For Each Kid a Story

The Halifax South Common is popping, erupting in play. A ‘loose parts’ emporium is scattered in pods across a grassy canvas on what has been public land since at least the 18th century.  On this July day, kids arrive in … Continue reading

Touching, Testing, Trying

A Kid’s Purpose

In our contemporary society, there is much energy, thought and in some cases money being invested to explore ways that will make outdoor play more accessible and attractive to kids.  Numerous studies document a general penury of active, outdoor play … Continue reading

DIY Loose Parts

The Greatest Show

There is a whisper of warm in the air this fine Montreal day. It’s not hot though by any stretch. A grimy, grey urban snow is stubbornly hanging on over much of the grass and scrub land.

Next to a rail line, in the shadow of the Van Horne overpass, two kids play in a narrow strip of what was once underutilized, neglected space. It’s now part of a regreening that embraces this Mile End neighbourhood – marshalling land and engaging community participation to help preserve and expand nature’s footprint.

The kids, members of the Le Lion et La Souris family, are immersed in a pas de deux. It’s a timeless dance where mud and melt water are the sacraments. The two lads are so engrossed in this organic world of their own making that my arrival barely registers a passing notice.

As the boys stir up foul looking concoctions and pour potions into vessels and through the slats of a pallet, they open a window and let me in. The kids and I check each other out by goofing around with some spontaneous sound and word games.

Over the next 45 minutes, I marvel at their ingenuity and the consonance between do-it-yourself resourcefulness and budding resilience. It seems they are impervious to the wet and cold. They elevate scrabbling in puddles to a vocation, no, even more than that, to an art form.

By giving children the space and time to play as they want — with each other, alone, in nature, with loose parts or found materials — Le Lion et La Souris is saying to children: you matter, what you like matters, how you play matters.

Stephanie Watt – City Councillor for Rosemont La Petite-Patrie

In this minimalist setting the lads are attuned to each other’s company. They need little to inspire their colourful tapestry of play. With the exception of the occasional glance our way, they are self-sufficient in the moment, oblivious to the nattering adults.

Eventually the boys break away from the pallets and puddles opting for more vigorous shenanigans. Sticks are found and brandished about. There’s not a poked out eye to be seen, anywhere.

Running ensues in speeding bursts to hide, to get away. The tagged shipping container offers a great rope swinging escape route from marauding zombies. Then it’s an almost seamless transition into some mild rough and tumble, the older boy taking care not to overwhelm his younger friend.

This is my first visit to Le Lion et La Souris and I am amazed at this tour de force, this panorama of play. Now I’ve known about the community-based non profit for a few years. Last summer we both hosted our mutual friends – Pop-Up Adventure Play on their cross-Canada tour – presenting workshops and loose parts play extravaganzas in Montreal and Halifax.

Children who get to be at the heart of their play learn to know themselves, to negotiate, to create, to evaluate and take risks, to play different roles, to work through emotions and challenges. For me, L&M makes our city more resilient and inclusive.

Stephanie Watt – City Councillor for Rosemont La Petite-Patrie

It’s good to connect and learn how the small team at Le Lion et La Souris is evolving and making an impact. As I speak with playworker Gabby Doiron, she tells me how she had been invited to another Montreal neighbourhood, Pointe-Saint-Charles,  the previous evening. A group of mothers interested in establishing an adventure playground were looking for some information and inspiration. Forty years earlier a short-lived adventure playground had been a going concern in the community and these moms are hoping to bring a new one to life.

Those Pointe-Saint-Charles parents and others across the country are eager to see kids getting their play on, experiencing a wider range of play opportunities in public spaces. This is a conversation that is gaining steam at the grass roots level as well as within the mainstream media – witness recent articles in Maclean’s, Le Devoir and The Canadian Press.

Gabby is fully engaged in helping others others explore independent, child-led play. She’s moved from the academic realm, researching a Master’s degree focused on Cornelia Hahn Oberlander’s Expo 67 playground to playworking at the aptly named Champs des possibilités in Mile End on Montreal’s Plateau. She loves the kids and the community-based model but stitching a budget together is always challenging.

The kids started breaking the ice. It was like a tiny pond. We started calling it The Lake because it got quite big and it was very deep…

Gabby Doiron – Playworker, Le Lion et La Souris


Here on this small strip of land, the possibilities for play run very deep. To explore, to be dirty, to fall, to hide, to swing, to run, to risk a tumble, to have some fun these are boundless wonders. Surely this is the greatest show and Le Lion et La Souris are exporting it to other parts of the city, to schools, parks, community groups, even to the Canadian Centre of Architecture.

