One Lit Papa

Hope all you dads out there and the kids that adore you enjoyed a Happy Father’s Day.

To borrow a high rotation word from my teenage son’s vocabulary, my papa is totally ‘lit’. He’s a great role model who continues to inspire me in his fatherly ways. By my estimation, in the more than 40 years since I’ve left the nest, his daddishness has never wavered – once a dad, always a dad.

Father’s Day 2020 – Bob and Alex

On a recent afternoon visit to his house, a small paper booklet on a side table catches my eye. It’s an old, worn treasure with creases and faded ink, a scorecard from a model yachting regatta held nearly 70 years ago. On that day, in his hometown of Port Glasgow, Scotland, my dad was declared one of the the event’s champions. Asked if his dad had been there, he replied to the effect that yes, Alex had probably been his second that day.

Alex, my grandfather and namesake was an avid model yachtsman. His biggest win was a Commonwealth crown. On the local scene, he was the last to win the Port Glasgow Model Yacht Club’s Tosh Memorial Shield in 1952 when his handcrafted Fairy took the day.

Alexander Smith, Port Glasgow, Scotland – born 1904.

My dad accompanied him to these events as often as possible. Now, when he speaks lovingly of those times, he’s momentarily transported to races where he and Alex worked their not inconsiderable magic outmaneouvring all comers to conjure up another win on the water. Indelible memories navigating one generation to the next, the next, and next…

Hey papa, thanks from my younger self for all your encouragement and gentle pushing as I tried new things. You learned to ice skate so you could teach me. Your strong, steady hand on the back seat of my two-wheeler gave me confidence to push off unaided. Moments later, after shouting that I didn’t know how to stop, you sprinted to grab me making sure I wouldn’t tip over and fall. You volunteered to be Akela so the Cubs could do their best. At each step that I needed you, you were there.

Thanks too for investing a young boy with trust and allowing him to wander at large with friends by foot, bike and public transit. The kids only excursions to the swimming pool, the movies, the rink, the ravine, the dance were simple adventures that helped define our independence. As I got a little older, the canvas got larger and you let me loose to explore Paris, London and Edinburgh – exciting times for a 60s Toronto boy.

Dad and I with family car – 1966 Beaumont Acadian, ca 1968

Thanks for helping me to find my way from childhood to adulthood while preserving a child’s curiosity and sense of discovery. And last but by no means least, thanks for all the good examples, the tough lessons, the love and understanding that helped prep me for one of the best jobs of all time – being a dad.

We’ve got a few good laughs ahead of us still – may the adventures continue.

 

Coming Soon to a Neighbourhood Near You

At times there’s been a backwoods silence in the neighbourhood – very few cars and little in the way of outdoor activity. With warming temperatures, kids sprout, scooters and bikes in hand ready to roll. In parties of one, they zip up and down the same strip of sidewalk inaudible except for the DIY motorcycle rumble of cards hitting spokes. The big hearts, small bodies crew savours the outdoors  they had been isolated from but are incomplete without buddies to race or pal around with. We wave and shout encouragements as they slip by our house in their solitary pursuits. A haunting quiet surrounds us accenting the absent tumult which for so long had been part of our daily ritual…

Decibel levels are starting to rise. There is the whirring hum of lawnmowers as they assault the first dandelion crop of the year. Unfurling leaves pop out of buds sending a rustling whisper through the trees. Songbirds land lightly on a hanging feeder in the front yard’s poplar sharing melodies before they flit. Cars and trucks reinsert themselves with increasing frequency, their carbon roar an exhausting déjà vu.

Though we’re not all on the same schedule, communities throughout the world will or have experienced a similar metamorphosis. We are on the cusp of a new, still evolving normal. Retail shopping and restaurants are reopening, more people are returning to work, and public parks, beaches and some outdoor recreation areas are open. Schools will remain closed until September. Playgrounds are still a no go zone. Social distancing sontinues to be de rigueur but apparently not everyone is in receipt of that memo.

