Category Archives: Tim Gill

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 ūüĆą 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.

 

 

 

An immodest proposal for Jeff Bezos‚Äôs Earth Fund

Along with many others, I’ve been a fan of Tim Gill’s work for years. His ‘immodest’ proposal to enlist the planet’s most overly cash-endowed mazillionnaire to contribute some of his wealth to support fundamental urban design changes for the benefit of children has got legs.

Jeff, creating a thirst for cities to become more child friendly is a step along the path toward the real prize – embracing the possibility that all aspects of our lives can be more child friendly as the broader society is informed, influenced and improved by the best that children have to offer. Many of us believe that the ROI of this kind of approach is incalculable, off the charts. Jeff, or Mr. Bezos if you prefer, don’t miss the opportunity to make a real difference ….

Rethinking Childhood

In case you missed it, the richest person on earth earlier this week announced the world’s biggest fighting fund for the climate crisis. He has not said much about how that $10 billion will be spent. So in a rare display of immodesty, I am going to offer a proposal.

Jeff Bezos Instagram post announcing Earth Fund

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From Hideously Uninspiring To Inherently Playful And Adventurous

A recently published article in Quartz quotes American landscape designer and researcher Meghan Talarowski commenting on the generally unenviable state of playgrounds in the US.¬†She doesn’t pull any punches. In comparison to some European jurisdictions, she characterizes the bulk of American playgrounds as uninspiring at best – well, perhaps ‘insidiously boring’ is a tad harsher.

Taking flight – Department of Natural Resources, Nature Learning and Play Space – Middle Musquodoboit, Nova Scotia – Canada

The UK’s Tim Gill, also quoted in the provocatively headlined Why the Danes encourage their kids to swing axes, play with fire, and ride bikes in traffic, empathizes with Talarowski’s observations. Gill suggests that Canada and Australia may be ‘turning the corner’ en route to a better place, not to be confused of course with American comedy darling The Good Place.

Tim’s assessment that change is afoot in Canada rings true for me. There is a play awakening among educators, researchers, health and recreation professionals, designers, builders, planners. foundations and granting institutions and, the media.

Prior to the International Play Association Triennnial Conference in Calgary held just over a year ago, I published¬†CanadaPlays Eh? It’s a sampler, a roll-up of some of the activity that’s been shaking north of the 49th parallel.

Original artwork by Halifax artist, Kyle Jackson

PlayGroundology‘s home in Nova Scotia is a case in point. For starters, we’re probably the only jurisdiction in the world with an official, decades old tagline that includes the word ‘playground’. That’s right, festooned on on our motor vehicle license plates is the true blue catch phrase, Canada’s Ocean Playground. Yup, that’s us up above there in Kyle’s painting just to the left of the whale and the fishing boat …..

While momentum may not be screaming out of the gates, we can safely say it’s picking up steam. There are alternatives to the world of underwhelming playspaces. From Nova Scotia’s Northumberland shores, to the meandering Musquodoboit River, to Halifax’s urban beat, greater variety and an openness to deviate from off the shelf solutions seem to be catching on.

 

Meteghan Family Fun Park

Overlooking the mouth of St. Mary’s Bay in Meteghan, Nova Scotia is a play smorgasbord in the vernacular tradition. It is of the place. At each turn there is a handcrafted invitation to jump, climb, explore – a windmill, a tipi, boats, sheds and cabins, trains, heavy equipment, fishing nets, bouncing buoys and airplane whirligigs.

Meteghan Family Fun Park, Meteghan, Nova Scotia – Canada

Lovingly conceived and maintained, the Meteghan Family Fun Park receives widespread community support.  A local dentist rallied the community and the space is now a destination for families along the 100+ kilometer stretch of the Acadian shore.

Airplane whirligig and windmill – Meteghan Family Fun Park

Individuals, businesses, service organizations and government have all helped in one way or another. Virtually every structure and each piece of equipment display a plaque bearing the name of the individual or business whose donation and/or volunteer labour made it possible. For Meteghan and the surrounding towns this space is a celebration of community that puts childhood play front and centre.

Recycled tire ponies and buoy zipline, Meteghan Family Fun Park

 

Nature Learning and Play Space – Natural Resources Education Centre

Three hundred kilometers to the northeast in a wooded glade is the province’s most expansive playground in a natural setting. This wonderland came together through the leadership and vision of a small group of individuals working for the Department of Natural Resources, members of the local community and a passionate design-build company – Cobequid Consulting – that couldn’t resist the opportunity to play.

