Look – Don’t Play

Something has gone terribly awry in Canada’s Ocean Playground. This September, many of the kids entering school for the first time in Nova Scotia will apparently be persona non grata on school playgrounds.

This sorry state of affairs is an unintended result of s recent policy shift. A combined safety standards and insurance SNAFU was discovered last fall. That’s the first time that kids having their fourth birthday on or before December 31 were able to start school as part a new provincial pre-primary program.

The pre-primary cohort is weighted to three and four-year-olds. That’s the nub of the problem. Off the shelf playground equipment installed in numerous schoolyards is labeled and recommended for use by kids in the five to twelve-year-old age range.

The School Insurance Program (SIP) has not recommended the use of this equipment for kids under the age of five. The institutional response from the provincial department responsible for education and from individual school districts upholds the SIP recommendation while emphasizing that SIP covers all primary school students regardless of age.

And so it goes…. none of the kids starting out in the pre-primary program will be able to play on school sanctioned playground equipment until they are in primary unless the equipment is deemed to be age appropriate.

Parents are not impressed with what is perceived as a rigid example of risk aversion as shared by PlayGroundology FB friend, Nicole Wulff:

…this just happened at our elementary school. The special ed 3-5 yo are no longer allowed on the kindergarten playground…the kids who need the most exposure to opps to improve fine and gross motor…..

 

Let’s remember that these school playgrounds are open to the public after hours and kids can play on the equipment as they choose regardless of age. This post limits itself to commenting on the play structures. It does not touch on the debate linked to early school enrollment.

There is a general recognition in all of this that playgrounds only represent one facet of engaging kids in play. Parents, educators as well as school and government officials all agree about the value and importance of play. In an ironic twist, the pre-primary program is heavily weighted to play-based learning.

 

This presents a great opportunity to introduce other forms of play into the equation. A favourite of mine that continues to gain steam around the world is ‘loose parts play’. It’s a great fit for pre-primary. I have led loose parts play events with kids ranging in age from three to twelve-years-old. It’s always been a great success. Many of the after school Excel programs throughout Halifax adopted loose parts play following a presentation on risk and play by the UK’s Tim Gill three years ago.

Resources on loose parts here and its impacts in an Australian public school setting here.

Loose Parts Play – Halifax Commons, 2017 – Read more here

This ‘look – don’t play’ SNAFU has been covered by local media including CBC, Global, CTV, The Star – Halifax and Halifax Today. It’s great seeing resources allocated to these kind of stories.

Across the country, developments led by designers, builders, parents, municipal governments, academics and recreation leaders are seeing a shift away from the old risk averse models of play to a context where risk and resilience are perceived as key elements in the renaissance of independent, outdoor play.

As the pre-primary program undergoes a major expansion in Nova Scotia this fall, let’s just make sure our smalls get plenty of play opportunities in the school environment. Loose parts play is doable from a budget, training and implementation perspective. What an opportunity…

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Some Canadiana Play on Canada Day

Happy Canada Day

Hope you enjoy this slice of Play Canadiana as we celebrate our birthday from coast to coast to coast. Excerpted and abridged from CanadaPlays.

National Treasures

First up, let’s share a couple of national treasures with you. From her home in Bridgetown, Nova Scotia on Canada’s east coast, Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam creates aerial textile play environments that are a riot of movement and pulsating colours.

Prior to dedicating her artistic vision to designing an unparalleled play experience for kids, Toshiko exhibited her textile art at prominent galleries and museums in Japan, the US and Europe. At one point, she questioned whether there was more to life than prepping for shows and hosting vernissages.

A few years ago, my then four-year-old daughter Nellie-Rose accompanied me on the first PlayGroundology road trip. We had lunch with Toshiko and her partner Charles in their home and learned how her wondrous woven webs of play are the creative fabric that warms her life.

Inside, Upside – Harmonic Motion, Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam installation at Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Roma, 2013. Credit – Roberto Boccaccino

As Toshiko transitioned away from the art exhibition world, she spent weekends over the course of three years walking around neighbourhoods in her native Japan. This research and exploration of the where, what and how of kids’ play convinced her that there was an opportunity to introduce some new concepts rooted in textile sculpture.

Toshiko’s play sculptures are found in prominent locations in Japan, including the Hakone Open-Air Museum, and a variety of Asian countries. The large scale sculptures have yet make any real headway in North America or Europe outside of exhibit spaces.

Toshiko works with Norihide Imagawa, one of Japan’s foremost structural designers and engineers to ensure maximum integrity and safety of each of her play sculptures. Photos of her play sculptures have created a couple of online surges of interest in her work from the design, architecture and play communities. Let’s hope that kids in more communities around the world will have the opportunity to revel in unbridled play in one of Toshiko’s lovingly crafted creations…

Outside, Flipside – Harmonic Motion, Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam installation at Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Roma, 2013. Credit – Roberto Boccaccino

Cornelia Hahn Oberlander has had children at heart all her life. She first designed public housing playgrounds in the US in the 1950s with architects Louis Kahn and Oskar Stonorov. This was shortly after being amongst the first women to graduate from Harvard as a landscape architect and prior to moving to her adopted home, in British Columbia, Canada.

