Category Archives: UNESCO

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 🌈 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.

 

 

 

Tipping the Scales Toward Child Friendly Cities

Editor’s note – Thanks to Ian Smith (no relation) for this guest post on Child Friendly Edmonton. Smith is passionate about including children in city life. As Coordinator of Edmonton’s Child Friendly Cities initiative, he is in a unique position to experience their meaningful contributions first hand. So much so that he is convinced that municipal planners, policy makers and citizens at large have much to gain from listening to young people’s perspectives and ideas. Ian would like to acknowledge and recognize that parts of this article including some phrasing, ideas and concepts are based on Mara Mintzer’s 2017 TEDx talk How Kids Can Help Design Cities and that the ideas have been adapted to reflect how they apply to Child Friendly Edmonton. 

Nearly 25 years ago, UNICEF and UN – Habitat launched the Child Friendly Cities Initiative. As of 2018, 30 million children in 38 countries were being reached by this growing global movement. Earlier this year, the Mayor of London, UK released Making London Child-Friendly: Designing Places and Streets for Children and Young People, a milestone for the movement as it welcomed a leading world city to its ranks.

Major philanthropic organizations like the Bernard Van Leer Foundation are also lending support to engaging children’s perspectives on city living through their multi-year Urban95 project and other strategies. Just last month, Urban95 hosted an online twitter forum on livable, child friendly cities.

Other helpful and reliable sources of information on making cities more child friendly are: Rethinking Childhood; Cities for Play; Child in the City; and, CityLab. And now for Edmonton….

Sixth Grade Science and the City of Tomorrow

Edmonton, Canada is one of North America’s youngest cities but to 150,000 of its children citizens, it can still feel out of scale, out of reach and out of touch. Since 2006, Child Friendly Edmonton has been cheerfully obsessed with educating Edmontonians about the opportunities of working with children to come up with city-design solutions. We believe that inviting children to be a part of the design process can lead to a happier and more inclusive city.

 

We believe that inviting children to be a part of the design process can lead to a happier and more inclusive city.

 

Common sense suggests we need to include all users and welcome children’s ideas as important sources of information and experience that contribute to the development of our cities? If we’re building a park to be largely used by kids, then shouldn’t kids have a say in the park’s design? Shouldn’t this premise hold for a mental health campaign, or policy on child care, or safety on transit or public washrooms? The list goes on. These are questions child friendly advocates grapple with every day as they prioritize decisions and assess impacts on children.

In Edmonton, we try to think about people of all ages and circumstances before we put another shovel in the ground, or sign off on another strategy. But too often, outside those laughter-filled rooms in our homes and schools, the city feels dismissive of our smallest citizens.

Quintessentially Canadian Street Play

Imagine you are an architect or a contractor constructing a new building in your city. If you do not consider the needs of children, what could some of the implications be? What should a city in 2020 or 2050 look like to be safe, playful, connected and ultimately livable for an urban childhood? Who better to ask about this than children themselves?

Many people wonder how it’s possible for children to actually grasp these big city issues and complex problems such as the affordable housing crisis, the development of a transportation master plan, the role of mass public transportation or, prioritizing density housing solutions? And even if they had ideas, wouldn’t they be childish, or unfeasible to implement? Questions such as these require consideration because excluding children’s participation in civic issues can result in bigger design problems. It’s not just about designing parks, it’s about the values we embrace in our collective city building efforts.

Child friendly advocates like Mara Mintzer and myself aren’t suggesting that all ideas from children should be implemented. It’s about the principle of including children. Some ideas from children – a fully electric transit bus fleet, no fees for recreation and leisure centres, no bullying or adventure playgrounds in every neighborhood – may not be immediately feasible, but they shouldn’t be dismissed. We need to seriously consider and use these ideas as visioning and concepts for the type of city we want to create.

Downtown Fun – Keeping Warm and Toasty

On various occasions I’m reminded of the concepts that Mara Mintzer brings up and reflect on them in our context. Kids think differently than adults, and that’s a huge value we don’t appreciate enough. Adults think about constraints: how much time a project will take, how much money it will cost and what potential risks it presents. In other words, how can we avoid risk and build for safety? This is obviously important, we need experts providing technical feasibility and advice. Kids are experts in their own lives. When kids dream up a space they very often include fun, playfulness and activities in their designs. This is not always what adults prioritize for public spaces. However, research shows that fun, play and movement are exactly what we need – adults and children together – to stay healthy.

 

Overall, children have an inclusive mindset

in their city planning.

 

Overall, children have an inclusive mindset in their city planning. Without even being aware of it, it just happens. They design for everyone, from their elderly friend with a walker, to their multicultural friend who is struggling to learn English, to the marginalized individual they see resting at the transit stop. Children design for people not for cars, politicians, advocacy groups, egos, or corporations. The last and perhaps most compelling discovery I have made is that a city which is friendly to children is a city friendly to all.

That line of thinking reveals something important that has for too long been a blind spot. If we aren’t including children in our planning, who else are we excluding from the process? We can’t possibly know the needs and wants of other people without asking. That goes for kids as well.

So, adults, let’s stop thinking of our children as future citizens, and instead start valuing them for the citizens and leaders they are right now. Go and read the Sixth Grade Science and the City of Tomorrow the result of a consultation on Edmonton’s draft City Plan that included feedback from over 1600 children. Our children are designing more sustainable cities that will make us happier and healthier. Children are designing the cities we all want to live in.

Meeting of the Minds on the Steps of City Hall

Our goal is to enable Edmonton’s children to feel like they have a role in the city and do not have to wait until they’re 18, voting age, for their opinions to be heard and considered. We want to help create the environment and circumstances where they’ll feel connected, invested and engaged in a community that feels joyful and optimistic – a place designed for them that incorporates their needs and perspectives.

