had the chance lately, do yourself a favour – get out and play.

Taking the fun out of being a kid – The West Virginia Record

Note

This is a reprint from West Virginia’s Legal Journal, The West Virgina Record, published earlier this week.

While no one likes to hear about kids getting injured at the playground or elsewhere, it wouldn’t be harmful to take a step back from the preoccupation with extreme safety to see if it really does benefit our kids. More and more people are taking the view that the safety cocoon approach is questionable.
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Taking the fun out of being a kid
10/7/2011 11:40 PM

Adults today were kids once, too, and managed to survive the dangers of – THE PLAYGROUND!

They learned that climbing up the slide too close behind someone else is a good way to get kicked in the face.

They learned that dawdling at the bottom of the slide increases the temptation for the next kid to come plowing into you.

They learned that wooden seesaws sometimes splinter (ouch!) and that it isn’t wise to be up in the air when the kid on the other side decides to get off.

The boys learned to stand clear of the swings and the girls learned to wear shorts under their skirts.

These valuable lessons, alas, are ones that today’s kids are not likely to learn.

Kids today are supposed to be protected from all harm. If they have recess, if they’re allowed to play at all, it has to be on soft and squishy equipment safely moored on trampoline-like ground surfaces with no rough or protruding edges anywhere.

Playgrounds need to be paved with marshmallows, and the slides, seesaws, and swings should be made of licorice sticks and fruit rollups to pacify the critics.

It makes fun-loving oldsters want to vomit.

Of course, with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission setting standards for playground equipment and overprotective parents suing for every scratch and scrape their kids incur, it’s a wonder that schools dare to have playgrounds.

Debra Garboski is suing the Cabell County Board of Education for the head injury her daughter, Michela Marcum, allegedly received two years ago on a swing set at Alitzer Elementary.

Michela might not have been hurt if the pavement had been made of sponge rubber and a dozen teachers had hovered nearby with giant nets ready to catch her.

Win or lose, the school board is likely to conclude that playgrounds are more trouble than they’re worth. Pretty soon, being a kid won’t be any fun at all.

Maybe we’ll need a federal agency to set mandatory fun standards for bored school kids.
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In spite of rules, regulations and standards, play will always remain the art of the imagination. Fortunately, there are plenty of adults and hordes of kids who fully embrace this idea. Just look at some of the designs featured here in PlayGroundology.

Shortly after reading The West Virginia Record item, I came across a ‘newish’ piece of playground equipment designed by the Quebec firm, ElephantPlay. It looks like a lot of fun, wish I could try it…

Happy spinning. spinning like fall leaves in the wind.

Life’s A Beach And Then You Play

Beaches are fine places no matter the time of year. How can they not be? It’s here that sea, sky and sand meet in their sweeping elemental dance. Water breathes in a cresting cadence with gusting grains of small sailing through the air. And the sand, it is so impressionable casting traces of those who pass. Listen, is there a sweeter sound than surf? Whether it pounds a tidal beat or whispers langourously it’s a calming peaceful swell.

Boogie boarding, wave jumping, sandcastling and of course swimming make the beach a much anticipated outing for kids. Adding in a playground to the locale just ups the ante and offers another venue for adventure.

Plage de la Grande Échouerie, Grosse Île, Magdalen Islands, Canada

Living in Nova Scotia, we’re partial to beach magic but have yet to come across a seashore playground here. We did have a wonderful time recently after our running of the waves at the Magdalen Islands’ small Plage de la Grande Échouerie playground. Noah had visited earlier with his grandparents and told me that we had to go so I could show it in PlayGroundology.

Plage de la Grande Échouerie, Grosse Île, Magdalen Islands, Canada

Well it turns out that there are fine beach playgrounds all over the world as flickr photographers have so lovingly documented – Life’s a Beach and then You Play flickr gallery.

Newport Beach by richmanwisco. Creative Commons

If you happen to find yourself cruising down the California coastline, here’s a useful directory I stumbled across that provides a list of beaches with playground equipment.

Happy playing, happy beaching.

This post is in memory of Bob Hoegg, a dear friend who passed away earlier this week. Thanks Bob for the time we got to spend together. You showed me a lot about joy, hope and love. We’re all thinking of you.

Cheap Thrills – Playgrounding on Vacation

Has there been ample traipsing around museums, trudging through shopping centres, interminable amusement park screeling and screeching, enough blue-lipped, sand-encrusted, beachy shivering for your young ones this vacation?

Aground – La Grave, Magdalen Islands, Canada

For the seven or eight and under crowd, maybe it’s time for a playground holiday visit. They’re fun fueled, inexpensive, physically active outings. Often there’s unfamiliar equipment for the kids to scramble about on, something they’ve never seen before. And what better place to meet local kids for fleeting friendships.

Red and Yellow – Fatima, Magdalen Islands, Canada

This August we’ve had a week in the islands, The Magdalen Islands in Canada’s Gulf of the St. Lawrence. We’ve hit a few playgrounds between beach and backyard games. The kids want a return engagement with every one of them. Here’s a quick slide show of les terrains de jeux des Iles.

Morning Skies – L’Étang du nord, Magdalen Islands, Canada

Tips for holiday playground hunting:

– check the local town or city’s website, if you’re lucky playgrounds will be listed. One of the best I’ve come across is New York City;

– check the local school board for a listing of schools. Inquire to determine if school playgrounds are accessible after hours and during summer holidays. Unfortunately that’s not the case in all jurisdictions;

– check the KaBOOM! Playspace Finder, great for US and parts of Canada;

– if you’re very lucky there will be a local playground blogger where you’re going. Here’s a little shameless promotion of my Halifax, Nova Scotia – PlayGround Chronicles. Other playground bloggers are noted in the left hand column;

– ask, or do the wander walkabout.

Country hills – Ile d’Entrée, Magdalen Islands, Canada

Happy vacation…

Sand Wasps close down playgrounds in Montreal and Gatineau, Quebec

An infestation of sand wasps is responsible for closing close to 100 playgrounds in Gatineau and the Montreal area. CTV News story here