Category Archives: Québec

The Greatest Show

There is a whisper of warm in the air this fine Montreal day. It’s not hot though by any stretch. A grimy, grey urban snow is stubbornly hanging on over much of the grass and scrub land.

Next to a rail line, in the shadow of the Van Horne overpass, two kids play in a narrow strip of what was once underutilized, neglected space. It’s now part of a regreening that embraces this Mile End neighbourhood – marshalling land and engaging community participation to help preserve and expand nature’s footprint.

The kids, members of the Le Lion et La Souris family, are immersed in a pas de deux. It’s a timeless dance where mud and melt water are the sacraments. The two lads are so engrossed in this organic world of their own making that my arrival barely registers a passing notice.

As the boys stir up foul looking concoctions and pour potions into vessels and through the slats of a pallet, they open a window and let me in. The kids and I check each other out by goofing around with some spontaneous sound and word games.

Over the next 45 minutes, I marvel at their ingenuity and the consonance between do-it-yourself resourcefulness and budding resilience. It seems they are impervious to the wet and cold. They elevate scrabbling in puddles to a vocation, no, even more than that, to an art form.

“By giving children the space and time to play as they want — with each other, alone, in nature, with loose parts or found materials — Le Lion et La Souris is saying to children: you matter, what you like matters, how you play matters.”

Stephanie Watt – City Councillor for Rosemont La Petite-Patrie

 

In this minimalist setting the lads are attuned to each other’s company. They need little to inspire their colourful tapestry of play. With the exception of the occasional glance our way, they are self-sufficient in the moment, oblivious to the nattering adults.

Eventually the boys break away from the pallets and puddles opting for more vigorous shenanigans. Sticks are found and brandished about. There’s not a poked out eye to be seen, anywhere.

Running ensues in speeding bursts to hide, to get away. The tagged shipping container offers a great rope swinging escape route from marauding zombies. Then it’s an almost seamless transition into some mild rough and tumble, the older boy taking care not to overwhelm his younger friend.

This is my first visit to Le Lion et La Souris and I am amazed at this tour de force, this panorama of play. Now I’ve known about the community-based non profit for a few years. Last summer we both hosted our mutual friends – Pop-Up Adventure Play on their cross-Canada tour – presenting workshops and loose parts play extravaganzas in Montreal and Halifax.

“Children who get to be at the heart of their play learn to know themselves, to negotiate, to create, to evaluate and take risks, to play different roles, to work through emotions and challenges. For me, L&M makes our city more resilient and inclusive.”

Stephanie Watt – City Councillor for Rosemont La Petite-Patrie

 

It’s good to connect and learn how the small team at Le Lion et La Souris is evolving and making an impact. As I speak with playworker Gabby Doiron, she tells me how she had been invited to another Montreal neighbourhood, Pointe-Saint-Charles,  the previous evening. A group of mothers interested in establishing an adventure playground were looking for some information and inspiration. Forty years earlier a short-lived adventure playground had been a going concern in the community and these moms are hoping to bring a new one to life.

Those Pointe-Saint-Charles parents and others across the country are eager to see kids getting their play on, experiencing a wider range of play opportunities in public spaces. This is a conversation that is gaining steam at the grass roots level as well as within the mainstream media – witness recent articles in Maclean’s, Le Devoir and The Canadian Press.

Gabby is fully engaged in helping others others explore independent, child-led play. She’s moved from the academic realm, researching a Master’s degree focused on Cornelia Hahn Oberlander’s Expo 67 playground to playworking at the aptly named Champs des possibles in Mile End on Montreal’s Plateau. She loves the kids and the community-based model but stitching a budget together is always challenging.

The kids started breaking the ice. It was like a tiny pond. We started calling it The Lake because it got quite big and it was very deep…

Gabby Doiron – Playworker, Le Lion et La Souris

 

Here on this small strip of land, the possibilities for play run very deep. To explore, to be dirty, to fall, to hide, to swing, to run, to risk a tumble, to have some fun these are boundless wonders. Surely this is the greatest show and Le Lion et La Souris are exporting it to other parts of the city, to schools, parks, community groups, even to the Canadian Centre of Architecture.

Le Lion et La Souris continues to reach out and make connections. This summer they will host a course with the Forest School of Canada. Other communities can perhaps benefit from their go local, embrace global model.

This grass roots playwork is supplemented by a growing body of research in Canada on a variety of topics: risk and play – Mariana Brussoni; outdoor play – Beverlie Dietze and Diane Kashin; loose parts play – Caileigh Flannigan; and. unhealthy food – Sara FL Kirk. Supported by their institutions, governments and charitable organizations such as The Lawson Foundation this research is helping to define policy goals and influence a renewed understanding of play opportunities for kids in public spaces.

Walking away from the Champs des possibles I am rejuvenated. I’ve caught a buzz being up close to all that unfettered, unrehearsed play. I’m energized as I head north to Le Diola on Jean-Talon for a fine Senegalese meal with one of my oldest friends. Play on…

Now, last word to the kids.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Le Grand Défi – Pierre Lavoie’s Energy Cubes for Schools

Hats off, chapeau to Pierre Lavoie, his team and his partnerships with not-for-profits, school boards and the private sector. At our house, Le Grand Défi is a succès fou. Just check our kids all pleased as punch in this twitter pic sent to M. Lavoie. It was snapped just before the school bus pulled up on the day they brought in their final numbers for Le Grand Défi – Cubes d’énergies.

i
Le Grand Défi

 

i

C’est un homme qui fait bouger le monde.

He’s a man who makes people move.

 

Each May, grade school kids throughout Quebec and in francophone schools across the country take the energy cube challenge. Kids are asked to track their physical activity in 15 minute intervals over a 4 week period. Each 15 minutes equals 1 energy cube. Our kids are the outdoors types constantly on the run. They love this friendly competition. There is a little whining on occasion and disagreement over a sibling’s interpretation of the numbers. But all told it’s a celebration of play in motion.

Each kid gets a little book to track their progress over the course of the 4 weeks. At the end of each week, a parent signs attesting to the accuracy of the count and the books go into school for the weekly tallies.

Les CubesThe book

Lavoie started out on his incredible journey in 1999.

“In 1999, Pierre Lavoie launched the first Défi Pierre Lavoie in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean in order to raise awareness in his region about lactic acidosis, the illness which took two of his children from him, and raise funds for research. He cycled alone over 650 km in 24 hours on an itinerary around the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region.” (Source)

Since then, Lavoie has served as an inspiration to adults and children alike.

The kids are racking up the cubes. For the first at bats in 2009, 16,970,889 cubes. In 2015, 103,081,934. The cubes are on the move.

For more on Pierre Lavoie visit Le Grand Défi or The Grand Défi. The video below gives a sense of the power of Lavoie’s message, of his actions. A tribe of movers and shakers is in motion around him riding the physical activity wave.

Our kids are raring to go every May – ready to jump, run, rattle and roll. Are there similar physical activity programs in your area? Keep them movin’

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’.

DSC06600

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.

DSC06634

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.

DSC06912

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.

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.
____________________________________________________

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.
_____________________________________________________

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.

Ballon Poire – Pear Ball

Ballon poire is a very popular Quebec schoolyard game. This excerpt from a lively sock it to you match up was shot near Parc Jarry in Montreal earlier this spring.

The structures are made specifically for ballon poire. Eye – hand coordination is a definite asset when sending this ball on its spin cycle. Looks like a fun way to spend recess.

Go Tell it on the Mountain – Montréal’s Salamander Playground

There’s shade on the mountain and sometimes a soft silky breeze blows a refreshing kiss. These are welcome blessings in one of North America’s finest festival cities where summer’s sticky drip calls out for relief and release. If the kids are not already hot enough, they can work up some steam and then cool down at a new playground opened in 2009 in Montréal’s Mount Royal Park.

In the splash, paddle and run zone, timed jets of water arc into the air from embedded nozzles and a watery film gently bathes a stationary orb. The playground flows through a dip in a small glade in an unhurried meander. Bordered on one side by a sweep of trees, it then opens onto a modest plain lush with grass and shade.

A bird’s eye view shows that the playground’s outline takes the form of a stylized salamander. Two black climbing rocks serve as the amphibian’s eyes and four play zones are housed in the front and rear footprints. This representation pays tribute to the blue spotted salamander a native species that finds some respite in this green urban oasis where it is on a protected list.

The equipment here is atypical. If it isn’t flash-of-fun, kid powered motion, then the kids have to scrabble over, through, or around it. The architecture, landscape and urban design firm CHA (Cardinal Hardy) did their homework sourcing the material for this playscape. Some pieces like the tilted spinning platter originate in Germany. Others, like the orbular fountain, were created by CHA’s Bao-Chau Nguyen who also designed the rustic log benches. The black shine meteoric rocks were tracked down in California. The result is a unique play experience, a blend of climbing, whirling, balancing and spinning far from the city’s madding crowds and traffic.

Click for slide show

Aside from the exquisite location, it is the equipment and its thoughtful placement that really sets this playground apart. Getting just the right mix was an important objective.

“We wanted things that kids could say, ‘oh, that’s different, what can I do with this?’ It wasn’t the regular slides, or swings that we were looking for. We were really after pieces that could be used in multiple ways encouraging discovery and a little experimentation. The spinning platter is a good example. You can sit on it, walk on it, lay flat on your belly.” – Isabelle Giasson, CHA Project Manager

As with all new development in the Park, this project had to be sensitive to the already existing landscapes as envisioned in the 19th century by the granddaddy of urban green space designers, Frederic Olmsted. In comparison with the riotous colours of the 1960s era playspace that preceded it, Salamander playground is a study in muted, minimalist tones of silver, blue and black and softly curving contemporary shapings.

In addition to high performance equipment and a design that mimics the natural flow of vertical and horizontal axes, Salamander Playground features another distinguishing element. Embedded in the pathways and benches throughout the playground are images and excerpts of text that tell the story of the Conventions on the Rights of the Child as elaborated and promoted by UNICEF.

Article 6 (Survival and development): Children have the right to live. Governments should ensure that children survive and develop healthily. The Convention on the Rights of the Child

This is the first public space in the world where images and text have been used side by side to tell the story of children’s rights. The images by artist Gérard Dansereau temper the seriousness of the message with a breath of lightness, splashes of colour and an invitation to play. Montréal now joins Massongex, Switzerland and Luxembourg as cities with Rights of the Child commemorative paths.

The Salamander Playground and the Path for Children’s Rights were officially opened on May 25, 2009 at a combined cost of $2.2 million. In 2010, CHA were presented with a Regional Merit Award for this project by the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects.

This playscape has rapidly become a destination for Montréalers. Two visits were not enough for me. I’m looking forward to my next trek up the mountain perhaps in the summer of 2011. Maybe this time I’ll get up enough nerve to dash through the fountains and try out some of the equipment myself – a little adult playground therapy. What are we grown-ups to do, is it just vicarious fun for us?

If you visit on a Sunday from May through September check out the free drumming fest from noon to dusk. This is truly tam-tam a go-go.

h

All photos by A. Smith with the exception of aerial Salamander Playground shot by Marc Cramer.

Playground Odysseys at Home and Abroad

It’s the last day of classes for public schools in Québec. The sun is cracking hot, an open invitation to summer fun. We have all our essential supplies – water and snacks for refueling, sun block and hats to protect us from the pounding rays.

Nellie and Noah are oblivious to the high humidity. It’s so thick and sticky it feels like you should be able to peel it off but there is no such relief. They know there is a playground adventure in the offing and that grand-papa is part of the team. They’re primed, prepped and persistent. “Are we ready yet?” Noah asks as he hops down from the breakfast table.

None too soon for the kids, we’re out the door, buckled into the car and heading off to our first destination, Parc Chalifoux. The original concept for the day was for play time at all 20 plus playgrounds in Sorel-Tracy, Québec – a marathon of fun. It’s an idea I had dreamed up the previous summer and kept alive with Noah and Nellie over the winter months.

Even though it’s all physically possible, it turns out the concept is not ready for prime time. The challenge is proper routing along with a little advanced scouting and precision timing that takes into account, snacks, naps, bathroom breaks and so on. After taking into consideration drive time between the playgrounds, I calculate that we’d have about 10 minutes per stop to let loose on the equipment.