The changes haven’t fully caught up to the kids yet. There is some sporadic outdoor play here and there, as well as the new experimental sanctum for heightened mutual appreciation of pandemic-bonded siblings but no grand gathering of neighbourhood friends to hang, have fun and create their own adventures. No green light for that yet. Missing is that unmistakable soundtrack of kids at play, the at times boisterous vacarme punctuated by squeals, shrieks and shouts.

On several occasions throughout our coronavirus confinement, Mélanie and I have remarked on how much we’re looking forward to hearing those sounds again. When the kids are out and about, doing their own things with friends, making a ruckus and a racket well then it will seem like things are starting to get back on track.

In the interim, take a listen to these kids from Japan as they play on one of Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam’s unbelieveable creations.

 

The soundscape may not be conducive to meditation but it certainly delivers a joy infusion. These sounds were captured in a video a few years ago. They are my favourite recorded sounds of kids at play resonating with wonder, excitement and adventure. Our neighbourhood doesn’t quite reverberate with this intensity but it can get quite loud when the kids are out making the world in their own image. Horiuchi MacAdam lives here in Nova Scotia and should be considered a National Play Treasure for her contributions to art, design and play.

May the noise be with us all soon…..

School Awakenings

It’s Monday morning and recent history tells us that somewhere in the world kids are returning to school for the first time in weeks, or months. As the day gets underway, parents, students and teachers are trying to chart their way through a maelstrom of colliding emotions – excitement, anticipation, uncertainty and anxiety.

Martin Rowson – The Guardian

This morning, England is testing the waters. There had been some thought that this milestone would be a UK-wide kind of effort but neither Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland were keen to sign on. Numerous local education authorities in England have also decided to disregard the June date and are keeping schools closed. Results of an opinion poll published May 24 in The Guardian show only 50% of parents supported a June 1 resumption of classes.

As of May 25, UNESCO estimates that a staggering 1.2 billion learners worldwide continue to be out of school due to closures that are part of the public health and policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Overarching lock down and shelter-in-place directives of varying severity have contributed to a massive, months long disruption of children’s daily lives on a scale rarely experienced.

The impacts of closures go well beyond the realms of education and teaching time. Immunization programs, hosted by schools in some jurisdictions, are currently being interrupted. In lower and middle income countries this may have devastating consequences. Higher income countries could also find themselves at risk and are preparing for continuity as per Canada’s plan.

Schools also play an important role in alleviating food insecurity. Breakfast and lunch programs promote healthy foods and nutritional meals. In lower and middle income countries these school food programs are critical to students’ well-being. Research indicates that universal programs can result in significant, long term health and economic benefits. In some communities, such as Calgary, programs have been maintained throughout the pandemic and kids continue to benefit from healthy meals. However, this is not the case for many children.

On an education note, online/distance/emergency/home learning is meeting with mixed results for both parents and kids. At the primary level when it’s working reasonably well, internet-based instruction is helping kids to keep sharp in key foundational areas like numeracy and literacy. However, not all children have access to the internet, or a computer. For them, keeping academically fresh is an uphill struggle.

But the school ethos is not exclusively about academics and curriculum, certainly not from the vantage point of the kids themselves. They miss the social setting, a gathering and growing place for peers, and perhaps most tellingly they long for the friendships that help define who they are and engender a sense of belonging. This absence of presence, the seemingly endless being apart, evokes loss and sorrow as represented by our youngest daughter’s stripped down, open-ended refrain.

I just want to know
when will I ever get to play tag with my friends again?

 

In Sweden, kids have been playing with their friends all the while as schools were never shuttered. There have been some exceptions to this with localized closures for individual schools that experienced outbreaks. A lack of COVID-19 data collection from these schools is being decried by some in the scientific community as a missed window to better understanding how the virus impacts children and what role they may have in transmission. Overall the Swedish government approach to the pandemic has eschewed lock downs and other restrictions counting on citizens to do the right thing.

In mid-April, Danish kids are the first to break out of lock down as school bells signal the resumption of classes. Hygiene and distancing considerations are paramount as are creative solutions to space shortages (video).

