In Praise of Big Words

I’ve been thinking lately about the anti-intellectualism that has become so present in our social and political culture in the west, and the ways in which it can disallow our children from becoming articulate. