Category Archives: risky play

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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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….

Bold

Bold is a word I remember GH (Granma Helen aka my Mom) using frequently to describe my kids over the years. Most often she’d approvingly remark on one of the kids being bold related to an action she had just witnessed, or had been part of with one of the small crew.

As I remember it, the essence of boldness has to do with assertive behaviours and a certain je ne sais quoi attitude, an almost complete insouciance about consequences that might arise from actions not necessarily condoned, or embraced by the adult set.

Nellie was adorned with the bold mantle by GH on a regular basis. Her early forays into the bold zone were warmly and joyously received. This in part is due to them both sharing this empowering trait. GH as young woman of 19 left family and friends behind in Scotland to sail across the Atlantic on her own to be reunited with her love. It was a bold beginning to a new life in an unfamiliar country.

Les ChevauxNellie with tante Danièle’s beloved King and Prince in Sorel, Québec

“Freedom lies in being bold.”

Robert Frost

Granddaughter Nellie has been imbued with the bold streak from an early age. There is a mix of curiosity and fearlessness that helps to brew a good batch of bold. In the photo above, at just over two-years-old, she is getting up close and personal with Belgian draft horse gentle giants King and Prince.

Nellie’s maman Mélanie is also well versed in bold. She left Québec for Nova Scotia as a young woman to make a new home in another culture and language. Nellie has come by her boldness organically. Now I’ve had a bold moment or two over the years but not of the permeated variety that these two women and one girl exhibit. This is a matrilineal beat.

Bold & BrightA 6-foot jump on Rogers Brook Trail, Kejimkujik National Park, Canada

This bright beat of bold influences and informs play. There is a higher degree of risk taking, greater physicality and testing of limits. With Nellie it’s very apparent with climbing, jumping, swinging. She is a trailblazer for her younger sister and older brother. Where she leads, they will mostly follow.

Early on at the playground, monkey bars became the thing, Nellie’s signature piece, her calling card of bold. Just before her fifth birthday our wiry, wisp of a girl came down with monkey bar fever. She was determined and fierce in her pursuit of mastery and was able to draw on a deep reservoir of bravery.

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Mastering this kind of equipment at an early age gives kids a chance to assess their own abilities, get comfortable with risk and celebrate their achievements. Now I do admit that when she took her first tentative monkey bar sorties at the tail end of 3, I was in helicopter mode. I’ve left that far behind and now trust Nellie’s confidence and ability to carry the day.

For Nellie bold is all about movement, height and a challenge. Nowhere is this more apparent than in a natural environment. Trees and erratic boulders on old glacial plains are meant first and foremost for climbing. Nellie is a Baroness in the trees. I am interested to see how the boldness will assert itslef as she gets older. We may be in for some hold on to our hats moments.

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Celebrate the bold in our children. It serves them well in terms of confidence, risk assessment and dreams – #playbold.

DSC02619Nellie leads climb up old tree overlooking cove – Kejimkujik National Park

“Boldness be my friend.”

Shakespeare

StoneHoppers

The sky is wavy blue as our 3G walkers (grand-papa, papa and les filles) make their way to the beaver lands. As we start down the path, the girls discover another adventure, an attraction even more potent than a beaver lodge and a small stand of pointy stumps with tell tale gnawings. A long line of giant boulders unfolds before us.

DSC02507Up and over

It’s up and over, climb and slide, balance and big air. The girls are fully engrossed – measuring, gauging, examining each boulder for the right approach, the perfect purchase, the highest summit.

DSC02522Eyeing the summit

There are more than 50 of the oversize rocks that are placed just over a meter apart to prevent vehicles from driving onto an otherwise open field. Though not designed as a play area, it pretty much screams out to kids. The rocks – and I’ve never seen such a glorious abundance – are like magnets for the girls.

The rocks offer differing levels of difficulty, risk and excitement. Some are great jump off points for the next rock on the trail. Others might seem at first blush like little mountains of impregnability. Each one has its own contours, jutting ends and striated surfaces.

DSC02517Hanging on

The girls are happy to strut their stuff for grand-papa. I am proud to see them eager to test their physical abilities and stretch a little outside their comfort zones. We are here for nearly 20 minutes hop, skip and jumping along the line and back again.

There’s a natural staircase…..

DSC02532Stairway to heaven

…a table top…..

DSC02525Almost flat

…and plenty of jump off spots too.

DSC02509Coming down

Today this is the highlight of our visit. These supersized stones are affordances inviting kids to imagine them for something other than their presumed purpose. PlayGroundology friend Tim Gill wrote a lovely post on affordances in Rethinking Childhood – a blog you really can’t afford to miss.

After our field of stones, we head to a playground less than five minutes away by foot. The girls don’t appear to be nearly as inventive or daring here. If all the big rocks were marshalled onto the playground I wonder if there would be problems linked to liability, if they would be deemed too dangerous, too risky?

Seems like people can cause more damage at this off the shelf playground than they could in the field of rocks….

DSC02539Surveillance

We’ll be back to climb, jump, slide and all the while we’ll keep on rockin’.

Hello CTV Morning Live Viewers

Thanks to Heidi and the Morning Live crew for profiling play on the show. If you tuned into the segment today and are interested in more background or resources, here are a couple of places to start. Click on the image, or all CAPS title to take you to Storify content.

Adventure and Loose Parts – Storify

Adventure and Loose Parts
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Talking about risk and play, here are a few resources.

A Greater Risk

A greater risk

More PlayGroundology content on Storify here.

Check Adventure PlayGround YHZ for adventure play info and upcoming events. Stay tuned for details on loose parts play on the October 24 weekend in Halifax.
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Adventureplaygroundyhz

Looking for Your Stories

My PlayGroundology alter ego is looking for your stories to share with attendees of Halifax’s 4th annual unconference – Emergent Learning. I have submitted a successful proposal to be an unpaid speaker at the event which is attended by educators, policy makers, parents, members of the medical community and others from across our part of the world here in Atlantic Canada who care about education.

Emergent Learning  graphicEmergent Learning Unconference – Halifax, Nova Scotia, October 2015

I’ve entitled the presentation, Risk, Resilience and the Renaissance of Play. If you have an anecdote, a photo, an infographic or video footage that illustrates the subject matter I will be speaking to, I’d love to hear from you. I will credit everything I am able to use.

Emergent Learning my sessionPresentation outline – Emergent Learning Unconference.

I’ve already had the opportunity to connect with some ‘play people’ in Australia, the UK, the USA and Canada and would be pleased to gather additional stories form these venues as well as other parts of the world.

Help PlayGroundology tell the story of Risk, Resilience and the Renaissance of Play. The final presentation will be available for sharing in November.

Thanks in advance to all those who are able to share stories. You can leave a comment here or write to playgroundology ‘at’ gmail.com.

Emergent Learning PostBackyard fun – simple pleasures with a twist of risk