PLAY at the POW WOW!

We are very happy to announce that we have been invited to run our POP UP Adventure Playground at the Native Child and Family Services POW WOW in Dufferin Grove Park on Saturday September 27th.  The Grand Entry will be at noon and POP UP play will begin at 1 p.m.



Did you notice?  All dancers welcome!

PLAYbynature POPS UP at Fairmount Park Farmer’s Market!

What a wonderful day we had at Fairmount Park on August 20th!


The cardboard city really had space to spread out.  Two groups of children built their own swing sets using the soccer goal posts for structure! Sandy soil, shovels, kitchen tools + buckets of water made for some gorgeous mud play!


IMG_4857 IMG_1947

For the time being, tools have been reduced to serrated knives and duct tape. Wood and sticks are available for strapping and supporting cardboard structures.  The kids are finding that duct-tape and rope can do everything! They even built themselves a go-cart using cardboard tubing, tires and cardboard.


This summer has seen our first series of POP UPs and we have learned a lot about delivering this kind of play provision.  While a 6 hour play session seems long for us (aka my feet and back!), it really isn’t very long for the children, who may only have a couple of hours on-site. (Note to parents:  Come early and bring something to read.)

For the time being, we have taken the “tinkering with real tools and wood” out of the POP UP program. While some children had prior experience with woodworking, most did not and yet, they were very eager. Our carpentry volunteers and some parents had to get very involved in teaching and helping them.  This is not what we want to achieve with our POP UP offerings. We want the children to solve the engineering problems on their own.  We want them to discover their own agency.

Tinkering with wood and real tools is deep play and will be back in our program as part of a permanent adventure playground where building projects can unfold over days and even, weeks.  Over the next two years, we will be working to achieve a permanent adventure playground in Toronto, so the donated equipment will not go to waste.

In the meantime, Fairmount’s cardboard, mud and fabric adventures made a great day for the kids and was almost dull for many of our volunteers – which is just how play supervision should feel when children are given the chance to manage on their own.


These girls decided to liven things up for the dad who found himself sitting for many more hours than he had planned.

A big thank you goes out to the organizers of Fairmount Park Farmer’s Market for partnering with us on this day and to Councillor Mary Margaret McMahon for putting us in touch.  We are looking forward to following up with the community to discuss priority improvements to enhance the play potential of the park.

Fairmnt Mkt Thank YouOh!  and last but not least!  Notice the Ontario Trillium Foundation logo! GreenHere’s PLAYbynature’s Project has been awarded a grant of funding for our POP UP + FOLLOW UP program.  In my next blog, I will tell you the details about this grant and what we hope to achieve with it.


Can we show support here in Toronto for our Welsh friends?

Ever since I started PLAYbynature, this website, this blog, I have been singing the praises of the U.K. model, the work of the last 25+ years of organizations such as PLAY England, PLAY Wales and PLAYLINK, to name a few, that have developed play provision into a reflective profession that protects children’s freedom and right to play.

PLAY Wales has been a leader in this movement from the very beginning, in the U.K. and globally.  Their executive director, Mike Greenaway sits on the Board of the International Play Association, IPA World, and was a key influencer of the U.N. comment on the right to play that came out in 2013. This official Comment from a global agency re-iterates that play is a human right for children, a natural right and that our policies and plans for bigger and better subway systems, world class conference centres and intensified neighbourhoods need to include consideration of children at play.

Protecting the right to play and providing for the children also means protecting families, family relationships, school communities and the broader community, rich and poor, immigrant and 3rd generation Canadian, because when the children are developing well – it radiates into every community.  But if the children are restless, unhappy, battling obesity, frustrated, lonely, depressed – we develop a whole new set of problems which impact families, schools and the larger community.  And it gets very expensive to tackle the problems.

PLAY Wales has done many extra-ordinary things.  Among them, they succeeded in getting a law passed, the Play Sufficiency Duty, that enshrined play provision as a legal duty and they were rolling out materials to help local councils figure out how to assess their play provision and comply with that law.

