Teeter my Totter says Cecily G to Curious George

We love checking out a good used clothing emporium. Love might be a bit strong for my connection to these events but it’s not far off base for Mélanie. Nova Scotia boasts a network of second hand clothing outlets under the banner Frenchys. There are incredible savings to be had on quality clothes for the kids. Used books and toys are also in the mix.

A few days ago we uncovered a gem at one of the locations – H. A. Rey’s Cecily G. and the 9 monkeys. As a lover of Curious George, I just couldn’t resist. I wasn’t familiar with the story but saw right away that it predated George as a solo act. This first book by Rey was also George’s debut into the world of kidlit. We all enjoyed the story once we got home. Being the playground bums we are, we thought the drawing below was a blast, an anatomical and anthropomorphic wonder illustrating imaginative play.

From Cicely G. and the 9 monkeys.  Copyright, 1942 by H. A. Rey

If you haven’t read the book, it’s good fun. Check your local library.

Sir Ken of TEDalot on Play and Learning

Earlier this spring, Sir Ken (Robinson) shared his views on education with an appreciative audience in Halifax, Nova Scotia – home of PlayGroundology. I was one of the 1,000 in attendance who enjoyed an accomplished and entertaining critic of conventional wisdom about education and creativity. No props, no notes, plenty of humourous asides and always an à propos anecdote.

Source: RSA Animate – Changing Education Paradigms

Now that I’ve seen and heard him in the flesh, I feel I can get away with just Sir Ken. I’m sure there are tens of millions who have seen his TEDTalks via YouTube who feel this at a remove intimacy the same way I do. The afternoon in question, I managed to get myself in the front row no more than 5 metres from Sir Ken. It was a piece of dumb luck happenstance that occurred because I arrived late and those who had the reserved front row arrived even later or not at all.

At the conclusion of the 90 minute story that held the crowd rapt, there was time for a couple of questions. I piped up and got first at bats for myself and the readers of PlayGroundology with this one I had been eager to ask:

How important is the role of play in learning?

For the next five minutes or so, Sir Ken spoke to a question that he had likely heard and certainly considered previously. What follows is the minimally edited response. Thanks Sir Ken, may millions more be inspired by your experience and informed by your passion.

Source: TEDTalks via YouTube.

It’s fundamental. I talk a lot as you know about creativity. I didn’t want to get into all that again today particularly because of the nature of this conference. There are three key terms when we come to think about play. The first is imagination, the second is creativity and the third is innovation.

Imagination, I believe, is what fundamentally sets us apart from the rest of life on earth – very little does truthfully. I think we overplay the differences between ourselves and everything else. Our life is short and organic like everything else. We come into groovy buildings like this and persuade ourselves we’re different but we’re not. But we are in this respect. Human beings have powerful imaginations. By imagination I mean the ability to bring into mind things that aren’t present to our senses.

So with imagination you can revisit the past, you can enter into other peoples’ consciousness empathetically – you can imagine what it would be like to be them – and you can anticipate the future. It’s what it is for everything that counts as distinctively human. It’s not a single power, it’s a mix of all different powers that come together and we call it such. But the thing is you can be imaginative all day long and never do anything.

To be creative you have to do something. Creativity is very practical. I think of it as applied imagination, putting your imagination to work.

There are lots of misconceptions about that and we can talk about that. My point is that the power to imagine and the impulse to create, to make things is the birthright of humanity. It’s why we are as we are. It’s why we don’t just live in buildings we’ve made, we inhabit conceptual structures that we’ve evolved.

We’ve evolved differently, we see the world from different perspectives and points of view because our experience of the world isn’t just direct it’s mediated through the ideas and values we frame and share with other people as a culture. To me it’s the most fundamental part of our way of being in the world.

Play for young people is actually essential. It’s a way in which they literally flex their muscles.

It amazes me how quickly and how often we forget that we are embodied, that we see the world the way do because we live in these bodies. If we were all 18′ tall with eyes at the sides of our head it would look very different to us. Dogs hear different frequencies and birds smell things we don’t smell. We see the world as it is because we’re built the way we are. We are embodied, we’re not just brains on a stick.

