Category Archives: Vernacular Playgrounds

Going, Going, Gone

I first came across Storehouse a couple of years ago and immediately fell in love with the platform’s luscious visual storytelling. The iOS app is easy to use and makes possible the creation of rich visual narratives using photo, video and text elements. Sadly Storehouse is closing down. Before it shutters for good on July 15, I invite readers to scroll through four PlayGroundology Storehouse stories that the app really helped whizz bang. Click through on images below to take you to the Storehouse stories…

Loose Parts Unplug and Play

My first Storehouse sortie captures the story of the first public play event I helped organize.

Unplug and PlayClick through to Storehouse story.

Skimming across the hay – no last straws here. In a flash the kids run over to explore. They are curious about the space, wondering…

Untitled 3Click through to Storehouse story.

Vernacular Play – Magdalen Islands

In Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawerence, a maritme play aesthetic.

Up, up and away  Click through to Storehouse story.

No text this time, the photos and video stand on their own. More though about Magdalen Island play experiences here

Steady as she goes  Click through to Storehouse story.

96 degrees in the shade – Székely

This one is subtitled ‘Playgroundin’ in tropical Paris’ and tells the story of the search for a 1950s Székely designed playground in a Paris suburb.

Székely I Click through to Storehouse story.

These are the pataugeoires – shallow, kiddy pools. One is deeper than the other and both are exquisitely detailed with carreaux cassés – broken tile mosaics now virtually a lost art. Our new playground pal Yves created carreaux cassés like this when he was a younger man.

Székely - Paddle pool detail  Click through to Storehouse story.

Quebec City’s Big Chill

There’s no place to celebrate winter fun like Quebec City’s Carnaval. Look for the cameo appearance by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau…

Carnaval IClick through to Storehouse story.

It’s no time to be still when a breath of wind drops the mercury to -39 C at Quebec City’s annual Carnaval…..

Thrills, spills – snowy saucers on sliding hills.

Sliding Click through to Storehouse story.

I’m going to miss Storehouse. I had so many more stories left to share. Thanks to the Storehouse crew for making a fun place to play….

I’ll take a Singapore Swing with a Twist of Mosaic

A couple of years back when PlayGroundology was still in its infancy, my imagination was sparked by a chance encounter with a set of commemorative stamps from Singapore. Of all things wild and wonderful that stamps can and do depict, this set of six put playgrounds in a starring role (see Going Philatelic in Singapore).

Mosaic Dragon with Designer Mr Khor Ean Ghee. Source: Mosaic Memories: Remembering the Playgrounds Singapore Grew Up In.

Right away I knew I wanted to share this find with PlayGroundology’s readers. The mosaic playgrounds that featured designs with local cultural references were of most interest – dragons, pelicans, elephants, tortoises and more. I started following a number of google trails and it wasn’t long before Justin Zhang’s name percolated to the top. Justin had published a couple of articles on Singapore’s public play spaces that passionately documented an indigenous playground vibe. They were invaluable references for Playgroundology’s first Asian story.

Thankfully for all of us interested in playgroundabilia Justin has maintained his interest in the ‘old’ playgrounds of his childhood and recently published a 43-page e-book commissioned by the Singapore Memory ProjectMosaic Memories: Remembering the Playgrounds Singapore Grew Up In. Through the eyes of four players, readers get a composite view of a homegrown playground story that developed in tandem with Singapore’s housing estates in the 1970s and 80s.

Light Painting – Mr Fong Qi Wei. Source: Mosaic Memories: Remembering the Playgrounds Singapore Grew Up In.

Meet Khor Ean Ghee the interior designer cum iconic playground creator whose playful designs have provided fun and memories for generations of Singaporean kids. Photographer, artist, and entrepreneur Antoinette Wong has mounted a photo exhibit of the old playgrounds during Singapore’s Fringe Festival and created wearable art depicting the playgrounds that are available from her little dröm store.

Fong Qi Wei paints the light fantastic. The Pelican Playground was the set for his first foray into painting with light. He even re-created the two swings that had gone missing since he had played there as a child. For Fong each of the seven playgrounds he has lit up is a three dimensional canvas that comes alive at night.

