Category Archives: Tim Gill

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

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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.

What’s so bad about a father trying to make the world a more play-friendly place?

This reblogged post by Tim Gill at Rethinking Childhood provides some valuable analysis and backstory on Mike Lanza and his perspectives on play. The New York Times Magazine published a feature story on Mike at home in his ‘playborhood’. It’s a great read and I encourage you to take a peek.

Some readers took exception to Mike’s approach to play, kids, independence and risk in his Silicon Valley neighbourhood. I read some pointed criticism online that bordered on name-calling. It was disappointing to read this from others who are equally as passionate in their advocacy of independent play for kids. I’m a believer in bringing people together under big tents so that hand in hand with others we can move the yardsticks.

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From my perspective, Mike and I are definitely working under the same tent. I first became aware of Mike nearly six years ago and posted information about Playborhood on this blog. We corresponded a little and shared snippets of our lives. I always found him very personable and respectful. What’s more, he’s trying out new stuff that is focusing additional attention on the need and value of independent play.

Although not as elaborate as Mike’s backyard, our home is a gathering place for neighbourhood kids and they are all welcome to play here. We like it that way and it seems the kids do too.

Here’s a link to an article in the Mail Online published subsequent to The New York Times Magazine piece.

I had planned to write my own post about The Anti-Helicoper Parent’s Plea: Let Kids Play but I have nothing more substantive to say than Tim. Truth be told I don’t think I can match the thoroughness or the eloquence of the Rethinking Childhood piece. Now that you’ve come to the end of the preamble, settle in for Tim’s main course.

Rethinking Childhood

This weekend’s New York Times has a major feature and profile on Mike Lanza and his Playborhood campaign to make neighbourhoods more play-friendly. And it’s whipping up a storm. In this piece, I give my take on the campaign and my response to the key criticisms.

First, some background. Lanza’s rallying cry is “turn your neighborhood into a place for play” – a goal he has been pursuing for at least nine years. His book and blog are first and foremost a set of practical advice, ideas and case studies for achieving that goal.

Lanza first got into the issue because of his concerns as a dad bringing up three children. What drives him is, in large part, the contrast between his own typically free-range 70s childhood and the highly constrained lives of most children today. I share his view that this change marks a profound loss.

Lanza’s campaign is…

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Breaking New Ground – Loose Parts and the School Board

Ed’s note – It’s a pleasure to have a guest post on PlayGroundology from Tanya Moxley, a fellow co-founding member of Adventure Play YHZ, and as you will read below, a creative animator and leader for Halifax area pre and after school programs. With two young boys of her own, Tanya is a firm believer in the value of independent outdoor play. As she has shared with me on a number of occasions, their yard at home is a loose parts creativity and testing zone – a bit of a dream time for kids I would say. Tanya works as a volunteer at Halifax’s Wild Child Forest School where her interest is “working with parents to help them realize the importance of outdoor play for kids, families, and communities.” Tanya also spent three years working with a university professor researching links between outdoor play and child development.

This loose parts – school board story is an indirect outcome of a public meeting and subsequent practitioner’s workshop held in May 2015 with Tim Gill. Many of the Excel leaders were present at one of the two events which examined risk and play and a greater variety of play opportunities in public spaces. Hundreds of kids are saying thank you to the Halifax Regional School Board for stepping out and giving loose parts a try. Many thanks also to the Province of Nova Scotia’s Department of Health and Wellness whose Active Living Branch provided financial and logistical support that made Tim Gill’s visit possible.

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My name is Tanya Moxley and this past year I worked as a Group Leader with the Halifax Regional School Board’s before and after school program, called Excel. The regional recreation programmers were trying to find a way to include elements of ‘loose parts play’ into the Excel program. Some schools found it easy to integrate loose parts into their days or weeks, but others found it more difficult to get started.

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As I had joined Excel with some previous loose parts experience, we were able to introduce loose parts into the schedule at our school with considerable success in all the age groups from Primary through Grade 6. In a casual conversation with our regional programmer, I suggested in the late winter that I could visit some other schools to show them some of my own loose parts collection, and provide suggestions for both parts and storage. My suggestion was accepted, and I started my visits in late April.