Our children go to school in their bodies. Play is one of the ways they flex them, explore them, understand them, connect to other people. We also live in virtual worlds that are the result of our imaginations. They need the ability to exercise that too. You see you can’t get to all the things we value – creativity in business, in work, in social systems, in the arts and the sciences if your imagination has atrophied.

It’s the same, the exact analogy for me with athletics. The Olympics are happening this year. If you want to take part in the Olympics then you better practice. There’s no point in saying I want to take part in the 100 metres and I won’t do anything in the meantime – I’ll just show up. I have high hopes. Well good luck with that. If you’re going to be an athlete, you have to exercise your body. If you want to be creative you have to exercise your mind, your consciousness, your spirit. It’s fundamental to me.

Play, there’s different ways of defining it but broadly speaking play is an end in itself. It’s not directed to a larger purpose.

I don’t want a system of playing schools where you get 15 minutes to do it then we test for a score. You just play because it’s interesting, enjoyable and pleasurable. You do it for that reason and no other reason. And it’s no coincidence that we go on to talk about playing sports, playing instruments because at the heart of it there’s this possibility of creative fulfillment that lies at the centre. I see it is a fundamental. It strikes me as a disaster that we’re excluding it from kindergartens, from elementary school and from high schools and colleges too.

For some reason we’ve forgotten our own humanity and we’ve come to assume that play is some kind of disposable, part time leisure activity that we can do without so we can be more serious.

I quote in the book a guy called Richard Feynman who won the Nobel Prize, a physicist. He’s a brilliant man and also a great jazz bongo player. He got the Nobel Prize for work he did in particle physics.

Photo credit – Tom Harvey.

He started he said when he was sitting in Cornell University in the dining hall and a student fell over with a plateful of food. The thing just went up in the air. And Richard Feynman his eye was attracted by the plate, it was spinning and wobbling. The Cornell logo was on it and he said he watched it going round. He said he got fascinated by it.

Interesting of course, he didn’t rush to help the student. He thought, no, this is an interesting piece of physics right here now. He started to think about the laws of motion that were affecting the wobble in the plate. He jotted down some equations on his napkin and then went on about his business.

A few days later he found this napkin and it reminded him and he started playing with it. He said it reminded him that it connected to things he was working on in particle physics. He said that over the next few weeks all these equations started to rush out of him like champagne out of a bottle. He said, ‘but all I was doing was playing with it for the fun of it’. But he said it led to the equation that went on to be the basis of him winning the Nobel Prize.

Very often our greatest achievements come from our most playful activities.

There is more here – Sir Ken’s page, TED search results, Animation – Changing Education Paradigms.

Make Play not War – The Bonobo Connection

I love the Great Apes. For me, it’s more than just the shared genetic make up. It’s that ‘we are family’ feeling, a recognition of sameness. Over the years, the only place I’ve seen them is in zoos – London, San Diego, Toronto, Edinburgh, Saarbrücken – or on film. I’d like to have a greater understanding of their lives, their cultures because I’m sure there is plenty that we could be learning from them. Primatologists think so too.

Isabel Behncke’s Ted Talk is full of passion, humour and hope. The richness of the bonobo world that she is able to pack into this seven minute presentation is striking. When Behncke says, “play is the glue that holds us together,” I really sit up and take notice. More about Behncke here.

It’s a cruel fate that bonobo society, defined in large measure by play and playfulness, is struggling to survive in one of the world’s most war ravaged countries, the Democratic Republic of Congo. The map below shows the bonobo’s current range. More on the bonobos here.

This Ted Talk should have a much broader audience. Please pass it on to those who care about play, about endangered species, about family.

Imagining a Better Future – Playtime in Africa

Two acres of green space in the Dzorwulu neighbourhood of Accra, Ghana are being primed for transformation. It’s all about the kids, or Mmofra as they are called in Ghana’s Akan language.

