Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Morning

Ed’s note – since the demise of Storehouse, I have been at a loss as to the best way to display images linked to PlayGroundology stories. I’ve gone back to tumblr to try and capture the look and flow of a series of larger images. This is my first tumblr post in a number of years. It’s the visual companion to this WordPress post.

We’re at chickadee corner waiting for birds. In sub-zero weather, the black capped chickadees drop from surrounding trees landing gingerly on upturned palms. With soft, rapid pecks they gather seeds before retreating to nearby cover. We are breathless as they alight oh so briefly on our hands. The timorous beating of their hearts is exhilarating and humbling. Today there are no chickadees and the girls are momentarily disappointed.

tumblr photo story here or click through on image above

Fortunately, there is plenty to do when stopping by the woods on a snowy morning. A freshly fallen tree beckons for solo and duet balancing. After several back and forths, the girls discover a small dip nearby.

A defining feature of this hollow is a large, partially exposed, snow dusted boulder. The steep incline of its scalable face makes for a tricky ascent. In the end, after numerous unsuccessful attempts, it is ingenuity that wins the day and conquers the summit.

Next are the vertical climbs – hanging on and scrambling up trees so tall. The big mama conifer shelters the girls under its boughs. Close to the trunk the almost symmetrical branches are spaced like steps inviting the climbers skyward. They are all smiles and giggles from their perches on high until one gets fretful thinking she won’t be able to get down.

Closer to solid ground there is space for some casual boulder hopping. Each activity is rooted in connections with the natural environment. We embrace a wonderful simplicity, a sense of unhurried ease and familiarity. The light and breezy unscripted play is punctuated with moments of intensity fuelled by physical exertion and the sometimes fright of self-induced boundary testing. And then it’s over, time to bid the snowy outdoor morning adieu.

Just play,
play with mud, sand, sea
blocks and balls
sticks and trees
just play…

Thanks for Coming Out to Play

Thanks to your visits, comments, likes and and retweets, PlayGroundology continues to grow. Here at PlayGroundology central we’re pleased to have generated 500,000+ page views from play peeps in over 115 countries and welcomed nearly 500 subscribers (sign up today it’s FREE). Over on Facebook we’re zeroing in on 7,000 followers with 3,000 and counting on Twitter.

In Montreal, Sorel, Ottawa, Toronto, California, Falkland, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Paris, Halifax and on the biways and highways of Nova Scotia – PlayGroundology’s home base – I’ve met a lot of fine people who give their all for play.

I’ve made online friendships with folks who are passionate about sharing their time and knowledge in support of kids’ play. It’s nice to see people getting revved up when they are part of making a wider range of play opportunities available for kids in public spaces.

hey-play-peepsClick through on image for active links and blast off to out of this world play!

This is a thanks and a shout out to all of you. As parents and caregivers we are the most the potent force, and sometimes the most overlooked,  that can work with local governments to inform their decisions around play provisions in public spaces.

Our family continues to have some of the finest times on the play beat. Plain and simple, kids love to play. It makes them laugh, provides ample opportunities to learn about their own abilities, assess risk and gain confidence.

And along the way, we’ve been learning a lot about science, health, psychology and fun. We’ve been introduced to games like ballon poire, a game that is unique to schoolyards and playgrounds in the province of Québec.

Thanks for joining the PlayGroundology crew. We’re skipping to the beat of play. I hope you’ll continue to drop in on occasion and let your friends know about this digital playspace.

From Hong Kong with Love

Over the years, PlayGroundology has received lots of wonderful comments from readers and play enthusiasts around the world. It is a real pleasure to think that in some small ways the blog is helping to inspire people to advocate for a greater variety of public play spaces for kids. Today, a comment arrived from Hong Kong regarding a post published in 2012.

I lived near this park. I was born in 1969, the same year as this park opened. These sculptures accompanied me since I was born, until I was 16. They were then too old and replaced by new playground facilities.

The most fascinating thing about this playground is that it was composed of 4 different sand pools. Kids built sand castles there everyday. Besides, those sculptures possessed secret holes and spaces where kids could play hide and seek. A kid could hide himself inside a sculpture so secretly that no one could discover him within 10 minutes. Amazed?