In 1967, as part of Canada’s centennial celebrations, Cornelia was invited to design the playground at the Children’s Creative Centre as part of the Canadian pavilion at Expo 67. Mr. PlayGroundology was 10 at the time but sadly our family never made the trip from Toronto to Montreal for the party of parties marking our 100th birthday though I remember a lot of fun from that summer nonetheless. By all accounts the kids who were able to give the Expo 67 playscape a whirl liked it a lot.

This clip is excerpted from the National Film Board of Canada documentary, The Canadian Pavilion, Expo 67. Following Expo, Cornelia participated in the creation of national playground guidelines and designed more than 70 across the country. A few years back, she was kind enough to speak with me on the phone thanks to an introduction from the folks at space2place.

Expo 67 Creative Children’s Centre. Source: Canadian Centre for Architecture

Aside from sharing a wonderful bibliography with me, I remember how she emphasized simplicity remarking, and I’m paraphrasing here, that to have fun all kids really need is sand, water and something to climb… Thank you Cornelia for all your contributions not only to play in Canada but to the greening of our urban landscapes.

Players

There are an increasing number of organizations across the country who contribute to promoting, programming and researching about play. In no particular order here is a partial list that provides a sampling of some of the activity underway in Canada: Le lion et la souris (Montréal, QC); Active Kids Club (Toronto, ON); Integrate Play Solutions (BC); outsideplay.ca (British Columbia); Active for Life (QC); Centre for Local Research into Public Space (CELOS) and Dufferin Grove Park (Toronto, ON); Calgary Playground Review (Calgary, AB); Manitoba Nature Summit (Winnipeg, MB); The Lawson Foundation (Toronto, ON); Mariana Brussoni – UBC (Vancouver, BC); ParticipACTION (Toronto, ON); Playground Builders (Whistler, BC); CanadaPlays (Eastern Passage, NS)  And let’s not forget a shout to all those whose work supports play in their roles with municipal, provincial and federal governments and service organizations.

Playmakers – Designers and Builders

This a small selection of Canadian companies creating custom playscapes.

Earthscape

Carcross Commons – Tagish First Nation, Carcross, Yukon

Earthscape has developed a substantial catalogue of custom design and build playscapes that have been installed throughout the country. Each Earthscape project is unique. I’m thrilled that Halifax gave an Earthscape project the green light in 2016. The company is now exporting and has installed a super slide on New York City’s Governors Island.

Mouna Andraos and Melissa Mongiat – Daily tous les jours

A sensation in Montreal since the original 21 balançoires were introduced in the Quartier des spectacles in 2011. Every day each swing swung an average of 8,500 times. An adaptation of the original installation has been touring North American cities. A musical swings impact study is available here.

space2place

Completed in 2008, space2place’s Garden City Play Environment in Richmond, British Columbia was ahead of the curve in the context of Canadian fixed structure playgrounds. There is a great write up of this space published in The Vancouver Sun shortly after its opening.

Bienenstock

McCleary Playground downtown Toronto – 2008

Adam Bienenstock was at the front end of the natural playground surge and continues to bring his personal brand and vision to schools, communities and settings in the natural environment in Canada and beyond.

Cobequid Consulting

Nature aficionado, designer, trail developer and heavy equipment operator Garnet McLaughlin of Cobequid Consulting had a big role to play in the design and build of Nova Scotia’s Natural Resources Education Centre – Nature Play Space in Middle Musquodoboit. If you’re visiting Canada’s Ocean Playground, this is a must stop if you’re traveling with kids…

Children’s Rights

In Montreal’s Salamander Playground atop Mount Royal Park, Québecois artist Gérard Dansereau has created a series of original tiles embedded throughout the play area to commemorate and draw attention to the Conventions on the Rights of the Child as elaborated and promoted by UNICEF. I have added the English to my favourite tile from the series below. Other tiles available to view here.

From tiles designed by Québecois artist Gérard Dansereau

The Poutine of Play

Poutine has gone from a well-loved, known locally only Québec delicacy to an international phenomenon. Could it be that ballon-poire will travel a similar trajectory exporting a culturally branded Québecois game around the globe? I’ve seen the game played just once and even though I have no understanding of the rules, it attracted me immediately. It is easy to see that eye – hand coordination is certainly de rigueur. The girls in the clip below are spelling out a word but I didn’t stay long enough to capture it all. There are a number of variations to the game accompanied to different call and answers as the players whump the punch bag back and forth as quickly as they can. I’m looking forward to gaining a better understanding of how the game is played some day and hopefully giving it a whirl myself.

