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 – urbanparent.ca, 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 ….