Le Lion et La Souris continues to reach out and make connections. This summer they will host a course with the Forest School of Canada. Other communities can perhaps benefit from their go local, embrace global model.

This grass roots playwork is supplemented by a growing body of research in Canada on a variety of topics: risk and play – Mariana Brussoni; outdoor play – Beverlie Dietze and Diane Kashin; loose parts play – Caileigh Flannigan; and. unhealthy food – Sara FL Kirk. Supported by their institutions, governments and charitable organizations such as The Lawson Foundation this research is helping to define policy goals and influence a renewed understanding of play opportunities for kids in public spaces.

Walking away from the Champs des possibilités I am rejuvenated. I’ve caught a buzz being up close to all that unfettered, unrehearsed play. I’m energized as I head north to Le Diola on Jean-Talon for a fine Senegalese meal with one of my oldest friends. Play on…

Now, last word to the kids.

Originally published on PlayGroundology

Traveling with Saint Christopher or There’s a Slide on my Street

When playfulness is injected into a cityscape a touch of magic can ensue, a breath of disbelief, an abandonment of convention. There’s a newish such micro-wonder in the heart of Montreal. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

From la rue Sherbrooke, not far from Parc Lafontaine, two flights of stairs take pedestrians to la rue Saint-Christophe. It seems like a standard stairway until the white slide pops out side by side the second run of rust-stained, iron steps. It’s a small space and a relatively gentle angle of descent.

I set up a camera on a tripod on the level ground at the bottom thinking of doing some streeters. Well I do five or six but they are of the one line variety and most people, though bemused, don’t reply to me.

I ask one woman in her late 20s, early 30s, if she ever slides down. Des fois dans l’hiver – sometimes in winter – she replies looking back at me. A man in his 70s peers a little askance at the scene – the camera bag, satchel, the tripod, me running up the stairs to slide badly with nothing even approximating swiftness, acceleration, speed. Do you know, he says, il n’y a pas d’enfants ici… He walks off and in truth I have not seen one kid since I arrived.

A smartly dressed couple about my age step jauntily down the last flight of steps. They’re smiling at my interest in the space and encourage me to:

Profitez-en… Enjoy.

I don’t want to get too old to have fun, I say.

Doesn’t seem to be any fear of that happening, they say sauntering along their way.

It’s a very urban space with the smallest little green patch that has no green yet this early in the spring.

The slide is a behemoth, no fear of pranksters running off with it as it appears to be made of concrete.

A sign advises that I’m within the age range to use the equipment but apparently I’ve been breaking the law all afternoon as the city slide is not to be in use until after April 15. Who knew – guilty as charged.

What out of the ordinary play spots are in your community?

Aside from my half-dozen, half assed attempts there is only one other brave, or foolhardy person to take the challenge while I’m on site – a younger lad who went down semi-crouched and was a bit speedier about it than me. Oh and for the record, I did not witness anyone running up…

Now as much as I love this imaginative planning idea – a little shortcut between street levels to brighten pedestrian days, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a neighbourhood somewhere in the city, a quartier populaire teeming with kids who would fly down this gift and make it a focal point of fun….

Perhaps this is only a prototype. Imagine if it was exported to other cities and installed in the likes of Paris’ hilly Montmartre. In Halifax, we could have some fun with this concept at The Citadel or Grand Parade. It could be a great companion piece to The Wave.

Under a Wide and Starry Sky We Say Goodbye

Reblog from PlayGroundology

Condolences to the DeKoven family. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

Give thanks that Bernie DeKoven was part of our lives. His kindness, generosity and pioneering work focusing on play as one of the core elements of our humanity, touched so many through the years. With his passionate embrace of discovery and inclusiveness, Bernie helped to create a more playful world.


His lifetime commitment to A Playful Path has enriched us with a wealth of treasures and resources not to mention the miles and miles of laughter inspired by his playful perspectives. The Shaman of Play was fully, wholly, unremittingly engaged in <a href DEEPfun. Thank you Bernie.

A Play Day at the Park in Indianapolis is planned for early this summer. In lieu of flowers, Bernie’s family is welcoming donations to the Indianapolis Parks Foundation to help support this event and add more fun to Ellenberger Park. Please note Bernie’s Project in your donation.