For seven weeks, I visited a different school each Monday, Wednesday and Friday for their afternoon program, for a total of 18 schools around the Halifax region. I traveled about 1,000 kilometres, and met about 900 students. Kids everywhere love loose parts play, because the materials are open-ended and easy to manipulate, with many possible uses. They didn’t have to be convinced about how much fun it can be!

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One primary concern among staff was storage. Upon seeing the materials and how they were being transported, almost all the program leads agreed that they had at least that much space to spare. All of my materials fit into four milk crates and two small ‘Rubbermaid’ tubs (18”x18”x24”) in the back of my car. Well, not including the ‘pipes’. The ‘pipes’ are a dozen or so PVC plumbing pipes, each about 3 feet long and 2.5 or 3 inches in diameter. Some fit together and some don’t, which leads to much experimenting and collaboration. Those have to go in the backseat of the car, wrapped up in a tarp for easy carrying. The ones we use at my regular school are stored in the kind of garbage can you get for your house garbage, with wheels on the bottom so kids can pull it around.

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Another key concern was safety, as many staff seemed to connect loose parts with danger. Once they saw the materials in use, everyone agreed there isn’t much risk, if any, involved. A nice thing about loose parts play is that it opens up conversations with the students about what risk could be involved, for example, in playing with long ropes. Having had a conversation as a group, the kids usually find ways to remove the danger, while still being able to use the item.

This is a much better way to prepare kids for a world that we cannot and should not make try to make perfectly safe for them! The alternative, removing the item from use, teaches students nothing about assessing risk and developing the abilities to figure out how to mitigate risk through conversation and intentional experimentation – problem solving in a collaborative manner. The safety questions also tended to answer themselves over the course of the sessions. There were no accidents in any of the 18 schools during the 1,000 kilometre loose parts Excel marathon. Among the many interesting observations, was one made by two team leads who remarked as I was leaving that the day had been the quietest one they’d had all year in relation to behaviour issues and disruptions.

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In the larger programs (over 60 students), we held either one or two sessions of 30-40 minutes for younger students before the older students came out for their own session. In the smaller programs, the older students just joined right in with the younger ones. The largest group using the materials at one time was about 60, although this was only in one place where they had a particularly large, open outdoor space that accommodated the numbers. Usually the maximum was about 35. Setting up the space with similar items in groups, such as ropes, sheets, pipes, boards, digging tools, etc… allowed students to check everything out, get a group together, pick the items they wanted for a project, and then get to work.

Staff members at multiple sites confirmed one of our key observations at my regular school, that loose parts is an activity in which gr 4-6 girls get particularly engaged; they do not spend the session moping around and not wanting to participate, as often happens with sports-related activities. This ‘sold’ many staff on getting loose parts started as soon as possible!

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It was interesting to watch how the uses of the materials varied across the programs. At some schools the fabric was entirely for building forts. At others, a group of students turned some of them into clothes for role-playing activities and protected them fiercely from the ‘building’ group. Similarly, the pipes were used at some places for building complex systems for transporting items from one place to another; at others, they became just another building material for the forts. For a third group they became musical instruments in combination with containers and spoons that at other programs were used for digging.

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Much to my astonishment, I only got a rainy day for one site! It was foggy and damp when I arrived at Oyster Pond, but I set up outside anyway, and the kids had a great time for about 30 minutes before suddenly it was pouring rain. We quickly moved everything inside to an empty classroom beside their regular Excel room, and the kids continued their fun with forts and pipes for the rest of the session.

Their enthusiasm confirmed what I had been telling staff members at other sites – many of the materials work just as well inside as out. Tables on a side and some chairs work perfectly well for holding up forts! There were a few sites where I arrived the day or afternoon following a heavy rain, and the puddles in the play space provided an unexpected loose part that made for lots of extra fun.

All in all this was a great adventure, and I hope that many of the places I visited will take the time to integrate loose parts play into their schedule this fall – the kids certainly had lots of requests for their group leaders about which things they liked best!

For more on loose parts read In Praise of Loose Parts and How Not to Cheat Children – The Theory of Loose Parts.

Kids at Emmaus Catholic Primary School in Mt.Clear playing on unconventional play items, hay bales, poles, tyres etc. Year 3/4 get ready for action.