Two key documents published by WHO and UNICEF – Considerations for school-related public health measures in the context of COVID-19 and Key Messages and Actions for COVID-19 Prevention and Control in Schools – are assisting administrators, teachers, parents, caregivers and students with the transition back to school.

Full or partial openings in other countries and jurisdictions followed the Danish lead. It’s not the same old, same old as these photos from around the world capture a noticeably different look and feel. Kids in Australia, Austria, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Quebec, Taiwan, Vietnam and other venues are well on the way to developing routines that embrace a new normal. The most significant setback occurred last week in South Korea where more than 250 schools were closed.

As more children return to classrooms, governments need to broadly share best practices developed within their own jurisdictions. First and foremost, there must be an underlying commitment to follow the science. Also critical are key tools to build and maintain trust such as public engagement and outreach to parents. At a minimum, detailed plans – like this one from a British Columbia school district – documenting the return process should be made available to parents in advance of openings.

Consensus is coalescing around three priority areas that have the ability to give returning students a boost. PLAY, OUTDOOR LEARNING and RECESS are relatable for kids as they shift from home isolation to a rediscovery of peers in a school-based community. In the lead up to UK school openings, discussion around these themes has been very much in evidence.

Dr. Helen Dodd is a Professor of Child Psychology at the University of Reading. She is a charter member with other mental health experts of a newly formed ad hoc group, Play First UK which seeks to give greater voice to the needs and aspirations of children during the pandemic. We had an opportunity to speak last month.

Play First UK recommends that kids should be allowed to play with their peers as soon as possible as lock downs are loosened. These peer relationships are voluntary, equal and require negotiation and compromise. Research and observation show that play with peers allows children to learn to regulate their emotions, develop social skills and form a sense of identity. When this is not possible over extended periods kids can get lonely and feel socially isolated.

We’re anticipating a huge increase for child psychology services
when we come out of this lock down period.

To offer kids a softer landing during school return transitions, Play First UK is advocating for more play. They have sent a series of recommendations to governments in Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast and to the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children.

  • The easing of lock down restrictions should be done in a way that provides all children with the time and opportunity to play with peers, in and outside of school, and even while social distancing measures remain in place.
  • Schools should be appropriately resourced and given clear guidance on how to support children’s emotional wellbeing during the transition period as schools reopen. Play should be a priority during this time, rather than academic progress.
  • Public health communications must recognise that many parents and teachers are anxious about their child’s academic progress and the risk posed to children in easing lockdown restrictions. The social and emotional benefits of play and interaction with peers must be clearly communicated, alongside guidance on the objective risks to children.

Click through for full recommendations and letter.

From Dr. Dodd’s perspective, we could all do with an empathy top up and remember that we’re in uncharted territory.

“The kids will have to settle emotionally before we can really engage in teaching them. We’re not saying to play all the time but to go easy on them – a bit more time with their peers, a bit more outdoor play and some more outdoor learning, a bit more physically active for a while and why not? All of this is good for kids anyway and will be positive experiences for most children.”

Outdoor learning is generating some good conversation in the UK and is being put into practice in Scandinavia and other European countries. The UK, Scotland in particular, is developing some expertise in this area.

Juliet Roberston is a former Head Teacher in three different schools located in northern Scotland. She left the education system about a decade ago to dig more deeply into outdoor learning and play and is in demand by a number of local authorities and schools. You can find her @CreativeStar on Twitter. She is the author of Messy Maths – A Playful Outdoor Approach to Early Years. We spoke in May.

Think of the outdoors as additional rooms and
just like an indoor class develop routines around the space.

 

Robertson is among a group of practitioners who believe outdoor learning could play an important element in helping to maintain physical distancing. She also notes that just by being outside the probability of transmission is reduced. There are also mental health benefits associated with being outdoors that are present at any time but may prove helpful in a school re-entry transition.

Even though outdoor learning in Scotland has been a part of the curriculum since 2004, Robertson realizes there will still need to be reassurances for teaching staff.  Fortunately, there is good infrastructure in place. Numerous resources and organizations focus on preparing teachers and leaders for outdoor learning. Keep your eyes open as good workshops are available like one I attended online a couple of weeks ago – Learning to Return Outdoors – Use of school grounds for curricular learning as schools tackle Covid-19 provided by Learning Through Landscapes.