Wales is not a rich country. I don’t really know why the Welsh government has decided to cut the funding, but I imagine it has something to do with fiscal restraint. Can we support this important play organization by showing the Welsh government that PLAY Wales is an internationally recognized exporter of intellectual property and therefore of significant benefit to the economy of Wales.

If you feel you can add your signature to the petition, click here.

If you would like to learn more, see the open letter below, written by another esteemed collegue, Bernard Spiegal of PLAYLINK:

An open letter in respect of the Welsh Government’s decision  not to fund PLAY WALES

Our first reaction on hearing of the Welsh Government’s decision to no longer fund Play Wales was, simply, disbelief and shock.   At first blush, and subsequently after cool consideration, the decision can only be comprehended either as an act of unwitting self-destruction, or as a bewildering lurch into irrationality.

In terms of the first possibility, an act of self destruction, the Welsh Government, until now, has been widely and justifiably admired for enshrining in legislation children’s right (and need) to play and to take this beyond warm words by requiring local authorities ‘to assess and secure sufficient play opportunities’ – the Play Sufficiency Duty (PSD), a duty, ironically in the circumstances, that came into effect on 1 July.

In Wales, within the UK and also internationally, it is widely acknowledged that the fact that there is a Play Sufficiency Duty owes much – beyond measure – to Play Wales.  It is here, in not funding Play Wales, that the Welsh Government has inflicted upon itself an act of self-destruction, wilfully  separating itself from an organisation with an unparalleled  reputation, that is a rich source of knowledge and understanding about play, knowledge and understanding that is anchored in a proven record of making a difference on the ground  – of translating theory into practice as my organisation, PLAYLINK, knows at first hand.

But this is not PLAYLINK’s testimony alone.This from ‘An Analysis of Wales’ Play Sufficiency Assessment Duty’  by the University of Gloucestershire, May 2013:

“This partnership approach was used to full effect in the development and support for the implementation of the Play Sufficiency Assessment (PSA). In interviews, all three nationalpartners involved – Welsh Government, Play Wales and the Welsh Local Government

Association – spoke in very positive terms of the success of their partnership. The WLGA representative felt that the partnership was unique… he had never before experienced such a level of partnership working right from the start… He felt this was down to two key factors:

“‘the reputation of Play Wales: … they are a body with a very strong skillset and obviously at the forefront of play advocacy in terms of the United Nations and international bodies. Plus I think the staff in Welsh Government recognise that there are people out there with expertise that can help them deliver what they want to deliver. It’s a mutual appreciation of other skills and how we can get the best results.'”

The second possible explanation for the decision – irrationality – follows from the first.  Given that Play Wales has an unassailable record of achievement, is an organisation of the highest integrity, it simply beggars belief that a key ‘partner’ – a Welsh Government fully cognisant of the organisation’s achievements, which it has experienced for itself – could, if fully conscious, have made  its grant decision in any sense ‘rationally’.  It can only be that some unbidden flaw embedded itself in all or some aspects of the grant assessment process:  the very approach; its structure and process; the criteria against which decisions were made, or the assessment that followed from them.   Whichever may be the case, any process that yields a flawed decision should not be allowed to stand.  It is in the hands of Government to correct the wrong.

In closing this plea, it is right to return to the positive, to laud the Welsh Government’s achievement in passing the Children and Families (Wales) Measure 2010, Section 11, the play sufficiency duty.  What is potentially most encouraging, is the Welsh Government’s recognition that  play is not only an activity that takes place in discrete spaces and at prescribed times; it is not something that can simply be ‘provided’ by adults – this understanding takes us beyond the limited and traditional way of thinking about ‘providing’ for play, that is, primarily through designated playgrounds, useful though they may be in some circumstances.

It is Play Wales, with its understandings, knowledge, practice background, integrity and reputation of high regard that is – beyond contradiction – the only national Welsh organisation capable of working collaboratively with others to create the conditions that will secure play friendly environments for  Welsh children.  Those ‘conditions’ include, but are not limited to, affecting people’s attitudes  to children and young people; planning issues; and the way the shared public realm – parks, streets, open spaces, nature reserves – is conceived and managed.

