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Dragons and Clouds

Later today I take off for Scotland. More than 50 years ago, my mom took me on my first trip to the land where my parents played as kids. Times were tougher for them growing up. World War II set the tone for their early childhood years.

It was 1962 when Mom and I took that flight on a BOAC transatlantic plane from Toronto. Before we landed at Prestwick I got a tour of the cockpit, talked mom’s ear off, slept some and was airsick. We stayed in Grampa and Granma Morgan’s home in Larkfield, Greenock for two or three months. Mom had hopes of giving birth to her second child back home and having a wee Scot. In the end, that didn’t work out. My younger brother was born back in Canada.

Memories of those first Scottish days are still fresh. They have texture, taste and smell. I was the spoiled wee grandson while I was there and mom took me on some grand adventures notably to Glasgow for some shopping where I picked up this most excellent sword and shield….

DSC06166All dressed up with no dragons to slay

Apparently this weaponry would stand me in good stead now as my youngest daughter Lila-Jeanne informed me the other day to watch out when I was in Scotland. I asked her what I should be watching out for to which she replied, “dragons”. She got this notion from big brother Noah-David and thought it worthwhile passing on to her papa. At four-years-old, she is just a little younger than I was when I made that first trip. And the world turns.

This trip is bittersweet because earlier this year my mom passed away. I’m going with the best guy in the world and we’re carrying mom in our hearts. He’s the man I’ve always looked up to, admired and loved, the man who showed me how to make a fire with twigs, one match and plenty of puffing breath – my papa.

I’m looking forward to taking in the Play Summit conference on Sunday and experiencing my first adventure playground – Baltic Street Adventure Playground in Glasgow.

Baltic St Adventure Playground



Also hope drop in on the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art to see the Atelier Public #2 exhibit curated by Katie Bruce. One of my older daughters, Halifax emerging artist Alexa Cude will enjoy getting back to GoMA, an old haunt from a couple of years back. She is joining us on this family trip too along with one of her cousins.

Also on the play beat will be a flip over to Edinburgh to meet som other fine play folk. A big thanks to Mairi for helping me to connect with people in my short window

My parents got us over to Scotland a few times when we were still young. The last time was for a few months when I was 14. Dad was in France at the time and I did quite a lot of skipping out on school. It was also my first solo trip from Greenock to Edinburgh, or more precisely Murrayfield. I saw Scotland kick France’s ass and enjoyed myself to no end in the stands.

It was a 2 train trip in each direction back and forth in one day. Great trust in a young boy of 14 – thanks mom, thanks dad. We’re doing the same for our kids. One of the three young ones has been to Scotland and experienced the wonders of the Outer Hebrides on the Isle of Scalpay. Now it’s for the tow younger girls and the eldest to get over for a visit.

Good family time, fine play people and maybe a little fish and chips and eggs and slice and other Scottish delicacies

On the day of the dragon Lila was full of Scotland. After the dragon story she looked at me and said.

“Scotland is like a cloud.”

I didn’t really see the link but went along with her and said, “Ok.”

At that point she commented:

“Then you’ll be walking on clouds.”

cloudsIn the clouds. Photo credit – Adrian Beard – thanks

Given the progression it sounded reasonable so I said:

“I guess I will.”

And then her finale.

“So you’ll be walking on air.”

Hard to refute the logic.

Tomorrow morning, Heathrow’s international air hub

Tomorrow night, fish ‘n chips, and walking on air with dragons.

Scotland here we come…

Reality TV is Venue for Playground and Community Building with Tomorrow’s Leaders

Local governments and communities in Ontario, Canada have an opportunity to improve on and build new public play spaces through a kid fueled reality TV show. GIVER is now queuing up for its third season. Co-produced by Sinking Ship Entertainment – makers of the smash hit Dino Dan and other critically acclaimed children’s titles – this show is hands on design, community engagement, team building and leadership development.


TVO, Ontario’s public broadcaster, is airing simple, authentic community stories that demonstrate what kids are capable of accomplishing given the opportunity. Each episode ends with the celebration of new play opportunities. It’s a format that’s worked well the first two seasons and resulted in some industry recognition.

2013 Youth Media Alliance Awards of Excellence
• Winner – “Best Television Program, All Genres, Ages 6-8”: Giver
• Nomination – “Best Convergent Website”:

PlayGroundology first checked in on GIVER as it was getting out of the gates in season one. Now that the show is established, we’re hoping there will be an expansion beyond Ontario and into other provinces perhaps even other countries.

In the meantime, we’re happy to help producer Kristen McGregor spread the word. Applications/Calls for Submissions for interested Ontario communities close on March 1. Don’t miss the boat!

Season two of GIVER begins airing April 30 on TVO.

The Kids Are Alright

The kids are alright, well actually these ones are quite spectacular. On opposite sides of the Atlantic this week media are reporting on stories of two groups of youth helping to make their communities better places.

In Halifax, capital of Canada’s Ocean Playground, Hope Blooms, a community social enterprise walked away with a significant investment following their pitch on a nationally broadcast TV show, Dragon’s Den.