Then there is recess, the only block of time in the school day to have garnered its own cartoon show. Definitely a favourite in our house no matter what time of year we poll the three kids. Now the Global Recess Alliance, “a newly formed group of scholars, health professionals, and education leaders, argues that attention to recess during school reopening is essential.”

The Alliance’s Statement on Recess has great practical advice that touches on rethinking school recess policies, safe recess practices and supporting a safe and healthy recess.

I particularly liked this safe recess practice –

“Recognize the importance of physically active play and consider a risk-benefit approach; strict rules like ‘no running’ and ‘no ball throwing can undermine the benefits of play and physical activity.”

As schools reopen, we can see it as an opportunity to request more time for play, more time in the outdoors and a don’t mess with recess policy. From the top of this hill, the grass sure is looking greener on the other side

End note – our kids don’t return to school until September. They were disappointed when they got the news. We were not. That’s because we work from home and we’re not adverse to a little more close-knit time together. We are very grateful for this and recognize that not everyone has the same flexibility. With the additional time, we are hoping that our kids’ schools will be able to better prepare for openings and benefit from best practices pioneered in other jurisdictions.

A heartfelt thanks to our kids’ teachers. They pulled the pieces together to enable the online learning experience to work for the students. They were there for the kids, connected with them and encouraged them to do their best.

A couple of weeks ago we ‘bubbled’ with our next door neighbours. They have one young lad. It was a wonderful boost to bring the two households together and see the incredible play impact it had and continues to have on what is now a merry band of four. We are hopefully anticipating the continued easing of restrictions.

There is a lot of great work underway as we live though these extreme times. These are just a few representative samples:

Covid-19 and children: what does the science tell us, and what does this mean as the lock down is eased? – Tim Gill – Rethinking Childhood

Reopening schools – how do we decide what’s best? – Simon Weedy – Child in the City

Academics highlight children’s need for street play during lockdown – Policy for Play

Learning to Return Outdoors – learning outdoors as schools return – Learning Through Landscapes

Curated Video Treasure Trove for Kids (CVTTFK)

Browsing my emails this morning, I read one touting this year’s Webby nominees which includes The Kid Should See This (TKSST). TKSST is a web-based curated video collection for kids. Yesterday I was oblivious to its existence. Today, what a wonderful surprise when I clicked through and discovered this new-to-me resource.

My enjoyment was quickly shared by our 10- and 12-year-old girls. They pulled up seats beside me and in quick succession we were immersed in fun, informative stories. The engaging videos included the installation of Jeff Koon’s sculpture Play-Doh at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, racing Russian hamsters, climbing to the summit of a giant sequoia in California and building a log cabin from scratch in the Canadian wilderness.

A second computer screen was quickly fired up for additional viewing pleasure and the TKSST site bookmarked by both girls. This is high praise considering that they were in the midst of building new Minecraft worlds.

The collection currently includes more than 4500 titles and is curated by Rion Nakaya with a bit of help from her 9 and 10-year-old kids. Each week they add 10 to 15 more videos. Turns out that I may be one of the few who never heard of TKSST given that it’s been talked up by boing boing, edutopia, Mashable, Lifehacker and others. No surprise then that the website is up for The Webby People’s Voice Awards. Online voting is open now until Thursday, May 7, at 11:59 PM (PT).

Just from a quick sampling, it’s a shoo-in that there’s something here for everyone in our household. What’s more, the interface is easy to navigate, there are a number of thematic collections and the search function returns titles quickly. Oh yes, and with respect to the curating, each video has a brief write up that frequently provides additional resources.

Don’t take our word for it, check out The Kid Should See This for yourself – a great curated resource with an abundance of compelling content that will pique a wide variety of tastes and interests. In these coronavirus times with so many of us shut in, I’m thinking traffic to the site may be spiking as there is so much on offer either for kids on their own or in tandem with a parent, or caregiver.