Every night, lovers would hide themselves inside those “holes”, kissing each other and ………..

These park brought me a marvelous childhood, wonderful memory!!!!!!

An article was published earlier today in Hong Kong about this playground from the past. I don’t read, or speak Chinese but for those who do, the article is reproduced below with some lovely photos.

Damon Leung kindly provided the English translation which follows the original HK01 article.

剛過去的星期日,到西九文化區的市民,沿著海旁的欄杆散步,可見到數十張被架起的照片和它們的詳盡解說。那是當日進行的社區藝術節目「青涌生活節」的一部份,策劃機構「創不同」(MaD) 聯同葵青區的街坊,用不同創意形式,在西九展現葵涌和青衣的社區文化。由葵青歷史照片構成的裝置,由藝術策劃人樊樂怡與同事構思和製作,當日人人都對其中四張照片嘖嘖稱奇,在她意料之內:原來,將近50年前,葵涌有過一個極前衛的遊樂場。一切發現,從遇上幾張照片開始。
撰文:城市創作實驗室創辦人 黃宇軒

b0cf47dd7fceb946d4896cd768271a8250年前位於石籬的前衛遊樂場 (從「青涌生活節」現場翻拍)





58d9bfe0a4e4cdfbf854ad6263901fe350年前位於石籬的前衛遊樂場 (來源: Playgroundology)

設施無法歸類成滑梯鞦韆 反而更像雕塑

幾張照片,帶來了一條線索:在人人都抱怨遊樂場設施愈來愈倒退的今天,舊日遊樂場除了懷舊討論區時時見到的款式外,香港遊樂空間,原來有過非常另類的一頁,而那看來也是香港藝術史和藝術空間史上重要的一頁。照片上看到這個遊樂場其中四種大型玩樂設施,都很難歸類為滑梯、 鞦韆等,它們更像大型的現代雕塑,有抽象的、有簡約的、有像超現實主義作品、有的甚至像後現代設計。除了罕見的雕塑狀設計,遊樂場背後的山坡還被當成畫布,漆上簡約抽象的圖樣。這個「雕塑遊樂場」的佈局,顯然充滿藝術構思。

原來它的設計者,正是一位熱心藝術教育、曾經在香港工作的美國藝術家。樊樂怡指出:「照片僅有的文字解說,提到它位處石籬徙置屋邨,在1969年建成時,是在亞洲唯一有、該類型的遊樂場,由美國藝術家Paul Selinger所造,當時的皇家賽馬會捐了$15萬元建成……網上暫時可找到的資料,也大概是這些。」年報上的資料也說明,Paul Selinger將香港視為第一站,更希望這個前所未有的遊樂場, 還可在別的地方繼續出現,他希望當中的建設,既是可被觀賞的雕塑作品,也是可讓人遊玩的新類型設施。


由美國藝術家設計 香港給他「藝術自由實現意念」



「暫時可進一步找到的資料不多,其中,那位藝術家(Paul Selinger)回到美國後,曾寫過一封信給一本叫Rotarian的雜誌,行文中對在香港建的遊樂場十分自豪,還批評美國不夠香港開放。」Selinger在這封題為《美國遊樂場:有限的視野》的信中這樣寫:「作為一個剛好在香港居住和工作過的美國人,我有機會在石籬實踐我的設計意念,我懷疑,在美國這就不可能實現。我回來後跟在頂尖美國建築行的園景建築師談過,就更確信是如此。他們抱怨要不斷倒出模華而不實的設計去滿足欠缺視野的市政官員。我的意念可在香港被證明是成功的,因為我被給予藝術自由,去將它們實現。……我回來(三藩市灣區) 後發現與公園和公務相關的官員、還有建築師,只會在現成的目錄中選一些不同顏色、但同款的設施放在遊樂場裡……要說服決策者設計遊樂場時,想像力是重要的,才可讓情況改變。」



為了讓更多人理解這種曾足以教香港自豪的想像力,樊樂怡開始一個小型研究計劃,正式研究這個香港有過、近乎難以置信的遊樂場:「因為初步找到的資料太少,下一步,我想訪問石籬的街坊、房署、區議員、Paul Selinger在香港工作時遇上過的人和機構,甚至他的家人。」