Photo Credit – Antoinette Wong. Source: Mosaic Memories: Remembering the Playgrounds Singapore Grew Up In.

Playgrounds are a family affair for Lim Chee Peng. He loves excursions with his wife and two daughters to play outdoors far from the madding noise and crowds. The old playgrounds are a link back to his childhood a place to breathe, stretch and have fun.

Four perspectives on Singapore’s old playgrounds. Will there be a swell of popular sentiment to preserve some of the 20 remaining playgrounds to ensure that the mosaic animals don’t become extinct?

These are lovely grassroots stories that situate playgrounds within a broader social and cultural context. Pop in for a read of Justin’s e-book…

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Drop a line if you know of other culturally specific public play spaces.

From Syria with Love

From swords to plougshares – let the children play.

Harvest Playground

Dempsey Corner Orchards is a special treat for kids particularly those whose daily comings and goings are in an urban setting. It’s a real hybrid experience. There is the wonder of animals – chasing chicks and hens, petting calves and watching the goats face off against each other. There are fruit laden orchards with succulent harvests of apples, pears and peaches. And in the farmyard and its environs a playscape, built to the scale of open skies and rolling hills, is a busy scene of bustling energy.

Front and centre as you walk into the farmyard there’s an old fashioned spinning, spinning roundabout with kids hanging on as best they can. You know the kind, you remember them from your childhood but they’re very difficult to find in most public playgrounds today.

On this one the pink paint is smoothed off in the central area by so many little feet, knees and behinds clamping down and rubbing across the surface as they struggle to hold their position against the pull of centrifugal force.

The octagon platform draws kids like a magnet. It’s never idle during our visit. A well worn dirt track circles the equipment showing that kids love to get into this groove. There are those who want to be spun and spinners eager to oblige giving their all with mighty pushes before they pull themselves aboard the whirling platter. The smaller kids have to be reminded not to let go. Because of their virtual disappearance from public playgrounds, playing on a roundabout/merry-go-round is a first time experience for many of the kids who visit.

For a gentler spin cycle, there is the teepee pole tire swing. It is a beauty to behold – a massive, deep treaded, sky blue tractor tire suspended on heavy duty black cord. It can comfortably sit six young ones with ample rope for everyone to hang on. At the base the distance between each of the three supporting poles is about 10 feet. The teepee tip where the cord is secured is about twelve feet off the ground. It makes for a great arcing gigglefest ride to recurring choruses of, ‘more, more, higher, higher’.

Around the corner from the main house is an open air sound garden. It’s adjacent to a path that leads up to the orchards and planting grounds. This is the home amphitheatre for the Demspsey Corners Cacaphony Orchestra. An array of blackened and stainless steel kitchen and farm implements suspended from three strands of chicken wire fencing are the instruments of clatter bangdom. They are poised for smashing, tingling, kabooming, howitzing – making noise, music, percussive masterpieces.


Climbing the path up the gentle hills of the North Mountain it’s play in a natural environment. I think my ears begin to stop that ringing feeling as we approach the orchards. Adventurous 5 and unders try their luck at stepping stone balance while crossing a small brook. It’s not a totally successful expedition as everyone has dry feet on the other side. There is corn and apples aplenty to pick, patches of colourful gourds in surprising and unpredictable shapes to walk through. It’s an opportunity to gather fresh produce at the source, a glorious paradise for city folk.

We’re here on Open Farm Day, a relatively new development in Atlantic Canada. The purpose is to get people visiting farms and raising awareness about local agriculture. It’s catching on in Ontario and Manitoba too as well as Maine, pockets of New York state and the UK. Check with your local agricultural, or farmers’ organization to see if there is something similar close to you. I can’t guarantee a rockin’ playground like Dempsey Corners Farm but there’s sure to be fun for everyone, some good food and a chance for city dwellers to see how it’s done down on the farm.

After loading up with apples and getting a few ears of corn for maman, it’s time to start thinking about home. Back in the farmyard, the roundabout is a must before we head to the car to buckle up as is a bit of digging and scuffing around at Firestonehenge. This 20 foot diameter sandpit with plenty of digging machines, shovels, rakes, pails and sundry other earthy toys is a great build and get dirty spot. We don’t get to the rollie pollie hay pile but we’ll look for that on our next visit.