The Sandpit, Nature Learning and Play Space

An aha moment for two team members of the Natural Resources Education Centre made all the difference. While attending a national conference, a presentation on natural playgrounds ignited their imaginations. The aha went something like this – “let’s just do it!” To the delight of kids, parents and educators they grabbed that ball of inspiration, brought the game home and slam dunked it.

The Nature Learning and Play Space could not have taken root without champions and enthusiastic community buy in. Local grandmas rounded up all the knickknacks and paraphernalia for the mud kitchen – on opening day, there was a seemingly limitless supply of MUD! Contractors provided heavy equipment at reduced rates. Many individuals contributed sweat equity.

Opening Day – Mud Kitchen, Nature Learning and Play Space

Perhaps most importantly, supervisors at the Natural Resource Education Centre see the space as an invaluable extension of their work. They are able to demonstrate how it aligns with the Centre’s mission and exists simultaneously as a destination playspace.

And how many play areas have a bullrush fringed frog pond with brightly coloured dipper nets ready to borrow for catch and release amphibian tales. Spotted salamanders burrowing in the cool mud are also a rewarding treat for young observant eyes. This natural enclave is a revelation and for some urban kids a first time excursion into a wilder, less predictable world.

Frog Pond, Nature Learning and Play Space

 

The Dingle’s New Tall Tower

Halifax’s Sir Sandford Fleming Park is home to the city’s first full on example of¬† let’s throw away the standard playground catalogues and entertain a completely different design and build.¬† Opening day was an outdoor festival with hundreds of visitors eager to play. The crisp autumn air kept the kids sauntering, running, climbing and balancing their way through an unfamiliar terrain.

The New Tower at The Dingle – Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

The design by Earthscape, an exciting homegrown Canadian firm working across the country and the US, includes a tower slide, balancing beams, climbers and water station. None of these items had ever seen the light of day before in this part of the world. The  space is an important trailblazer demonstrating that a wider range of play opportunities for kids in public spaces is indeed possible and popular.

Climber/balance beam – The Dingle Park Playground

The climber/balance beams are a logs akimbo projecting on different planes type of affair. There are challenges here for kids of all ages. For the younger ones, shunting along in a sitting position seems a safe and sure approach. Those embracing a little more derring-do attempt walking up or down the varying inclines. Jumping off also seems to be de rigueur along with rolling about in a net suspended below the main part of the structure.

With so much newness in design and playability, it’s tough to pick a favourite. Like beauty, favs are really in the eyes of the beholder.

 

And there are lots of eyes on the water pump. Plenty of hands and feet dipping into the rivulets making channels in the sand.¬† It’s a beacon calling out to all kids – come get WET! Mittens are quickly sopped and footwear is in the just about soaked stage. With abundant water and sand, even the cold can’t hold the kids back.

Thanks to the City and Earthscape for stepping up to the plate and hitting one out of the park.

 

Fort Needham Memorial Park

On high ground not far from The Narrows made infamous by the Halifax Explosion 100 years ago, is another new play space that breaks the mould. Wood, wood everywhere – plastic and metal in very limited quantities.

Up the Steps – Fort Needham Memorial Park Playground – Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Wooden cannons on the hilltop hearken back to the original 18th century Fort Needham that protected Halifax’s Royal Naval Dockyards. The Fort and surrounding neighbourhoods were decimated on December 6, 1917 by a harbour collision involving a munitions ship – 2,000 were killed and thousands were injured.

Down the Steps – Fort Needham Memorial Park Playground

Now this part of the park is a hive of activity – kids zipping back and forth, climbing, balancing, jumping, swinging, shouting, laughing…. It’s a high energy zone complete with wonderful little shaded cubbies where kids can take a breather and get away from it all.

There is parkour potential here too though I don’t know if it has been ‘discovered’. Many pieces of equipment offer kids an open invitation to leap into the blue.

Into the Blue – Fort Needham Memorial Park Playground

The space is designed by Moncton, New Brunswick’s Viridis Design Studio Ltd. and constructed by Nova Scotia’s Turf Masters. There is plenty to explore and¬† keep kids engaged in discovery and the testing of limits and abilities. Our girls didn’t want to leave – always a good sign.