Kids at Emmaus Catholic Primary School in Mt.Clear playing on unconventional play items, hay bales, poles, tyres etc. Year 3/4 get ready for action.

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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.

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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…..

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…a table top…..

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…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….

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

Today Only: Popping The Bubble Wrap with Tim Gill in Halifax, Nova Scotia

If you’re in the Halifax area, we hope you can join us at 2:30 this afternoon at the funked up Halifax Central Library to hear about risk and play from Tim Gill, one of the UK’s leading thinkers on childhood.

Risky play is crossing a lake with not a lot of rocks (to step on)…..

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Tim Gill - Public Event Poster 8x11A helping hand to adventure……

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Tim Gill - Public Poster Library Screens Draft 1-01Getting Out on a limb

Hope you can join us at the halifax central library….

halifaxcentrallibrary3Photo credit – Alexa Cude

One Little, Two Little, Three Canadians, We Love Thee – Who is Singing Canada’s Play People Chorus?

I pinched this ‘Four asks’ infographic from a Rethinking Childhood blog post published today by Tim Gill – it’s well worth a read. It’s brilliant that the Children’s Play Policy Forum has created a big tent for play where policy makers, researchers and practitioners from across the UK can get together to advocate and take action.

Four asks for playFour asks – for play, for health, for children, for everyone. Click to enlarge.

In the UK, non-governmental organizations – Play Scotland, Fields in Trust and London Play et al – that focus their work almost exclusively on children’s play have over the years become strong voices influencing national and local government policies. This is an important strategic difference when looking at the Canadian experience. Where is our Play Canada, Joue Québec, or Toronto Play?

It’s not that there is a lack of dedicated and fun loving Canadians who recognize and promote play. They range from educators, health care professionals, designers and landscape architects to journalists, municipal recreation leaders, parents, physical activity enthusiasts, public servants developing policy and programs and all the others who are part of the play continuum. But where are the unifying Canadian voices that focus exclusively on play and its benefits? It’s very possible that I’ve missed them and if so, I would like to get acquainted with any such groups.

Spirit of CanadaSpirit of Canada by Kyle Jackson

We Canadians wouldn’t be remiss in getting better acquainted with the best practices of other jurisdictions including the UK to see what could fly here. Never mind that, we could start sharing our own best practices related to play more broadly. In addition, a clearing house of information on children’s play research and initiatives from our various orders of government and non-governmental agencies would be a step in the right direction.

In 2017, the play world is coming to Canada’s doorstep as the City of Calgary, the International Play Association (IPA) Canada and the Alberta Parks and Recreation Association are hosting the International Play Association Conference. It will be a great opportunity for Canada to share its playbook and for Canadians to take stock of strategies that are advancing play in other parts of the world.

ConferenceInternational Play Association (IPA) Conference, City of Calgary – 2017

I just signed up with the IPA last April after meeting with the association’s President Theresa Casey. She was kind enough to take time out of her day and have a coffee with me looking out over Edinburgh’s Princes St. Gardens where on that day daffodils bobbed riotously in the wind and kids rolled down the grassy incline. What great work this IPA crowd is doing – more on them in a future installment of PlayGroundology……

DSC06497Princes St. Gardens, Edinburgh, Scotland

Do read Tim Gill’s post – Politicians told: invest in play, and children, families and communities will all see the benefits – then ask yourself, what can we do in Canada? What can be done in other countries?

Glasgow Green is Calling

Later today I do the Halifax – Heathrow jet skip with a final touchdown in Glasgow just a couple of weeks shy of the XX Commonwealth Games kick off that happens to fall on my birthday. It’s the second time this year that I’m a guest at a cousin’s wedding on Scotland’s west coast. Joyous days for the couples walking down the aisle and wonderful occasions for all of us to make new friends and reconnect with family on both sides of the Atlantic.

DSC06197Glasgow Green – Play Summit Pop-Up Adventure – April 2014
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My April trip coincided with the Play Summit spearheaded by Nils Norman (check Nils’ great photobank of playscapes here) and London’s Assemble. The Summit symposium featured leading play thinkers, advocates and activists in the People’s Palace and adventure play shenanigans for kids on Glasgow Green.