Bejla is one of several videos that came up in a search for ‘play’. I may have seen it previously but I’m not 100% sure. It’s an interesting point of view. The short is part of the ‘Young Explorers’ series. It “asks us to imagine what happens when we lower our guard, and trust that things will be alright.”

The themes of mobility, independence and risk explored in bejla are recurring motifs in the work being pursued to promote children’s right to play in communities around the world.

PlayGroundology friends, if you could choose three short videos, or edited snippets of longer videos, that tell a story about children’s play what would they be? Perhaps we could have some of them included in this The Kid Should See This curated collection…..

One of my three videos would be this long time favourite – a clip from the first installment of the British documentary series Seven Up! broadcast in 1974.

When our two oldest first saw this excerpt at the ages of 4 and 6, they wanted to know when we could go and play at this playground and why there weren’t adventure playgrounds where we live. Could it make the cut for TKSST?

Scattered Sidewalk Beacons

In these unsettling days, acts of kindness and playfulness are doing their part to disperse the coronavirus pall. Around the world, gestures small and large are bringing smiles to faces, providing relief and helping with resolve.

Stories of kindness are being shared daily by news outlets as well as by family, social and professional networks. This story is from the community where we live, Eastern Passage, Nova Scotia.

Along the community’s Shore Road, facing the eastern approaches at the head of Halifax’s harbour, a series of sidewalk beacons are shining their lights. Small coloured stones and larger painted rocks are scattered on the coarse gravel between sidewalk and culvert along a half kilometre stretch.

The rock art and mini message boards are invisible to those whizzing by in cars but walkers, runners and cyclists pause to look, ponder, smile. Our daughters read every word, admired the artwork and selected their favourites. The short, simple messages resonated deeply. Hats off to the creators of this neighbourhood gallery for brightening up the day of all those who pass by.

Here is a selection of Shore Road’s Scattered Sidewalk Beacons.

Thank you doctors and all the health care workers

Thank you all of the health professionals

Thank you to the artists and the wordsmiths. Our family was uplifted by this small strip of coastal wonder.

 

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.

 

 

 

Skating in the Imaginarium

Editor’s note – As our kids move into their teens, I’ve been waxing a bit nostalgic. This post was originally published almost 10 years ago to the day in The Finest Gift, a blog celebrating parental leave. We had a lot of merriment with organically sprung inventive moments that the kids fashioned themselves. Each day was infused with creating their own worlds of play and transforming the sometimes mundane spaces around them into extraordinary kidscapes.

Two things strike me still. The simplicity and staying power of their creations – the lego skates (see below) were à la mode for nearly a year – and how this pre-school play was a foundation for so many things to come and continues to reverberate to this day.

Noah’s pining for a skate. Since stepping off the ice at Parc Monseigneur-Nadeau’s outdoor rink, he’s been waiting to lace up again. Our regular morning outings at Cole Harbour Place aren’t happening for us this week.

His desire is palpable, bubbling, ready to burst. Noah usually pipes up once a day, “Papa, when are we going skating?” I don’t think we can wait until our next regular Cole Harbour date. I need to check other rink schedules for public skates.

In the absence of getting to the rink, Noah turns the family room and the upstairs hallway into his own private ice surfaces. This is a pretty standard move. They become the arenas for his beloved hockey games with myself, or Nellie-Rose as his doomed-to-lose opponents. The atmosphere here is quite heady with daily dosages of Olympic hockey and Noah’s own brand of early morning, mid-afternoon and evening indoor pick up games.

What is quite remarkable however is Noah’s invention of skates for floor surfaces. He fashions blades with Lego blocks (well actually Lego’s younger sibling, Duplo) and glides around the basement floor as if it was the most natural thing to do. By now I’m used to seeing Noah and Nellie on their multi-coloured blades but I continue to marvel at the inventiveness that has such transformative powers for these building blocks. I no longer exclaim about the ingenuity of it all each time I see the skates getting ‘laced up’ but I still smile deeply at the imagination making it all possible.

Nellie-Rose is smitten with the new skating technology. She has no ‘real’ skates of her own and hasn’t been on the ice this year. These ‘skates’ put her and Noah on a level playing field. Her recent interest in hockey, gauged by her willingness to play with big brother, has gone through the roof.