僅有的資料顯示,2015年底才離世的Paul Selinger,1961年起在香港大學任教藝術,1969年落實了這個前衛遊樂場的構想不久,就返回美國。今天重尋這個遊樂場的資料,除了追尋香港有過的「奇跡」,慨歎這個城市將近50年前有過的前衛空間今天不復再,和倡議建設更有創意的公共遊樂場外,也是重現全球現代遊樂場史裡的一小塊拼圖。



(如認識任何人用過這遊樂場,或有任何跟這遊樂場相關的資料,可聯絡樊樂怡,支持她繼續研究這前衛遊樂場的計劃 )

Playground Project


Author: Wong Yu Hin, founder of the Urban Creation Laboratory
Last Sunday, the visitors of the West Kowloon Cultural District would see dozens of photographs and their detailed explanations along the railings of the waterfront. It was a part of the community art program “Kwai Chung Festival”. Organization (MaD), together with the neighbours of Kwai Tsing, showcased the community cultures of Kwai Chung and Tsing Yi in the West Kowloon in various creative ways. The setup consisted of Kwai Tsing historical photos was designed and developed by the art planner Fan Lokbi and her colleagues. During the exhibition everyone was amazed on four photos as she expected. They showed that Kwai Chung had a very avant-garde playground 50 years ago and everything started with the discovery of these few photos.

How the unknown avant-garde playground was discovered?
“Kwai Chung Festival” was a program organized by District Councils and MaD jointly. Fan Lokbi remembered that during a meeting with district counselors, she was informed that there had been a Wah Tak Studio in Kwai Chung before. So when she was looking for historical pictures of Kwai Tsing District, she would pay special attention to whether there was any trace of Wah Tak Studio and later she got an unexpected reward.

She went to the Image Library of the Information Office to check the color photos in the annual reports. “I had turned over each year until I turned to 1969, I saw six exotic playground photos. They were so colorful. I was shocked by one of the playground photo. The Wah Tak Studio, I have long been looking for, was shown at the lower right corner of that photo. That meaned the colorful playground was located in Kwai Chung.

Fan Lokbi, who was engaged in the art, met this unfamous playground along the path of Kwai Tsing to Wah Tak Studio, and to the Hong Kong annual report. Familiar with Kwai Chung geography and architectures, she found no information about the playground on the Internet after a little search. She knew that this might be a big discovery.

Facilities can not be classified as slides or swings but more like sculptures.
A few photos brought a clue about an importnt page in the art histories of Hong Kong and its amusement area. Everyone is complaining about the playground facilities getting backwards today. However, in addition to the old styles of playgrounds shown in the nostalgic discussion groups, Hong Kong amusement area in fact have had a very different page before. Photos showed the playground, of which the four large-scale recreational facilities were difficult to classify as slide or swing. They were more like large modern sculptures, abstract, simple, just like surrealist works. Some were even like postmodern designs. In addition to the rare sculpture design, the hillside behind the playground also was treated as a canvas and painted with simple abstract drawings. The layout of this “sculpture playground” was clearly full of artistic ideas.

Its designer, who was enthusiastic about art education and had worked in Hong Kong, was an American artist. Fan Lokbi pointed out, “The only text explanation of the photo mentioned that it is located in the Shek Lei resettlement estate. Built in 1969, this type of playground was the only one in Asia made by American artist Paul Selinger. At that time the Royal HK Jockey Club donated HK$150,000 to build it. Online information about the playground is probably the same as these.” The information on the annual report also showed that Paul Selinger regarded Hong Kong as the first stop and hoped that this unprecedented playground would keep appearing in other places. He also hoped that the construction could be viewed as sculpture works and also be a new type of facilities to let people amaze.

Designed by American Artist, “Artistic Freedom” was given by Hong Kong to realize his ideas.
“In the online and community history, almost no information about it. In fact Hong Kong had such an avant-garde playground, which synchronized the trend of Europe and the United States at that moment.” Fan Lokbi found that the world’s famous blog Playgroundology, which studied the playground design as a new social science, had talked about this park on its website. Playgroundology encountered related information in the United Kingdom national archives. From the information its location was known as “colonial Kowloon”. Playgroundology received even less information than Fan Lokbi, so no study followed of course. Knowing Playgroundology asked for more relevant information, she shared the information found accidentally with their experts.