And now a few words from Bernie.

CanadaPlays, eh?

Welcome to all International Play Association (IPA) delegates and participants kicking off the organization’s triennial conference  in Calgary this week. It’s a brilliant idea to host the play world here in Canada during the country’s 150th anniversary. Kudos to all those who helped design an excellent program with outstanding speakers and presenters representing play traditions, practices and research from around the globe. In this post, CanadaPlays, with the help of sister blog PlayGroundology, is putting a little Canadiana in the window to help you get your bearings and have a playful time while here.

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

National Treasures

First up, let’s share a couple of national treasures with you. 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.

Source: Expo 67 Creative Children’s Centre – 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.


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

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.

Outside, Flipside – 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…



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); (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); 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.

Click through on photo or here


Playmakers – Designers and Builders

This a small selection of Canadian companies creating custom playscapes.


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.



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.



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.


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.


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.



Cultural Institutions


It wouldn’t be Canada without the country’s never-ending love affair with hockey. Enjoy this animated short, The Sweater, by Roch Carrier my former boss at the Canada Council for the Arts. It’s a heart warming story that revolves around one of the sport’s great rivalries between les Canadiens and the Leafs.


The National Film Board of Canada (NFB)

If you have any down time during the conference, the NFB is a great online viewing theatre with hundreds of free titles to choose from including this surprising short!


Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)

For news and current affairs tune into our public broadcaster CBC. There is a great vareity of programming including a short series broadcast earlier this summer, The lost art of play.



Best Signage Ever About Risk and Play is in Calgary!

This photo was sent to me by my cousin, an avid cyclist from the Toronto area, just over a year ago. I mistakenly thought that it was snapped on one of his rides out in the countryside but I was quickly advised of my error by readers. This sign, the most popular post on PlayGroundology Facebook with nearly 5K shares and a 645K reach, is located at Calgary’s TELUS Spark Brainasium.



Beware the Risk of Acronyms

Many Canadians can be forgiven if they develop a sudden thirst on seeing the organization’s acronym IPA because what may be foremost in their minds is quaffing a cold one and enjoying a beloved India Pale Ale. Treat yourself to a viewing of I Am Canadian, a very popular rant/ad from 2000 starring Jeff Douglas now the co-host of one of CBC Radio’s flagship programs, As It Happens.



The Sounds of Joy

A group of school children enjoy one of Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam’s installations in Japan. The excitement and joy are contagious. You may have to reset your quality to 480p when you play this clip on YouTube.



Best Wishes for a Great Conference



Daredevils and Koala Bears

It’s been almost a year since the Earthscape designed playspace at The Dingle in Halifax welcomed its first onslaught of kids. We were very impatient to get over there and give it a try ourselves. Noah and Lila had a great afternoon scrabbling about along with the rest of the opening day hordes. This space was a real departure for the municipality. Kudos to the planners and rec department!

Click through here or on image for more photos.

Do you have a favourite playspace in your community? Could the community benefit from a greater variety of playspaces in public places? What might that look like? If you’re in Halifax with the kids, take a moment and visit this jewel tucked away on the city’s Northwest Arm.

Playcation Holidays

We’re out and about having fun and adventures.


CanadaPlays has some great Canadiana content that will be getting posted toward the end of August. Until then, we’ll be enjoying some backyard play at home and wherever the winds blow us…

We hope you’re finding the time for a hop, skip and splash.


May the Play be with You…

In Kids We Trust

On a green expanse in the middle of the city, the kids are alright. Actually, they’re surpassing alright. They are firmly ensconced in an ‘infinity and beyond’ zone – an adventurous destination and journey enthusiastically introduced to the world by Pixar’s Buzz Lightyear. Brimming over with an elemental energy these kids are fully immersed in the moment, re-imagining the open space and making it over in their own image.

There are no plans, no preconceived goals or objectives here, no directions to follow. The kids are quick to understand that they have permission to play with the materials onsite – boxes, tarps, milk crates, tires, pvc pipes, wood planks, rope, empty cable spools – known collectively as ‘loose parts’.

Over a span of two hours, there is a steady ebb and flow. More than 200 kids come out to play on the Halifax South Common. Forts, cubbies and palaces are designed and built on the fly. Teeter-totters, launching pads for rockets and swings are engineered.

Most of these children are experiencing the free flow of loose parts for the first time. They are in a groove. The air is electric with possibility. They are dreamers, makers, doers.