The first series of the Lego skates was made with single blocks. Version 2.0 is made with double blocks making for a more comfortably fitting skate. There has also been some experimentation with the blades’ length. The longer blades are hinting at speed skates. Nellie is quite steady on her feet. She moves in an actual skating motion to get her and her Lego from place to place.

Noah takes his ‘skates’ to bed at night maybe in an effort to dream them into real blades. Our lad’s imaginarium is certainly hard at play. It’s great to see him fashioning the world around him and having fun in the process.

This morning he thumped me 10 – 4 in the Eastern Passage gold medal Olympic Classic. That’s right, he was Team Canada.

I’ve got to track down the manufacturer and get myself a pair of those specialty skates for our downstairs scrimmages. Maybe they’ll help me win a game or two.

 

An immodest proposal for Jeff Bezos’s Earth Fund

Along with many others, I’ve been a fan of Tim Gill’s work for years. His ‘immodest’ proposal to enlist the planet’s most overly cash-endowed mazillionnaire to contribute some of his wealth to support fundamental urban design changes for the benefit of children has got legs.

Jeff, creating a thirst for cities to become more child friendly is a step along the path toward the real prize – embracing the possibility that all aspects of our lives can be more child friendly as the broader society is informed, influenced and improved by the best that children have to offer. Many of us believe that the ROI of this kind of approach is incalculable, off the charts. Jeff, or Mr. Bezos if you prefer, don’t miss the opportunity to make a real difference ….

Rethinking Childhood

In case you missed it, the richest person on earth earlier this week announced the world’s biggest fighting fund for the climate crisis. He has not said much about how that $10 billion will be spent. So in a rare display of immodesty, I am going to offer a proposal.

Jeff Bezos Instagram post announcing Earth Fund

View original post 860 more words

Wintry Outdoors

Ed’s note – Our youngest daughter Lila and I just spent two days camping with our Cub pack. The snow and -20° C nights are super chill for us these days. Winter ain’t what it used to be though. The snow doesn’t seem as abundant and fluctuations of temperatures day over day and week over week appear to be more pronounced.

This is a lightly edited post from The Finest Gift, a kids and family blog that predates my writing about play and play spaces. It was a way of holding on to memories and giving thanks for nine months that Mélanie and I were able to be at home together with the kids – all made possible by the Canadian government’s generous parental leave policies.

PlayGroundology is an organic exploration that grew out of those days drenched in curiosity, adventure, discovery and the love of kids.

The days are clear and bright as crystal. Each step crunches as we break through the old snow’s crusty covering. The powder underneath is a fine spray of fresh wisped away almost weightlessly, each flake a granule of geometric perfection. There is a lightness in the air, a cleansing crispness that shines and sculpts faces buffing cheeks and furrowing creases.

An unrehearsed symphony weaves its way in diminishing waves across open spaces. The refreshing crack of pucks and children’s voices are counterpoints to the traffic releasing us from its drone. Slapshotting sticks, squeals of laughter, skates spraying to a stop float across the white expanse. This soundscape rings true like impromptu celebrations, breathless victory dances and joyful embraces of fun.

Winding up at the outdoor rink

We are getting a high quotient of snow and ice time. I’m enjoying plenty of kid flashbacks to winter days in North York – extreme tobogganing, outdoor hockey, snowball fights, frozen feet and perpetually wet mittens, the standard stuff.

There have been windows of winter wonder in the adult years just nothing sustained. Alexa and I had a few Citadel Hill sledding adventures in Halifax and a blast of Winterlude in Ottawa when we lived there. Halifax is not a blustery winter place. We can’t really lay claim to a deep of winter tradition unlike the culture in Québec as immortalilzed in the Gilles Vigneault classic, Mon Pays.

Our best winters are in Sorel, Quebec (birthplace of PlayGroundology:-). The town has a strong recreation program that maintains several outdoor rinks with boards, lighting and cabanes for changing and warming up. Over the years, we’ve checked out several including Parc Nadeau, Parc de la Rivière and Parc Bibeau. So many outdoor rinks, so little time.