The Hope Blooms line of salad dressing made from what they plant and harvest in community gardens is a hot seller. The six Hope Blooms members who pitched the five dragons on the show in Toronto were able to raise airfare to get there in short order. That’s because they are well known, loved and supported by the larger North End Halifax community.

They went to the show, which aired last night, with a $10,000 ask promising 5% royalties until the loan was paid back. They walked away with $40,0000, no strings attached and promises of promotion and product placement by the four dragons who came forward to support their venture.

The story resonated far and wide in Halifax where it was a topic of conversation throughout the day around the city. It struck a chord with the dragons too (Hope Blooms segment of the show available here – may not be accessible in all countries) and was part of the CBC’s national news broadcast yesterday evening. A great story of community, commitment, passion and engagement. Hats off to the youth of Hope Blooms and may their ideas and hard work continue to bear fruit.

Over in the UK in London’s East End, a group of primary kids in Hackney is raising funds for a school playground. Three years ago the school raised funds to help build a playground in Kenya. Now it’s their own Millfields Community School that is in need.

The kids have banded together along with some professional musicians to record a song penned by a community member and former teacher, Johnathan Hart. A digital download of Christmas is £0.99 and 20% of sales will be donated to UNICEF.

More on the Hackney kids in this story from East London Lines. If you want to hear some sweet voices and help their cause, click through here.

Inspiring stories showing what young people can accomplish in the name of community.

Get outside and PLAY

It’s officially summer now up here in the northern lands. The weather is too nice for writing. Instead I’ll share this photo. I reckon it’s worth about 1,012 words.


Happy playing and may the weather be smiling on you, wherever you are.

Next Post


Check out the best of London’s playgrounds with well known advocates and lovers of innovative playground design Tim Gill (rethinking childhood) and Paige Johnson (Playscapes). There is a parallel event happening in NYC too in this first ever and hopefully recurring Open for Play. My only disappointment about this great news is that I won’t be able to join all the playground aficionados in London. I’m sure there will be posts in both Tim and Paige’s blogs.

Félicitations for organizing what is sure to be a great event.

Originally posted on Rethinking Childhood:

Glamis adventure playgroundMy plan to showcase some of London’s most playful places has been in the pipeline for a while. And now it’s around the corner. For all the latest info, follow this link to the mighty Playscapes blog – including handy onward links to the Open House website, with more details and maps for all the venues.

View original 49 more words

Dennis the Menace and Burning Man

Over the past few weeks I’ve been reading more and more about playgrounds for adults. This is a phenomenon that started out in Asia a few years ago. Since then, it has taken root in Europe and is now becoming au courant in North America.

Reports in The New York Times seem to be building up interest across the USA. In this vein, ‘adult playground’ is primarily about pumping up the fitness factor and providing outdoor exercise stations.

Halifax, Canada – PlayGroundology’s home – is perhaps a little ahead of the curve in relation to other North American cities. That’s one of the side benefits of an outdoor equipment manufacturer setting up shop here in Nova Scotia. Green Gym installations are popping up all over our city.

This is all well and fine. I mean it’s hard to argue the value of helping to realign the ABSI, usurper of the Body Mass Index that has served as an indicator of healthiness or lack thereof in recent years.

Now there’s no doubt that the majority of us adults in North America could use a tune-up, or an outright makeover. I know that in terms of the rotundity factor, I’ve got too much going on for my own good. In Canada, ParticipACTION has got a lot to offer on the matter of physical activity.

But what about the fun, thrill, adrenalin quotients? Exercise is great but even us adults should have access to a broader canvas. This is where I introduce exhibits ‘A’ and ‘B’, Dennis the Menace and Burning Man respectively.

Dennis was Hank Ketchum’s inspiration to build Monterey, California’s Dennis the Menace Playground back in the 1950s. I’ve written about this playground like no other previously in PlayGroundology.

Its custom designed equipment created many a hair raising experience for kids and parents. The present day Dennis playground is a pale shadow of the original and many who experienced its glory days as kids lament its passing. And who can blame them when there was excitement like the helicopter spinny thing of death which closes out the video segment below.

So yes, there should be a bit of an edge à la Dennis for adult playgrounds and where better to seek inspiration in modern times than Burning Man. This is where you can find adult playgrounds with a twist as the photos and video that follow attest.

Klimax by Michael Christian – Burning Man, 2003. Source

Temple of Gravity – Burning Man, 2003. Source

The Darwin Dome – Burning Man, 2009. Photo credit – Scott Haefner

Industrial See-Saw – Burning Man. Source

Now imagine that instead of a coffee and danish at break you were able to limber up on this customized Burning Man special.

Somewhere on the Dennis the Menace – Burning Man continuum there is a place that speaks to fitness and fun, risk and reward. It’s good to see that big kids can benefit from a little undirected play too.

Postscript to The Science of Play in Today’s Parent

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

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

Home on the Range – Halifax

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep the play movin’.