This is about my 10th loose parts-apalooza. My first was just over three years ago on a grey, rain-misted afternoon in Glasgow. I had read about the practice but as is often the case, the written rendition (including this one too I’m sure!) fell short of the real thing. I still remember Holly from that day in Glasgow. About five-years-old, this wee girl was full of beans and having the greatest fun jumping off a hay bale mountain onto gymnastic mats waiting below while calling out, “look at me, look at me”.

Some of the recurring themes I see on the short arc of my loose parts apprentissage are also documented in academic studies. For instance, kids do a good job at self-assessing risk. Whether it’s jumping off hay bales or spinning on a spool, kids are not wont to take unnecessary chances. For them, one of the greatest risks associated with injury is that it frequently brings play to a grinding halt. There’s no real upside to that scenario.

What is also noticeable is a greater incidence of children of different ages playing with each other, and more inclusive play amongst girls and boys. The inclusivity also sets the stage for higher levels of cooperative play. Kids converge where fun is percolating and for the most part want to participate and contribute to the best of their abilities.

Now, this is no shangri-la of play. There are disagreements between kids, just as there are kids who don’t listen to their parents or caregivers. And yes, there is the occasional tear. But this type play with materials that are destined for the most part to recycling, or repurposing enable a whole new dynamic that is led and developed by the kids themselves. These organic activities, undirected and unscripted, are intrinsically joyful and inherently adventurous.

There is something else that comes to mind after these several years of playing with my kids and watching them at play, of writing and reading about the subject, of helping organize events like the Halifax South Common pop-up – play is an iconic lifetime activity. As adults, we could all benefit from being a little more plugged into play. It’s one of the greatest shows on earth unfolding in new ways every time you take it out of ‘the box’. It is unpredictable and a little chaotic with an accent of manageable risk.

Everyone who hears and sees children at these events understands how invaluable they can be. These kids are éveillés, awakened to myriad possibilities, to the world around them and to the simple rhythms of fun. There’s a lot we could learn from their unselfconscious nowness.

This event was taking place right next to a static playground, one of the larger ones in the city. To say the least, interest in that playground space was muted. One of the few kids who went over did so in costume adding a bit of spice to that playscape. It was up and down the slide then back to the pop-up which had the stronger gravitational force.

Many thanks to Andy Hinchcliffe, Suzanna Law and Morgan Leichter-Saxby aka Pop-Up Adventure Play for encouraging us on this adventurous afternoon. Like a breath it’s gone. Some of the parents took the loose parts concept home with them. Some of the kids took boxes, rope, planks of wood and even tires.

Interest continues to grow. If you’re in the Halifax area and want to get involved, drop us a line through the contact tab.

Finally thanks to all those who made the public talk at Halifax Central Library, the workshop at The Pavilion and the Halifax South Common pop-up possible. It takes a village…

​Boxes – MEC, Canadian Tire (Dartmouth Crossing and Cole Harbour), Leon’s, Giant Bicycle and Sportchek

Bric à brac – OC Automotive, Kent Building Supplies, Halifax Plays, T.K Adventure Play and Bike Again – what a great bunch of volunters there – if you like biking, check out their Facebook page

Family bloggers and purveyors of fun –, itsy bitsy haligonians and Family Fun Halifax and assemblage who have helped spread the word.

Global Halifax and the Community Herald who did stories and all the other media outlets who have given us a hand by printing or broadcasting public service announcements about the events.

Thanks also to the team of volunteers who worked on this event – Bridget, Caileigh, Maura, Niki, Shitangshu, Tanya.

I have to thank my wife and kids too for putting up with my early mornings and late nights over a couple of months. They have been very kind.

Last, but by no means least, thanks to the Province of Nova Scotia’s Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage who have provided financial assistance to help defray costs, as well as equipment and networking to spread news about the events. Halifax Recreation has been invaluable in providing advice, donating some space and encouraging volunteers. Halifax Public Libraries donated Paul O’Regan Hall as a venue for our public talk and promoted the event. Enterprise Rent-A-Car has provided a cargo van at no cost so our loose parts schlepping could proceed with greater dispatch.

On a final note, if I were ever looking for some young, new designers with a bit of pizzazz, I’d be leaning toward the crew who whipped together this temporary abode.

Thank you to all the kids who came and played, smiled, laughed, jumped, ran. On that day with all of you, the Halifax South Common was the most marvelous place in the world to be ….