This story, about a small plot of land, spans decades, continents and generations. It’s the story of a woman’s vision, of her love for children. The seeds were sown 50 years ago when the late Efua Sutherland wrote her groundbreaking book on Ghana’s play culture, Playtime in Africa. The narrative and accompanying photographs by Willis E. Bell were the first real documentation of children’s play in the newly independent African nation.

Sutherland was part of a post colonial cultural renaissance, a storyteller, an educator, a playwright and a community builder. Bell, an ex-patriated American, was in the process of establishing himself as a leading documentary photographer in the country. His work is considered to be an important part of Ghana’s visual arts culture.

From Playtime in Africa – Courtesy Mmofra Foundation. Click photo for larger image.

Sutherland was also 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: there is an Efua Sutherlandstraat in Amsterdam. On her retirement in the 1990’s she set the groundwork establishing Mmofra Foundation to continue her advocacy for children.

From Playtime in Africa – Courtesy Mmofra Foundation. Click photo for larger image.

Now fast forward – time and space shift. Amowi Phillips is an adjunct professor at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. She is seven time zones and half a lifetime removed from this same plot of land where she played as a child. She is one of Efua Sutherland’s three children, a volunteer board member of the Mmofra Foundation, president of a newly formed partner organization, Friends of Mmofra, in Washington State, USA and one of the kids captured forever young in Playtime in Africa.

From Playtime in Africa – Courtesy Mmofra Foundation. Click photo for larger image.

Fifty years ago Playtime in Africa introduced this very rich, nuanced play culture of Ghana to the world. That really bears some sharing. It’s a reminder of the sankofa principle – keeping what is of value from the past.

Amowi Phillips – Member, Board of Directors Mmofra Foundation

From Playtime in Africa – Courtesy Mmofra Foundation. Click photo for larger image.

Phillips, her two siblings Esi and Ralph, and the Foundation, are helping to lead the charge to create a public natural play space for children on this two acre plot that fuelled so many happy memories from their own childhood. They are uniquely qualified to do so. Ralph will be the principal architect, and Esi, an international consultant on education and a professor of African Studies, is the executive director of Mmofra Foundation.

They hope the project will serve as a prototype to encourage child-centered spaces in Ghana’s cities. In the 1980s, the forward-thinking Efua Sutherland conceptualized park-library complexes throughout the country. Pilots were built at the village and city levels, but were allowed over time to fall into disrepair and ruin.

If we are able to galvanize public advocacy for a thoughtfully designed child-friendly green core in central Accra, it will be a fresh start.

Amowi Phillips

From Playtime in Africa – Courtesy Mmofra Foundation. Click photo for larger image.

At the end of May, the Foundation is organizing a design charrette on site in Accra’s Dzorwulu neighbourhood. This is the next big step in re-imagining the use of the land, in creating a space for play. Community stakeholders, designers, architects, indigenous knowledge specialists and elders, landscape architects, planners and politicians are being invited to participate. Architecture for Humanity has encouraged the project.

“Our concept is very much about inscribing the culture of Ghana into the landscape, enhanced by elements adapted from other parts of the world. We’ll have to see what happens on the ground,” says Phillips. The three siblings will participate in the charrette injecting their passion for play and for children into a place that was once their own land of daily adventure.

From Playtime in Africa – Courtesy Mmofra Foundation. Click photo for larger image.

Another important consideration for the Foundation is to design a space in such a way that people can take elements of it and reproduce them in their own neighbourhoods. “We want to be intentional about creating room where children can develop their imagination and creativity,” continues Phillips.

Through their work, the Foundation is finding out about similar projects in other parts of Africa such as South Sudan and Sénégal. For Phillips, it’s time for Africa to be part of the global conversation about spaces for imaginative play and discovery and she sees herself as a connector, having brought together an international coalition of people who are passionate about play around this project.

An online search for a children’s parks or museums yields very little between Cairo and Cape Town. Without environments where children can imagine a better future, dependency can really become entrenched.