Along with countless others, I urge you to ensure that the Welsh Government properly funds Play Wales and refreshes what I assume was previously a trust-based relationship, one of supreme utility for Welsh children, the communities in which they live, the organisations committed to their well-being and last, but by no means least, to the Welsh Government itself.

Yours sincerely,

Bernard Spiegal, Director

PLAYLINK is a UK-based, multi-disciplinary play and shared space organisation that has a long history of working with Play Wales.  This includes work on health and safety issues, conference speaking and, most recently, in a three way collaboration between Tri-county Play Association, Play Wales and PLAYLINK designing two playable, shared public realm projects, one in Maerdy, the other in Sirhowy Nature Reserve.

Reflections on our Adventures at Wallace Emerson

We had another great day at our June 14 POP UP!  The weather was fine and the local soccer league brought lots of drop-ins.


Our tinkering program proved to be very popular yet again.  We simplified our offerings –  with only soft wood like cedar and pine, hand drills and Japanese saws, that are easier for children to handle.


Almost every child, including toddlers, wanted to try out the saws!


Children are mightily attracted to the power drills and handsaws!   It shows that little humans are instinctively attracted to the real deal with real risk attached.  20140614_120007Risk-benefit analysis, which is part of play provision, would advise us to stand back and let the children learn, but the risks have to be visible. Arguably a 4 year old has the capacity to see and understand the dangers of sharp objects and power drills. We certainly have met a few very adept and competent 4 year olds in the first two POP UPs!

So we have a bit of a dilemma.  We want to attract older children back into our parks to play.  And we want to encourage younger children to stay out by providing a challenging environment – at least for a day.  But the provision of those tools is not really intended for really small children.  When children 3 years of age and younger are wandering around with hand saws, we start to get uncomfortable, because toddlers and most pre-schoolers cannot be expected to understand and judge the risks. Few of them will have the strength in their hands and arms to manage the tasks.   We are very reluctant to set up age barriers in the POP UPs.   We want different age groups of children to find each other, but we also want the children to be able to play on their own – finding their own agency, without their parents nervously watching every move. Although it is delightful when parents and children work together, we also want parents to be able to relax on a park bench nearby and enjoy their lattes.

20140614_122536Watching some of the older children focus in on their projects was very satisfying and makes it hard to eliminate advanced hand tools from the program.  We really want to provide these opportunities for older children to get into deep play – so our reflections continue.

Our volunteer carpenters worked really hard all day – watching the kids without diving in, yet being there to help when asked.

Many thanks go out to Darryl, Peter M, Fred, and Peter S.

hagrid-bioMaybe we should set up the carpentry workshop as a variation on Hagrid’s Hut.

Only a special friendship with the big scary guy gets you access to the tools.

That should discourage the 2 and 3 year olds.

Our guys look much too friendly.IMG_1643


Tires, crutches, duct tape and cardboard are the kinds of loose parts that almost match saws and drills for their attraction and play value.20140614_163151

We saw some wonderful cardboard structures going up and we have heard that this kind of play continued at home in the days that followed.  This is what we want to hear!  We want the POP UPs to plalnt a seed with the children, sprouting into more and better play in their lives.


If you have follow-up comments, we would love to hear from you, either on this site or on our Facebook page.


We also had lots of chalk, dress-ups, and kitchen tools for the little ones.

So why is it so hard to leave a tire swing behind?

They are enormously popular. Children of all ages congregate and find inclusion around them, literally hanging out with each other for hours, taking turns on the tire.

20140614_183659Most likely, liability fears, not actual safety concerns, are the issue.  Maybe the prohibition of tire swings in public parks needs to go the way of road hockey in “no ball hockey” zones – a rule that no-one bothers to enforce because we are willing to assume the risk, which is minimal, in exchange for the hilarious play and positive social benefits.

These kinds of questions need to be addressed systemically at the city, but in the meantime, our children are growing!  Some rules may not make sense anymore.