For a couple of hours on a weekend morning under September’s pastel wash sun all is idyll and we adults are momentary heroes. It looks so easy as we walk around and play with the kids. It’s long hours though and hard work to keep an operation like this one going.

During my high school days I worked briefly on a 6,000 acre wheat farm in Saskatchewan. Big Bill Labuik was a fine host and tireless worker. He had us out in the fields from dawn till dusk. Turned out we weren’t farming stock and Bill had to let us go after mangling a rod weeder and inadvertently popping wheelies with the tractor. I left there with a deep respect for farm families and the work they do for all of us supermarket types.

Dempsey Corner Farm is open to the public June through October as are many working farms. Check your local agritourism listings to see what is available close to you. Support family farms, local produce and reconnecting with our food.

Take a peek and see what farmers from these areas offer: Quebec Agritourism; California Agritourism; Colorado Agritourism; Tennessee Agritourism; Australia Agritourism.

Many thanks to the friends who invited us on this expedition. Don’t forget in North America it will soon be time to head for the pumpkin patch.

All materials, unless otherwise attributed or credited, copyright ⓒ 2010 Alex Smith.

If you’re a non-profit or not-for-profit group, feel free to hyperlink, excerpt, or reproduce the contents of this post. Please reference PlayGroundology. For commercial reproduction of this content, please consult the editor.

Chilean Miners Playground – Industrial Ingenuity

Otherworldly with a touch of the surreal describes some unique play structures that sit quietly in Chuquicamata, a former mining town in northern Chile. Located in the Atacama desert, the most arid on the planet, Chuqui is encircled by foothills of slag and tailings from nearly 100 years of mineral exploitation. The small town was an oasis of humanity surrounded by industrial waste on a massive scale. The community was shut down in 2007 because of significant environmental degradation. The people of Chuqui were relocated to Calamar although mining continues at what is the world’s largest open pit copper operation.

Hats off again to flickr and its contributing photographers. A search for ‘juegos infantiles’ pulled up a few thousand photos from South America, Spain and Portugal. These are the jewels – heavy gauge playground equipment from an abandoned town. Many thanks to Carlos Borlone Leuquén aka Mi otra carne in flickrville for sharing these photos.

We’ll never see equipment like this coming out of the Little Tikes design labs. This industrial folklore speaks to beauty through transforming a harsh landscape, to ingenuity through using materials at hand, to love through creating a space like no other to dream and play. This is innovative design infused with poetic vision.

There were other playgrounds in Chuqui with the standard swings and slides and roundabouts but nothing else as imaginative as these pieces.

Check here for more Chuqui playground structures.

Chile’s Nobel Laureate poet, Pablo Neruda writes starkly of Chuqui and the political struggles associated with mining in a poem included in the Canto General collection written decades prior to the nationalization of the mine by the Allende government.

Anaconda Mining Co.

Name of a coiled snake,
insatiable gullet, green monster,
in the clustered heights,
in my country’s rarefied
saddle, beneath the moon
of hardness–excavator–
you open the mineral’s
lunar craters, the galleries
of virgin copper, sheathed
in its granite sands.

In Chuquicamata’s eternal
night, in the heights,
I’ve seen the sacrificial fire burn,
the profuse crackling
of the cyclops that devoured the Chileans’ hands, weight
and waist, coiling them
beneath its copper vertebrae,
draining their warm blood,
crushing their skeletons
and spitting them out in the
desolate desert wastelands.

Air resounds in the heights
of starry Chuquicamata.
The galleries annihilate
the planet’s resistance
with man’s little hands,
the gorges’ sulphuric bird
trembles, the metal’s
iron cold mutinies
with its sullen scars,
and when the horns blast
the earth swallows a procession
of minuscule men who descend
to the crater’s mandibles.

They’re tiny captains,
my nephews, my children,
and when they pour the ingots
toward the seas, wipe
their brows and return shuddering
to the uttermost chill,
the great serpent eats them up,
reduces them, crushes them,
covers them with malignant spittle,
casts them out to the roads,
murders them with police,
sets them to rot in Pisagua,
imprisons them, spits on them,
buys a trecherous president
who insults and persecutes them,
kills them with hunger on the plains
of the sandy immensity.