Amowi Phillips

Source: Mmofra Foundation. Click image to enlarge

Playtime in Africa from the land of Anansi stories, adinkra patterns and kente cloth. As with so many things in life – nsa baako nkura adesoa – one hand cannot lift a heavy load. To participate in the development of this playspace, contact Mmofra Foundation.

There’s a New Kid Greening the School Block

I love the ability of twitter to share ideas far and wide. This morning I clicked through a sweet green tweet from @sdanks on a nascent organization building its membership base throughout the world – the International School Grounds Alliance.

The group has just released a video showcasing ‘green’ school grounds. It provides commentary from educators, environmentalists and designers on the learning and play benefits associated with introducing elements of the natural world into what are frequently concrete jungles.

In a news release issued earlier this week, ISGA co-founder Sharon Danks of Bay Tree Design in California provides some context for the movement’s work.

“Children around the world, growing up in very different environments and cultural settings, all need engaging childhood learning and play experiences for healthy development and enjoyment. The ISGA is not only a resource, but is also a call to action for teachers, parents, and students to go outside, improve their school grounds and explore the world first-hand.”

With growing awareness of the value of natural play and the well documented strengths of experiential learning, the ISGA is an alliance that is sure to flourish. The ISGA’s 2nd international conference will be hosted by Evergreen in Toronto, Canada in the fall of 2013.

As an end note to this post, I encourage you to pop on over and read Lily Horseman’s just published Green makes school, a write up of a study tour exploring green schools in Germany. There a plenty of wonderful photos as well as links to video. You won’t be disappointed.

We Play, Therefore We Are

Today we’re welcoming Sarah Kean-Price from the UK, more precisely from Bath, England. Sarah emailed me a couple of months ago to see if she could publish a guest post on philosophy and play. As I am singularly unqualified to speculate on this topic, I jumped at the chance to have her share her thoughts with PlayGroundology’s readers.

When Sarah isn’t having great fun mishmashing culture and philosophy, she writes clear, centred and personable content over at www.marmaladecopy.co.uk. Tweet @marmaladecopy to say hi.

Being as you are reading a playground-centric blog, you probably already agree that playgrounds are a good and useful thing. A manner of thing that leads only to good ends and useful experiences. But why? How can this be argued? And what exactly do good and useful mean, anyway? Do these sound like pointless questions?

They’re not. I want to make sure we’re singing from the same hymn sheet as this guest post about playgrounds is one of philosophy and the first thing you do in philosophy is define your terms.

So, let’s get things straight – I will be using the words good and useful to mean ‘a thing, entity or process that is overwhelmingly beneficial to the concerned party’. Falling off a spinning roundabout is a horrible, horrible process but, my goodness, along the way you will learn something about physics, bodily response, probability, safety, risk-taking and playing nicely with others – this is why we can call it good.

The child amidst his baubles is learning the action of light, motion, gravity, muscular force…

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

‘Personal development’ refers to the process of accumulating experience and becoming an individual with a distinct personality. These are good because, when we know ourselves better , we can all then work better together to achieve our collective goals of knowledge, spirituality, family, community and progress.

Finally, I imagine we all agree what playgrounds are and have to make certain assumptions about what we agree to be good for society because this is only short and this isn’t the arena for the nitty-gritty of ethics.

Still with me? Welcome to doing philosophy. It’s great. I swear it is, really.

What do philosophers think about play?

When you think of Philosophy, names like Plato and Descartes and concepts like ‘is it all real?’ spring to mind. However, some philosophers have looked into how play can be considered a Good Thing and part of humanity’s flourishing development. We’ll look at how playground use is practically useful (i.e. how it makes for good society) and existentially useful (i.e. how it helps us understand, deal with and live within the human condition.). So, what are the arguments?

Broadly, philosophers think that play is good and useful because:

− It defines the kind of person we are and engenders values.
− Playtime demands order and adherence which are useful behaviours.
− It frees us from ‘the tyranny of purposes’ because play exists only for itself.
− It creates a usable understanding of irony and absurdity.