We would like to thank all those who are long standing champions as well as new and future child friendly city advocates who embrace this approach. To learn more about what municipalities and other regions across the world are doing, visit UNICEF Child Friendly Cities. A thank you and recognition go out to Mara Mintzer and the team at Growing Up Boulder. You can learn more about the Growing Up Boulder (GUB) experience here.

Play is an important component of every child friendly city.

“For kids, play is not an outcome based pursuit. It is spontaneous and without any specific purpose beyond play itself. As adults we all have a responsibility to help children experience the joy of play. Let’s embrace risk and resilience and support the renaissance of play.” – Open Letter to Mayors and Councillors – PlayGroundology

Click through for additional information on Child Friendly Edmonton.

What strategies are being developed and implemented in your town or city to make it more child friendly?

Making Way for World Children’s Day

World Children’s Day commemorates the joys of childhood as well as the responsibilities of families, communities and governments to safeguard children’s rights including their mental, physical, social and economic well-being.

New York City – 1959. Sourced from The New York Daily News.

First established in 1954 as Universal Children’s Day, it is celebrated annually on November 20 “to promote international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children’s welfare.”

Also on November 20th 1959, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. And on the same date 30 years later during the 44th session of the General Assembly, then UN adopted, opened for signature, ratification and accession the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In 1989, the General Assembly was profoundly concerned that:

the situation of children in many parts of the world remains critical as a result of inadequate social conditions, natural disasters, armed conflicts, exploitation, illiteracy, hunger and disability…

The Convention has been ratified by most countries with the significant exception of the United States. Current status of signatories and parties to the Convention is available here on the UN site including a list of declarations and reservations.

Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong  – 1989 – Sourced from CNN

Article 31 of the Convention states that:

…every child has the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.

That member governments shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.

Play is an integral component of any holistic celebration of childhood. The opportunity for kids to play independently in a secure environment is central to their well-being and their discovery of the world around them. For an in depth treatment of play considerations associated with Article 31, please consult General Comment 17 to the Committee on the Rights of the Child by the International Play Association.

Communities in various parts of the world are celebrating this day with play related activities and programs. In Alberta, Canada a full day has been set aside for the Calgary Play Summit with a goal of Transforming Calgary into the City of Play.

Calgary has been on a roll for a few years with events, policy development and programming. In 2017, the City hosted the International Play Association (IPA) Triennial Conference. The Calgary Play Charter was signed to coincide with the conference bringing together “leaders from 36 Calgary and area organizations joined Mayor Nenshi, the Canadian Ministry for Sport and Persons with Disability, and MLA Robyn Luff in a celebration of play, community and partnership to sign this play charter.” More recently, the City took a leadership role in developing a guide to champion Mobile Adventure Playgrounds.

There is much more going on for, with and by children. Kids are the change that adults can’t contain as referenced in the UNICEF video below. How can we encourage our communities and governments to engage?

All the best from Nova Scotia on #WorldChildrensDay

 

Play Knows No Language

Earlier this month, our son Noah-David started Grade Two. This year there is a bit of a twist. Noah and his younger sister Nellie-Rose, who is just beginning her school day adventures, are now being taught completely in French in a school that is part of a French language school board, le Conseil scolaire acadien. French is Noah’s mother tongue but after two years of education in English he was losing his ability to speak it fluently.

He was a little anxious about not knowing anyone in his class and not having strong reading skills in French. There was newness all around including lunches in a large cafeteria. Noah was a little at a loss and feeling the weight of not quite fitting in. This was most pronounced during the time he spent in the crowded cafeteria. His enjoyment of the new school was suffering. At home, we spent some time with Noah speaking about how he was feeling and let the school know what was going on too. We encouraged Noah to dive in and speak with the kids around him in the cafeteria. A couple of days later, he resolved the problem through play.

Source – grandparents.com – click through for 12 pre-digital age hand games.

In the cafeteria again for lunch, Noah saw some kids a few aisles away playing rock, paper, scissors. He nudged the kid next to him and asked him if he wanted to play. Lunchtimes have been smooth sailing ever since. The outdoors icebreaker turned out to be soccer, one of Noah’s favourite sports. We now get daily reports about his feats in the Grade Two pick up league.

Play knows no language, it communicates organically setting in motion an idiom of laughter, fun and pulsing expectation. I remember we never wanted to head back to class when recess’ too short mash up of movement was frozen by the bell. It didn’t matter what we were playing – British Bulldog, Red Rover, Kick the Can, something from the Tag family, or just a bit of freelance tomfoolery – we wanted the clock to tock, tock, tick forever. In France, we were marksmen taking aim at a small pyramid of billes (painted clay alleys) from ten paces until we popped the top and sent them scattering. Scotland’s skills tester had us cracking a shiny tennis ball high and low against a brick wall.

Every place has its collection of favourites, games for all seasons. Although I have not found a central repository or portal for pre-digital games, there are resources such as Games for the Playground, Home, School and Gymnasium published in the early years of the last century and available in its entirety right here (via The Gutenberg Project). This is a 500 plus pages compendium of games that many of us have never played. Worth a look if you’re involved in organized activities with kids à la beavers, cubs, etc.

There is more contemporary fare with an international flavour. UNESCO’s Bangkok office has led a project to document traditional children’s games in South-East Asia.

There is a lot to choose from in this inventory of intangible cultural heritage and it’s all available for download.

Source: UNESCO. Click image for game details

An International Inspiration program set up by the British Council, UK Sport and UNICEF to coincide with the London Olympics has also compiled a number of games from around the world and a map. They are available here.

And here is a selection of traditional games shared through International Inspiration.

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Digital is not the only game in town. Play outdoors and explore some games of the world.

I’m on the lookout for more sources of good kids’ games. Please let me know if you come across any…