“There is not much further information available. After the artist (Paul Selinger) returned to the United States, he had written a letter to a magazine called Rotarian. He was proud of the playground in Hong Kong and criticized the United States for being less open to Hong Kong.” In the letter entitled “American Playground: A Limited Vision” Selinger wrote, “As an American who lived and worked in Hong Kong, I had the opportunity to realize my design ideas in Shek Lei. I doubted if this could be achieved in the United States. I talked with the landscaped architects at the top American architecture after I came back, the case was even more so. They complained that they should continue to pour out the meeless design to meet those municipal officials who lacked vision. My ideas proved successful in Hong Kong because I was given the freedom of art to realize them. After I came back (San Francisco Bay Area), I found the officials associated with the park and civil service, as well as architects, would only choose some different colors but the same facilities on the playground from the ready-made catalog. To convince policymakers during the design of a playground, imagination was important in order to make the situation change.”

Hong Kong playground as a new page of the global post-war building trend.
In order to let more people understand this imagination which Hong Kong to be proud of, Fan Lokbi began a small research program, an official study of this almost incredible playground in Hong Kong, “Because the initial information was too little, I would like to visit the neighborhoods of Shek Lei, the HD, District Council members, Paul Selinger’s co-workers in Hong Kong and even his family.”

The only information showed that Paul Selinger, who died at the end of 2015, taught art at the University of Hong Kong since 1961. Soon after the concept of the avant-garde playground was implemented, he returned to the United States in 1969. Searching for the playground information today, in addition to the pursuit of such a “miracle” Hong Kong had before, the city was lamented for the avant-garde space nearly 50 years ago which was no longer there today. Not only as initiatives to build more creative public playgrounds, but also to reproduce a small piece of puzzle in the history of the world’s modern playgrounds.

After the Second World War, innovative young students and artists in Europe and the United States were actively engaged in public utilities for the people and contributed to a large number of avant-garde and whimsical designs. These designs were implemented in public buildings, especially in the design of public housing, public spaces and public facilities. The playground was a particularly experimental page. Many “rugged” pioneer playgrounds came into being, so far were still fascinating the world. But it was unexpected that a Hong Kong’s resettlement estate would use abstract sculptures as the theme and had connected to the history of avant-garde playground since 1969.

Looping through Estonian skies

As a kid, the ultimate playground fantasy was to go up, up and over on the swings. No matter how furiously we pumped, whether in a sitting or standing position, the arcs we traced rarely took us much higher than the first 90° quadrant.

1200px-kiiking_tartus Kiiking – Estonia’s answer to childhood fantasies. Photo credit – Eesti Kiikingi Liit

By my unscientific polling, the curiosity, if not the desire, of going up and over is universal. It’s a theme all my kids have talked and wondered about it at some point. And what parent has not heard the insistent refrain, “higher, higher” while pushing their child skyward to touch the passing birds, the clouds, the sun?

We all talked a good game of how exciting it would be to launch ourselves up and over wrapping the chain link around the bar and hurtling through a full 360° sky scrape. It was all pie in the sky musings though. None of us had the strength, ability or courage to loop the loop.

kiikingThe kiiking fields – Estonia. Photo credit – Eesti Kiikingi Liit

In fact our loop the loop dreaming was likely a physical impossibility. The chain links that our swing seats hung from were two to three metres in length. Chances are they would have collapsed if we were ever able to propel ourselves into the top of the second quadrant. Kiiking’s inventor Ado Kosk overcame this by using rods to attach the swing seat to the spindle and the rest, as they say, is history.

In Estonia, there is a cultural tradition of communal swings in towns and villages, swings that can accommodate multiple people at a time. Kiiking is a radical departure defining a new tradition of sport and athleticism. Since its invention in the mid-1990s, kiiking has won over enthusiasts in New Zealand, the US and various European countries. What are the chances of this new sport ever being part of an Olympic line up?