What is your favourite Canadiana play?

Do you have a favourite play place, a memory a photo, your own piece of Canadiana, a fvourited builder, designer, player, national treasure? Leave a comment here or drop us a line on PlayGroundology Facebook, or Twitter.

Original artwork by Kyle Jackson now hanging at Alderney Landing Library in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

What’s in a Name or The Spinny-Thing-of-Death

No, not trying to click bait you. The spinny-thing-of-death was in fact a thing back in the heyday of the Dennis the Menace Playground in Monterey, California. There were no mortal injuries but this ‘helicopter’ would certainly be deemed a hazard in many jurisdictions today.

It looks innocuous enough in still photos but watch the video clip below starting at the 30 second mark. You’ll get an idea of the derring-do adrenaline jolt kids could get on this ride’s bucking and spinning axis and why the kids named it the spinny-thing-of-death – so much more gravitas and excitement than the helicopter…

Readers, do you have any playground structure in your community that has been tagged with its own name? A new structure in PlayGroundology‘s hometown at the Dartmouth North Community Centre has sparked some talk in the local community about its name-worthiness.

Any ideas for a name for this play structure?

Having heard this from one of the project organizers, PlayGroundology took to Twitter yesterday in search of possible names.

Most participants are local but we did catch the eye of a landscape architect in Lisbon. No names yet as catchy as the ‘spinny-thing-of-death’. I have a theory that the funnest, stickiest, most popular names will come from kids who play on the piece and they will make all of us adults look like rank amateurs in the naming sweepstakes.

So this is what we’ve got so far:

Leviathan, The Basket (from Lisbon), Imagic Dragon, Freedom, The Snake Range, The Northern Green Slither, The Eliminator, The Dragon’s Tongue, Slidey McSwing Face, Slidy McClimb Face and The Green Monster.

Join the #namethegreenthing sweepstakes and send us your suggestion or join us on Twitter.

Playing it Forward by Honouring the Past in Accra

If she were alive today, Efua Sutherland would be chalking up her 94th birthday. For the good folks at the Mmofra Foundation it is a day, an anniversary, a life to celebrate. Sutherland was a truly remarkable woman. In 1950s Accra, Ghana she was a beacon of light extolling the benefits of play and helping to create public spaces where play could flourish.

With photographer Willis E. Bell, she published Playtime in Africa. This was the first real documentation of children’s play in the newly independent African nation.

Efua Sutherland’s pioneering work with play and children in Ghana lives today through the work of the Mmofra Foundation and its partners.

Sutherland’s advocacy for play was first shared with me six years ago by her daughter Amowi Phillips. In concert with the Mmofra Foundation Phillips is honouring and drawing on her mother’s good work in the spirit of sankofa – keeping what is of value from the past.

Mmofra continues to develop a natural play space in the heart of Accra. This week, Phillips sent PlayGroundology a selection of photos and an update asking us to share some of their successes.

“Mmofra Place has grown to encompass the following (not in any particular order):

– a site for experimenting with outdoor play prototypes.  We often use materials like salvaged wood, calabashes, repurposed inexpensive market goods.
– a green space open to children of all backgrounds and abilities – still one of very few in Accra.
– a site where children participate in designing, making, building, growing things
– a site for researching play”

“We’ve had hands-on climate education exhibitions, community builds using local materials, blood drives, reading events, cultural festivals, R&R for families with a disabled child and more.

Our experience is proving useful – recently, we’ve revived a derelict park in another part of the city of Accra, and we’re currently exploring how to make markets more child-friendly, especially for pre-school children of market vendors.”

Mmofra Place is still going strong and remains a beacon for kids’ play. All the best to those in Accra and throughout the diaspora who remember, honour and are inspired by a woman whose accomplishments continue to resonate today.

Sutherland was an untiring ambassador for play, an advocate emphasizing its importance in developing young minds and bodies. Her life of service established her as a cultural icon within Ghana and brought her work to the attention of a broader international audience.

PlayGroundology’s original story, Imagining a Better Future – Playtime in Africa can be found here. More recent reports are available in UrbanAfrica.net, in Architizer, and in a detailed report published in issuu

Thanks to the Mmofra Foundation and all the fine work they do building on Efua Sutherland’s traditions.

Hanoi’s Play Evolution

A reverence for learning and respect for teachers are deep-rooted Vietnamese traditions. Education is a defining force for many kids and their families. Achieving strong academic results from an early age in preparation for advancement within a rigorous educational system is a cultural touchstone. Play can be seen as an outlier, an activity that distracts kids, leading them astray from the main event – schooling.