I was able to pop in for a couple of hours and immerse myself in conversations and presentations about adventure play. It was exciting to meet and chat with people like Hitoshi Shimamura who flies the adventure play banner in Tokyo where, he told me, there’s an aversion to fences around playgrounds. The goal is to offer an inviting, open space that presents no boundaries or barriers with the surrounding community.

Tim Gill and I sat down for lunch and a chat. Early on in my exploration of playgrounds I had sent Tim a few questions on the possibility of developing a play index that could capture how local authorities were measuring up to enabling play opportunities for their young citizens. He sent me a thoughtful and informative response that included suggested contacts and the friendly pointer that an undertaking of this nature would present unique and complex challenges.

No FearClick photo for free download courtesy of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundtation

True to form when we lunched under the glass dome of the People’s Palace, Tim was generous with his time and gave me a broad overview of the UK play landscape from his vantage point. PlayGroundology reblogs some of Tim’s work from rethinking childhood and I never tire of referencing his book, now in its third printing – No Fear – Growing Up in a Risk Averse Society – to parents, educators and the media.

Over the years, I’ve seen some great photos and video from London’s Glamis Adventure Playground. It was a thrill to be in the audience for Mark Halden’s presentation on some of the problems Glamis is encountering with fundraising. He bemoaned the significant time and energy that had to be dedicated to this activity. In an environment with small teams and already parsed budgets, the effort associated with financing can detract from programming for the kids.

Mark has a Canada connection too and has spent time in BC. He made me aware of a well loved and regarded play advocate, Valerie Fronczek who passed away last year. Many people spoke her name when they heard I was from Canada. Valerie was a respected and engaged member of the play community and worked tirelessly for kids. From what I heard, it would have been great to have known her.

What struck me during my brief interlude at the Play Summit was the sense of community and camaraderie amongst the participants. It was one of those gatherings where there was a lot of information flow and the delineation between presenters and practitioners was very porous. Many of of those in attendance had dedicated much of their working lives to help kids and play.

Just before I hopped into a cab to take me back to Central Station, I came across a playground with huge slide structures. I had to grab a few shots while the taxi waited. They sure looked like Spielgerate designs to me. When I visit again in a few days, I’ll give them a test run if I’m not chased away by parents.

DSC06992Towering, twisting slides on Glasgow Green
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April’s pop-up adventure on Glasgow Green was an early days event for the Baltic St. Adventure Playground which is located nearby in the Dalmarnock district. Their official opening weekend is on for July 19 and 20. I’ll be back in Canada by then but playworker Robert Kennedy has kindly offered to give me a tour during my visit. It will be the first time I set foot in an adventure playground. It would be perfect if I could have our three kids with me – another time…

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I’m hoping to get over to Fife too and learn a bit about some of the play happenings there from twitter friend @MairiMo. Mairi was a great help during my April visit and set up a meeting with Theresa Casey, a play author, consultant and President of the International Play Association. I’ll have more to share on the IPA and the meeting with Theresa in a subsequent post.

Glasgow Green and Edinburgh was time well spent and the first real opportunity I have had to meet with and hear the experiences of so many play people which is resulting in both pragmatic and inspirational returns. The Glasgow Green pop-up really got me juiced to work with others in Halifax to create a similar event. It will be taking place in September in association with the Youth Running Series. I’ll be picking Robert’s brains later this week to see what he can share and suggest.

DSC06231Pop-Up will be playing in Halifax, Canada soon. Thanks to the Play Summit and Baltic St. Adventure Playground for the inspiration

There may be some surprises of the dragon variety on this trip too. I’ll keep you posted.

I’m wrapping this post by giving a big shout out to my papa who will be 80 later this year. He’s an enthusiastic supporter of and sometime photographer for PlayGroundology. Yesterday, along with one his brothers and my brother and sister-in-law, he completed a six-day walk across Hadrian’s Wall. Their longest day was 27 kilometres. He did a number of interviews along the way with people from a variety of countries and is considering putting it all together to share on YouTube. This man just continues to blow me away.

It’s well past my bedtime and I need to get some rest for the long day ahead. Glasgow Green is calling and play is piping the tune. In this year of the Homecoming it’s Scotland Forever.