Why is play practically useful to us?

At base, personalities are defined by preferences – “I am the kind of person who likes biscuits.”, “I am the kind of person that does not like hard pillows.”.

You get to develop your personality when you have opportunities to try out different practices and ways of displaying preferences. Playing in a playground is great for this.

Maybe you like the blunt and repetitive feel of climbing up and sliding down.

Maybe you like the open-ended and soothing motion of a swing.

Maybe you’re a thrill-seeker and you find that, no matter how hard you push and run, roundabouts never quite go fast enough.

Or maybe you’d rather hide under the climbing frame alone and invent a totally different kind of place; a cave or castle or home or den.

Our playgroundees are learning things about themselves which, in turn, enables the concept of choice-making: “I like to feel the pull of gravity and therefore, I want to go on the swing”.

Almost all creativity involves purposeful play.

– A. Maslow

Next, it affects the way that we display preference and make choices. Doing so enters our users into social contracts. Playing together starts to form an idea of what is good and bad social interaction. Consequences lead from certain behaviours and we invoke certain social qualities – either through care-givers or from seeing others respond to our behaviour.

Experience in this area will lead to a considered, developed personality which, in turn, is a good thing for society.

Next, the more hyper-philosophical.

How playgrounds are good for coping with life

Philosophically, the human condition is a tricky one. Namely – what is the point of it all? Many of us are religious or really strong advocates of certain social systems (like socialism or conservatism). If you adhere to these systems and feel that you’ve got it all figured out, this next part may not ring as true for you.

For the rest of us though, some of the existential thoughts surrounding playgrounds and playing are useful. To recap; existential philosophy is concerned with our reasons for and the understanding of how and why we live.

The most important sentiment here is that playground time creates a world within a world. Play allows you to seek meaning that is wholly grounded in the present, rather than the future. It concentrates on the deed rather than the goal.

Culture arises and unfolds in and as we play.

– J. Huizinga

The problem with working towards goals – whether they be a work promotion, raising a child or examination – is that they are inherently destructive. To achieve a goal, you must complete it and it becomes no more. Then you find another one. And achieve that. And so on. (Please note that I am not stating that having and attaining goals is morally or ethically bad.).

When you start a play goal, you impose an order and adherence to a make-believe situation that exists purely for itself. It has a natural end-point that doesn’t necessitate the setting of another.

This is particularly relevant because it can be argued that there isn’t much of a meaningful point to life. We all have goals but what’s really the point of it all in the end, really, when you get down to it? Unless you feel there is some form of salvation at the end of it, life’s meaning can be difficult to find.

As such, purposes are relatively futile and consume your present. Instead of seeking meaning via the fulfilment of future conditions that will endlessly repeat, you find it concretely in the present through your play.

The real philosophical value of play

And here is what our theorists argue is the real value of play, philosophically speaking. In moments of play, you step outside the drive of goal-fulfillment and reside within the calm of play’s simplicity, orderliness and it’s for-itself-ness. You escape the ‘tyranny of purposes’ where everything has a reason for being done, endlessly focusing on the future instead of appreciating the present.

Moreover, play is excellent preparation for life as it helps you become familiar with irony and absurdity. You become aware of the idea of assumed roles, doing things that are nominally pointless and the idea that you might say and do one thing whilst the reality of the situation is very different.

Play allows us to develop alternatives to violence and despair; it helps us learn perseverance and gain optimism.

– Stuart Brown M.D.

Irony and absurdity are more important than ever these days. We live in a knowledge-saturated environment that constantly generates new ways of doing things whilst being full of skepticism and disrespect for many of our traditional values and qualities.

Despite this, we still set life goals and still place value in certain ways of living. Understanding that we can and will want to take part in things without the reasoning of an over-arching system – like playing house, pretending to tunnel in the sand or running around for a game of Tag – is a lesson that can be universally applied and appreciated as you grow.

We play, therefore we are. Nos ludere, ergo sunt. Watcha think of that Descartes?