Enter Think Playgrounds, a Hanoi-based social enterprise, that is shifting public perceptions around play and design. In neighbourhoods across Hanoi they are working at the community level using local materials, recycled bric à brac and volunteer labour to create a wider range of play opportunities for kids in public spaces.

Source – DIY Urbanism in Hanoi

Think Playgrounds is shining a light across the entire play spectrum accenting the symbiotic nature of play and learning. The cognitive, physical, imaginative and social dimensions of play are a virtuous cycle that enhances a resilient learning ethos.

The social enterprise’s co-founders, architect Chu Kim Đức and journalist Nguyễn Tiêu Quốc Đạt, started their playground odyssey in 2014. Since then five teams have put in almost 4,000 hours to build nearly 60 playgrounds. Their good work is being noticed. The Think Playgrounds citizen activism and community engagement are featured in a video produced by the grass roots Towards the Human City project.

i
The Vietnamese dynamos for community based play have also been singled out by the Bernard van Leer Foundation based in The Netherlands. They were one of 26 winners from 18 countries in the global Urban95 Challenge for their submission of a project to create an under-5s playground in Hanoi.

The playground opened in November 2017. As the Foundation reported, “initial scepticism from locals about the choice of materials for the playground – such as timber, rope and used tyres – seems now to have been fully overcome.”

And so grows the footprint – another neighbourhood, more recruits to the concept of public spaces for play. Prior to Think Playgrounds arrival on the scene, public playgrounds were few and far between in Hanoi.

We’re young, we’re born in Hanoi. We see some of the problems for the city. We had to do something. Đức’s daughter is in grade three and she is a great motivation for both of us. Getting involved in helping to make public spaces for play has changed me a lot.

                                 Nguyễn Tiêu Quốc Đạt

Now the focus is leaning to inclusive playgrounds for all abilities. Think Playgrounds will continue to work with communities, private benefactors, like-minded organizations such as Playground Ideas and the media to get the word out.

Đức and Đạt inspecting some work…

Their most recent project involves loose parts play with support from the Goethe Institute and the Institut Français (Hanoi). Over the course of several months there will be a variety of educational activities in addition to a loose parts play event. Among the goals for these initiatives: involving up to 1,000 parents in events; and, creating a community of architects and urban planners involved in designing playgrounds.

There is something good brewing in Vietnam. The Think Playgrounds bottom up, citizen focused engagement in Hanoi is a powerful change agent introducing new perspectives on play by working directly with residents in neighbourhoods across the city. There are valuable learnings for those of us in higher income countries who may have the benefit of greater resources but less grass roots citizen engagement.

One last note on these collaborators par excellence. I’m happy to learn that they have a Canadian connection too. A research project – DIY Urbanism in Hanoi – led out of the University of Montreal takes a close look at why we should all perhaps Think Playgrounds…..

Think Playgrounds workshop, Hanoi. Source – DIY Urbanism in Hanoi

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Goodness

The American administration’s zero tolerance on their southern border is a full frontal assault on human decency. We have seen the haunting, harrowing images – children being forcibly removed from their parents and incarcerated in deplorable conditions with total contempt for their physical and mental well-being. Along that border of inequity, the rights of Mexican and Central American children are on life support and compassion from the powers that be is MIA.

The United States is one of only two countries that have not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This current border policy abomination is contravening multiple Convention articles.

Article 3 (Best interests of the child): The best interests of children must be the primary concern in making decisions that may affect them. All adults should do what is best for children. When adults make decisions, they should think about how their decisions will affect children. This particularly applies to budget, policy and law makers.

Domestic and international condemnation have weakened President Trump’s resolve. American citizens and the rest of the world will have to remain vigilant to ensure there is no backsliding and to help reunite the children snatched from their families.

Last night by accident I happened across some archival photos of migrant labour camps in the US from the 1940s. I don’t profess to know much about these camps. They were managed by the Farm Security Administration and seem to have provided relief for displaced and destitute domestic laborers as well as temporary living arrangements for workers from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

Kids in these camps could play

Farm Security Administration migratory farm labor camp. Saturday morning baseball game, Robstown, Texas – January, 1942. Photo credit –  Arthur Rothstein. Library of Congress

While continuing to advocate on behalf of children and families who have taken the brunt of Trump’s irrational and mean spirited actions, let’s remember goodness. It is all around us.

Children playing on slide at Farm Security Administration labor camp, Caldwell, Idaho – June, 1941. Photo credit – Russell Lee. Library of Congress.

Let’s remember that human rights are the foundation of our democratic traditions. These inalienable rights enshrine dignity, liberty and equality for all. By and large, we take our democratic responsibilities seriously and don’t allow partisan considerations to cloud our judgement.

Let’s agree that kids should stay with their families and have a chance to play.

Children playing at Shafter migrant camp. Shafter, California – March 1940. Photo credit – Arthur Rothstein.