It’s on the eve of the event that I come to terms with my lack of preparation. My loving wife who helps to bring me to my senses wonders if I have totally lost touch with reality. I’m inclined to think that it’s less fiasco and more like a temporary folly zone. While the Marathon of Playgrounds is theoretically doable, it’s not advisable with our key participants just on the cusp of three and five-years-old. Fond memories of an exciting day of playgrounding are not the likely outcome.

We radically alter the day to a 2 1/2 hour morning window with four or five playgrounds that we have not previously visited. In fact, we get to three – Parc Chalifoux, Parc Réal-Lemieux and the Parc-école au Petit Bois. Each visit is a leisurely affair exploring new spaces and equipment.

Two of the playgrounds are adjacent to soccer fields. Noah grabs his soccer ball from the car trunk and spirited games à la World Cup break out. Nellie holds her own against big brother while Raymond and I poke a foot in here and there.

Chalifoux’ miniature giraffe is as at home in the beating sun of the playground corral as she would be on the African veldt. We’ve never seen a giraffe springrider before. Nellie hopes on and has a good go at riding her under the brilliant blue sky with wispy feathers of cloud.

The kids are having a great time and I’m pretty much over my disappointment. The Playground Marathon really only had advanced billing hoopla in my own folly-stricken mind. Over the course of our stay in Sorel we’ve probably visited ten different playgrounds including today’s three. We have favourites like Parc Bibeau and Parc des Trembles. We have other old friends here too like Parc Larivière and Parc Regard-sur-le-Fleuve.

There’s been an influx of new equipment this summer. Some of the old metal stuff has been kept to share the space with the new plastic. It’s heartening to see that older equipment hasn’t been removed in toto. The caterpillar at Parc Bibeau got a new coat of paint and looks great on her perch on top of the hill. The rocking horse swings at Parc Larivière and the spider monkey bars at Parc Soleil were not as lucky. I guess they’ve been transported to that great playground junkyard in the sky.

No brand new stuff at either Chalifoux, Réal Lemieux or Petit Bois but lots of opportunities to discover equipment that they’ve never played on before while doing the swinging, climbing and sliding thing.

Our final stop of the morning is at Petit Bois. It’s a modest little playground positioned right next to the main doors of a primary school. We’re the only ones there as the kids are in class or playing out back as part of their final phys ed class of the year.

It doesn’t take long for us to run through all the equipment here – the mini-arched bridge, the slide, the stepping platforms. The kids are starting to wear down a bit from the heat too.

We hear sounds of play coming from the back of the school and can see some of the kids on a hill that overlooks the recreation space. We head over that way to see what’s happening. Raymond knows the teacher leading the game and we all get introduced.

Noah and Nellie are invited to join the game. Each of them is paired with an older kid to give them a hand. Their smiles break out as they stand up at the plate to kick the ball and round the bases in this hybrid baseball soccer game. It’s a very successful conclusion to our outing – a sporty activity playing with the big kids.

We hit three playgrounds instead of the anticipated (dreamed of) twenty-some that I had dancing around my head like quixotic windmills. We all had a great time and the kids’ endurance has been stretched just enough. Our day is a triumph of quality over quantity. At this age they’re just not ready for the kind of novelty challenge I have in mind.

Never say never however. I’m convinced that a few years from now as the kids are winding up their pre-teen days we could polish this off quite handily. Stay tuned for a post in 2018. That kind of advance should allow me ample time to iron out any planning wrinkles too…

A National Challenge of Marathon Proportions

Meanwhile in Washington, D.C. the playful minds at KaBOOM! have been busy. These folks love to raise awareness about the value of play and the important role of playgrounds within communities. They’ve raised their advocacy to an art form that’s all about doing and getting people engaged.

Their latest national challenge was inspired by one of their Facebook fans. In a nutshell, it’s nine parents and their kids, 50 playgrounds in 50 days – the Park-a-Day KaBOOM! Summer Challenge. The participants come from across the US – Maine, Florida, California, New Jersey and points in between. You can meet the contestants and read all about it here.

PlayGroundology hopes to catch up with some of the contestants as they hit the 40-day mark to get their perspectives on this playground odyssey.

All materials, unless otherwise attributed or credited, copyright ⓒ 2010 Alex Smith.

If you’re a non-profit or not-for-profit group, feel free to hyperlink, excerpt, or reproduce the contents of this post. Please reference PlayGroundology. For commercial reproduction of this content, please consult the editor.