In Halifax, both The Dingle and Fort Needham playgrounds are getting the two thumbs up from kids and parents and families are dropping in from other parts of the city to give these new play hotspots a whirl. With approximately 400 playgrounds in the city (we are very well served in terms quantity and safety), Halifax could use a few more like these two.

Quiet Moment – Fort Needham Memorial Park Playground

Note – The much missed Halcyon, a fixture on the Halifax waterfront for close to 25 years, was one of the original adventurous playspaces in the city. A life size wooden fishing boat designed for kids featuring actual recycled boat parts and getaway cubbies out of parental vision. We miss you Halcyon.

Exciting playspaces are taking root in Nova Scotia. Let’s encourage more municipal engagement with local neighbourhoods and communities and recognize the value of variety in playground design. We’ve still got a ways to go before we’re swinging axes, playing with fire and building makeshift structures but hey we can’t have it all. Or can we, as my nine-year-old is fond of saying with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. How far away is the return of adventure playgrounds in Canada? Just sayin’…

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.

 

Announcing a new project to build the case for more child-friendly cities

This is great news for children and for adults in search of more evidence-based research that can inform policy and decision-making by influencers. Thrilled that inclusion of Vancouver and Calgary make Canada part of the mix. Tim Gill’s new project will look to measure impacts and outcomes linked to child-friendly urban planning. Love to be on the tour led by eight-year-old kids.

Nearly two years ago, Halifax was happy to host Tim as he wound up his Canadian tour. We had a great public event pulling in about 200 people on the Victoria Day holiday weekend to hear Tim’s perspective on the relationship between risk and play. His workshop with practitioners helped inspire the introduction of new forms of play in public spaces which continue to take root. I look forward to reading the results of this research.

Rethinking Childhood

What does it mean for a city to take child-friendliness seriously? What makes decision makers put real momentum and energy behind the vision of making the urban environment work better for children and young people? What does it take to move beyond fine words, small pilot projects and one-off participation events?

I am very pleased and honoured to announce that, thanks to a travelling fellowship from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, I will be visiting a half-a-dozen cities in Northern Europe and Canada to get under the skin of this topic. One key goal is to explore the relevance of child-friendly urban planning to urban policy in the UK.

The fellowship will take in four cities ‚Äď Freiburg, Antwerp, Rotterdam and Vancouver ‚Äď that have led the way in putting into practice the maxim of Bogot√° mayor Enrique Pe√Īalosa, that the child is an indicator species for cities. With these cities‚Ķ

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ScreenShot Mondays Redux – Le Lion et La Souris

In the early days of the PlayGroundology blog, I ran a regular series over the course of a year (2011-12) called ScreenShot Mondays that appeared twice a month.¬† I’m dusting it off and taking it out to play again. Fellow Canadians at Montreal’s Le Lion et La Souris are the inaugural subjects of ScreenShot Mondays Redux.

A few weeks back, I was reminded of the series when I reblogged Tim Gill’s piece looking at Mike Lanza’s travails following a feature article published about him in the The New York Times Magazine. Mike and his Playborhood were the subject of the first ScreenShot Mondays post in 2011.

Below is the original three paragraph preamble to the first ScreenShot Mondays.

Cyberspace is humming with inspiration and information on every topic under the sun and then some. This clickable, digital universe is ever expanding with new ideas and new perspectives coming on the scene at a dizzying pace. What a great place to play and discover what’s happening in the wide, wide world. It’s a virtual venue for passionate individuals and mindful organizations to share experiences and create content in every imaginable format.

A couple of Mondays per month, PlayGroundology will screenshot a cyberspot that focuses on playgrounds, or play. I hope that readers will dive in and explore. Even if you’ve seen the selection before, take a moment and check to see what content has been added recently.

le-lion-et-la-sourisLe Lion et La Souris

Facebook

Think of this as a very slow stumble upon, an invitation to relish something new or to revisit an old friend. Some of the people and places may be household names in the world of play and playgrounds, others not so much. I hope all will pique your interest in what they have to offer and further your own possibilities for playfulness.

Le Lion et la Souris are “inspired by playwork and forest school principles”. Pop into their site to see what they offer in terms of programs, training, community events and workshops. And yes, as their name suggests, they speak French and English.

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I’ll be in Quebec in about a month and who knows, maybe we’ll have a chance to meet. They’re located on the Plateau not far from a spot where a good friend of mine lived for years.