Look no further if you’re in search of a good workout and a risky business adrenalin rush – kiiking may possibly be your kind of activity. Kids are kiiking and I like to think that I would have the nerve to alley-oop, loop the loop. Tying in feet and hands, as is frequently done in competitive kiiking, is a safety factor that appeals to me.

Don’t ask me why but I think this late 20th century sport would be right at home as a component of Scottish highland games, or a modern day circus, perhaps even going back in time to the era of Astérix and Obélisk. Speaking of cartoon characters, couldn’t you just see Fred and Barney of Flintstones fame having a go with this?

Kiik it…..

True North Playscapes – Canada 150

As Canada celebrates 150 years, PlayGroundology is inviting those who love play to join True North Playscapes – Canada 150. This new flickr group has been created to document and share the diversity of children’s playscapes across the country.

expo-67-iiChildren’s Creative Centre Playground – Canada Pavilion – Expo 67. Photographer – unknown. Source – Canadian Centre for Architecture.

Photos can depict any time period and any kind of space – urban, natural, other – that kids use for play. Photos do not have to be limited to ‘playgrounds’. Any space or feature that kids convert for play purposes will be a welcome addition to the group.

Please tag your photos by province, by town/city and by year. If the playscapes are distinctive in other ways, please tag them accordingly.

childrens-creative-centre-playground-iiSwallows and Amazons, anyone? Children’s Creative Centre Playground – Canada Pavilion – Expo 67. Photographer – unknown. Source – Canadian Centre for Architecture.

It is my hope that True North Playscapes – Canada 150 will attract a wide variety of playscapes and play spaces that provide alternative opportunities to the standard, off the shelf, pre-fab installations commonly installed in public venues in many communities.

Upload your photos at True North Playscapes – Canada 150 and let’s help build a resource for communities from coast to coast to coast and beyond.

the-waveThe Wave on the Halifax, Nova Scotia waterfront – sculpture becomes play environment.

It’s the 150th anniversary of Confederation, everybody play…..

Spring Garden in the Snow

Unpredictable twists and turns are an inherent part of play’s beauty – adventure and discovery, the lingua franca. Resilience is the pièce de résistance, a piece that in later life can make all the difference.

cropper-torstar-photoSpring Garden Public School – Photo credit: John Mahler, The Toronto Star – 1979.

Twists, turns and discovery are also hallmarks of the sedentary surfer. The internet of play offers seemingly endless redirections and constant parsing of new, unanticipated information. As frequently as not, the eventual destination is altogether different than what was initially intended.

cropped-0001Spring Garden Public School – Photo credit: Bill Chambers

As dawn breaks on drifting white dunes of snow outside my window, I discover an early 1970s playspace in Toronto. I arrive by way of an article that reports Crow Nest Adventure Playground in Dewsbury, UK may be subject to cuts. From there, a Google photo search takes me to a photo of a playspace in Bowood, Wiltshire, UK. This in turn leads to Spring Garden Public School via an UrbanToronto forum and ultimately to an index of photos by Bill Chambers reproduced here.

toronto-adventure-playground004Spring Garden Public School – Photo credit: Bill Chambers

I look the place up on the map and it’s in Willowdale, North York. Though the school is no longer there, I see it was close to where I lived from about 1964 to 1970. Those days, we would walk through that neighbourhood on our way to the Willow Theatre and the Memorial Swimming Pool and that little corner store where we could buy 10 cent bottles of mini-pop and get a nickel back on the empties. Those were the times that my friends and I first started getting out and about independently.

toronto-adventure-playground008Spring Garden Public School – Photo credit: Bill Chambers

I can imagine myself playing here – hanging on in the crow’s nest, trying to balance on and climb the logs. It helps to see kids dressed pretty much as I had back in grades 7 and 8 – in those rockin’ late ’60s kids’ togs. The space must have been created after our family left the area. I can’t believe that our parents wouldn’t have brought us to this cool spot, or that we wouldn’t have heard about it ourselves.

Today, mysterious algorithms present a gift that in three of four jumps bring me from the UK to a familiar space close by my old childhood neighbourhood.

The black and white blast from the past is a nice visit. Here, before my eyes, the kids are exalting in the snow. The white dunes outside the window have been tamped down through the course of the day by their sledding and their first attempts at cross country skiing. This is the place to be.