The skating and hockey are big draws for Noah on each winter visit. This is where he first rattled the puck off the boards and then skated close to examine the black mark of vuclanized rubber smudged on the wood.

There is quality sliding nearby les grand-parents too. The hill is just a short walk from rue Hébert. In the early years my father-in-law and I pull the kids up and give them a little push down. In those days, we had the legs for about 20 trips. The general rule of thumb is that the kids’ energy and enthusiasm eclipses ours. As a toddler, Nellie Nellie would tumble off the back of the sled on the way to the top. Noah’s infectious laughter would be our only clue that something was up. Turning around from our beast of burden imitations, Nellie would be sprawled on the hill giggling, happily rolling around.

Exhilaration

At the bottom of the run, where the squeals of delight start to trail away, the flats are a sheet of ice. Some of the smooth spots prove tricky for Nellie to keep her footing. She does well though only landing on her bum a couple of times. She improvises a little skating routine pushing her feet out and to the sides in an alternating sequence. She nails the movement and has a nice skating flow on the go minus the blades.

On that visit ten years ago, we were treated to a St. Valentine’s Day sleigh ride the day before we left. La tante Danièle harnessed up the gentle giants King and Prince to pull us along the back trails. It was a greatly anticipated family adventure in a class all its own. For over 2 hours we wisked over the snow in a toasty -8 °C and the trees cut the wind to a whisper.

On that day at La Halte there was a big gathering. Four sleighs, six horses, five or six dogs and about 25 people mill about the cabane. There’s a wood stove inside burning hot, bubbling chocolate for fondue with strawberries and pineapples. Hot dogs, toasted buns and all the fixings are the main course. Coffee with liqueur, champagne and beer are the beverages on offer.

There is lots of laughter and camaraderie. Danièle and Richard know everyone under this blue sky clearing. They are a passionate lot. They love their animals, the outdoors and the bonhomie of the woods and sweeping fields. Everyone is welcome to share a few moments of cheer, to befriend the cold, to imagine the days when sleighs ruled the countryside.

A lesiurely break at La Halte

An older fellow comes to speak with Danièle. He has a horse he’s been trying to sell for two years, a ringer for King, he says. He wants to know if Danièle is interested. Danièle extends her arm, “My team is here. King and Prince pull this sleigh. I’m not looking for any other horses.” It’s a no pressure pitch. The old guy says, “You never know, he’s getting old…” Danièle is not biting. She’s polite and says she’ll keep in touch.

Out of reach of the horses, Noah, Nellie and Maxime are eyes to the sky, immersed in the snow waving their arms and legs in unison making angels. The white stuff’s powdery texture means no forts, projectiles, sculptures, snowmen, or other mischief. Now that the yummy Krispy Kreme donuts have all been scarfed the younger adventurers are starting to get restless for this show to get back on the trail. There is one notable exception, Lila-Jeanne. She’s as quiet as falling snow, not a rustle, not a sound. At three-months-old, this is her first Quebec winter, her first winter anywhere.

Noah’s favourite spot is a securely fastened saucer that drags, sometimes flies, behind the sleigh. It glides in a bumpity-bump fashion over everything including generous quantities of road apples in various degrees of freshness. Doris and Sam, the country dogs, do whizz, buzz, zips skirting the saucer on each side at full run. Noah hears them charging and looks out of the corner of his eyes for the flash of balled muscles in full stride. They’re our outriders making sure everything is right.

Old time snowy trails

Noah is riding the saucer like a pro. He gets a little additional speed and requests even more juice. Then it happens. The saucer is off the trail. He tips and at the same time King falls to his knees. Prince continues to canter dragging King and the sleigh. I run back for Noah. His tears are quickly dried with a kiss and a hug. He has snow up his nostrils and in his mouth. Despite the scare he hops back into the saucer and continues until we hit the road.

The woods are lively
Light and clear
But biting cold this time of year
I’ll keep you warm, I’ll hold you dear
I’ll not let go, I’ll keep you near.

 

Apologies to Robert Frost for the doggerel.

 

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?