Ciad Mile Failte – 100,000 Welcomes from Canada’s Ocean Playground

Late last week PlayGroundology clicked through to 100,000 page views. I want to say thanks and share this milestone with readers as it is your visits that made it happen.

Mayor Todd Franklin’s Neato Coolville

I’ve created a flickr slideshow that displays a number of blogs that have kindly introduced PlayGroundology to their readership. The slideshow starts with a page from the Mayor of Neato Coolville’s blog, an early supporter of PlayGroundology. Mayor Todd Franklin’s encouragement helped get me off to a good start.

Word of mouth, twitter, flickr, FB, Pinterest, other play and parenting bloggers and some mainstream media have also helped develop a growing audience. Thanks also to subscribers, commenters, guest contributors, pinners and those who have listed PlayGroundology as a favourite or a blog they follow.

From Canada’s Ocean Playground where the Gaelic is still a living spoken language, Ciad Mile Failte. The translation is 100,000 Welcomes and let me add 100,000 ‘Thank Yous’.

Thank you each and everyone. I’m hoping a few more 100,000 page views lie ahead.

Swiss Miss gives PlayGroundology a shout out.

Click here to see more PlayGroundology friends.

For those of you not familiar with the slogan Canada’s Ocean Playground, it is none other than Nova Scotia which just happens to be Playgroundology‘s home.

Playground Bunnies in America’s Heartland

Bunnies are big in Ohio playgrounds. Thanks to photog chronicler extraordinaire scottamus, PlayGroundology can get hopping with a few photos this Easter Sunday morning.

Photo credit: scottamus. Click image to enlarge.

This must be the Easter snow bunny that howled through our Nova Scotia community last night because there are now drifts outside our house covering yesterday’s green, green grass. Luckily there are no eggs buried under the white stuff.

Photo credit – scottamus. Click image to enlarge.

Photo credit: scottamus. Click image to enlarge.

Weather worn and in full stride.

Photo credit: scottamus. Click image to enlarge.

This little rider reminds of that wascally, wacky rabbit, Bugs.

Photo credit: scottamus. Click image to enlarge.

Ghost rider Easter bunny looking a little long in the rabbit tooth.

More scottamus playground bunny finds here and a fine collection of old playground photos here.

Thanks scottamus for enabling these rider rabbits to take on the Easter Bunny persona today. May the chocolate eggs be with you.

Introducing PlayGroundology TV

Here we go introducing PlayGroundology TV. Yes I know ‘play’ and ‘TV’ are somewhat oxymoronic, perhaps even antithetical on the active – passive continuum. PlayGroundology TV will feature fine video footage, either directly about play, or playish by nature, on an occasional basis without much in the way of words as a preamble. Most of the work will come from YouTube and Vimeo. If you see something that catches your fancy, drop a line and a link to PlayGroundology.

Without further ado, here are the first two episodes.


Many thanks to Chris not only for the video but for the entire March2Work campaign, a fun-drenched shot in the arm for play on the Isle of Man.

Chris played on his way to work for a whole month while in New Jersey they’re playing to promo a play, well a musical. Thanks to my friend Sheila who posted this on her NJ Playgrounds blog as the video features Grove Park Playground in South Orange.

Rated P for Parenthood

Rated P for Parenthood is playing Off Broadway until April 8.

Most episodes of PlayGroundology TV can be seen chez PlayGroundology on YouTube.

This is PlayGroundology TV signing off until our next episode.

I’ve Got A Brand New Pair of Rollerskates

Bravo to Chris Gregory who completed his March2Work campaign earlier today. As we don’t have a satellite feed, we can’t share this morning’s last hurrah with you but we can look back on Thursday and it’s well worth a peek.

Chris’ funful campaign sustained throughout March was all about bringing focus to outdoor play and safe routes for kids. Check his Play Isle of Man blog and treat yourself to a few smiles through this creative public awareness performance that practices what it preaches – play, play and more play.

Chris, I’m going to miss your daily adventures.