On the other hand… handsaws in the hands of 3 year olds….not enough benefit to warrant the risk.

Stay tuned for more information about our next POP UP as part of Toronto’s Live Green Festival!

PLAYbynature POPs UP at Wallace Emerson Park this Saturday, June 14


GreenHere’s PLAYbynature Project wishes to thank Councillor Ana Bailão for her generous support to this event and to the PLAYbynature project as a whole.

GreenHere’s PLAYbynature Project embodies the idea that children and trees (and other forms of plant life) belong together and both of them grow best outdoors!

However, the nature in PLAYbynature is not only the outdoors.  It is the children themselves as they unfold naturally through play.  Play is the deepest form of learning for the developing child – unlocking their interests and abilities through intrinsically motivated explorations, pleasure, surprise, self-­‐calibrated risk and self-­‐directed socializing.

Obstacles to play in our intensifying city abound. Parents are anxious and tend to hover, sometimes for good reason. Over the last 20 years, many of the environmental and social supports for play have been eroded from our communities. Car traffic is heavy. Our parks and playgrounds need revitalization. Most parks accommodate dogs more sensitively than 10 year old boys. Our attitudes to the chaos, noise and risk of play need to be reset to allow for the freedoms that children of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s once enjoyed. Childhood is an environment in crisis.

The PLAYbynature Project continues with a POP UP Adventure Day at Wallace Emerson Park. With scrap wood, tools, nails, rope, tires, and even old vacuum cleaners, we let the children build their own play structures and places.


Parents will be encouraged to take a walk around the park, to talk about play and park enhancements for their children’s play. We will FOLLOW UP with a planting program in the near future.


`I sing the body electric`… but unplugged.

A recent article in the New York Times writinginsanddescribes the latest brain research into the value of cursive handwriting. It`s about time!

The quote in my title is from Walt Whitman, an iconic poet of the environmental movement and he could serve in the same role for PLAYbynature.  He  loved nature and he loved the nature that he was.  He loved his (flawed, inept, corpulent, insistent, probably quite hairy, over-sensitive) body.    This may not seem related to play but it is!

When I was a teacher-in-training, my volunteer project was to work with some `so-called` learning disabled or behaviourally challenged children.  I chose to give them more play time outside and to teach them cursive.  I looked foolishly old-fashioned, but I knew (from Walt and other environmental thinkers) that it would help them with their learning problems and they actually loved it, once they got over their initial frustrations. Yeah! they loved it because it is just LIKE PLAY.

The philosophy which promotes the benefits of cursive writing, which are just now being substantiated by brain research, is the same philosophy that advocates for more play – absolutely the same and that is: the body and the importance of the body. We are embodied minds and minded bodies. When the body is NOT involved… we lose myriads of nerve endings, movements and sensations that are lived experience, sources of information and uniquely personal outputs of self-expression (to borrow the all too sacred language of technology).

Bodies are often sources of frustration to all of us, but when we get them to do what our minds and imaginations want, such as stand up and walk or kick a ball or build a box or dance a jig or write in cursive, we feel our `selves` literally expanding – we are literally adding to our repertoire of what our bodies can do and what they are – and this is so empowering and what makes us feel effective in the world.

The eyes and the hands are intimately connected with words and ideas when we write in cursive. Lateral thinking, focus and creative connecting are built into the brain as we achieve competence in using our fingers, arms, shoulders to form the intricate patterns of words, symbols and ideas. It is complex music.

Yeah – and typing is good too, but if you think about it, giving up on cursive is like giving up on the wheel – one of humankind`s oldest inventions and the source of so many more inventions. The dexterity of typing is primitive in comparison to the fine motor skills involved in writing. The physicality of the keyboard is pure compliance – there is no unique component to it, which is largely why institutions like it.

Handwriting gives us a constant daily visual and physically experienced reminder of our own uniqueness, our capacity to make a mark on the world, to lay our own fingerprint upon the inherited culture.   And this is exactly like play!  AND it is always there – no charging required.

This is why I wanted my Grade 4`s to learn how to write.