And on the infernal slopes
there’s cross after twisted cross,
the only kindling scattered
by the tree of mining.

As Chuqui was being shut down, Jay Heinz shot a documentary Chuqui: The Life and Death of Mining Town.

Now world attention is focused on another Chilean mine and the well being of 33 miners trapped 700 metres underground at the San José mine in Copiapo. Their rescue is still weeks if not months away. May all go well for these brave men and their families.

All photos by C. Leuquén aka Mi otra carne.

All materials, unless otherwise attributed or credited, copyright ⓒ 2010 Alex Smith.

If you’re a non-profit or not-for-profit group, feel free to hyperlink, excerpt, or reproduce the contents of this post. Please reference PlayGroundology. For commercial reproduction of this content, please consult the editor.

The Young Kids and the Sea

“Lobster,” cries out Noah enthusiastically.

“I’ve got another one,” Nellie shouts into a gust of wind.

They are a crew of two, 50 metres from the shoreline, scrabbling across the grass and scooping up lobsters in their tiny hands. Dressed for the occasion, they are well bundled in rain slicks to protect them from buffeting northwesters.

Noah and Nellie continue with their imaginary harvest as a cloud of screeling gulls hovers over L’étoile du nord chugging through the passage in the breakwater. We watch the crew bring in a catch of fresh lobster after hauling traps for most of the morning from the cold waters of the gulf. Just behind us is a fish factory. We are in the thick of it.

Play imitating life.

We are in a playground adjacent to the fishing harbour of L’Étang-du-nord in Les Îles de la Madeleine – Magdalen Islands – a small archipelago of dunes, dips and hills in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on Canada’s east coast. Not everyone here is a fisherman but with $50 million (Cdn.) in annual revenues, it’s the most important sector of the local economy.

During our short stay, we come across two lovingly crafted fishing boat playspaces. One trumpets the bright colours of Acadie – blue, red and yellow. She’s built to scale and could hold plenty of stacked traps on her aft deck.

The kids run stem to stern. It’s a perpetual movement show with dollops of laughter and snatches of conversation sailing on the wind. Stomping through the wheelhouse and leaning over the bow they look out on their ocean of pretend.

This is a popular spot with the two newest crew members of the Étang-du-nord fishing fleet and we return for a second visit of imaginative play. The chilly weather is not a deterrent. The life size prop for make believe is a powerful magnet.

It’s much the same excitement at another boat 15 kms. to the south in Havre-Aubert. This is a fishing vessel too situated at the end of the historic La Grave stretch, a short swath of street modestly festooned with eateries, purveyors of art and a variety of artisanal fare. The boat borders a boardwalk on the protected harbour side. Across the road behind the storefronts we hear roiling high tide breakers hitting a ribbon of beach.

This vessel has more accessories – two slides, a tire swing and an orange buoy suspended from a rope that can be a bouncy ride, or an over-sized tether ball. The kids are in fine fettle – climbing, swinging, slip, sliding away. They flow between the three levels of play each taking turns as captain in the wheelhouse.

Up on the lookout level, I overhear talk of pirates and a whispered shiver me timbers. The mateys are a popular play theme since the recent purchase of a second hand toy pirate ship. Fortunately there’s no re-enactment of walking the plank. Below decks we find shelter for baby Lila from the rushing wind. She sits quietly, oblivious to the hurly burly circling around her.

Both communities have chosen playgrounds that are reflections of themselves. The real world ‘equipment’ leaves full rein for the imagination. The boats are a wonderful gift for us come-from-awayers as they help us connect with the place and learn through play.

They are not of the mass production mould. Their look and character are intrinsically their own. The world of play would be a much better place with more of these vernacular playgrounds that celebrate local culture and history. PlayGroundology is on the lookout for these kind of playspaces to share with readers. Drop us a line if you know of a place that fits the bill.

We have to leave the wind and waves behind and take the five hour ferry crossing back to Prince Edward Island. We didn’t come to les Îles for the playgrounds and it’s not these two wonderful boat spaces that will pull us back. When we do return though, we know there will be two playspaces inviting the kids to come sail away on blustery day, high sea adventures.

License – (CC BY-NC-SA)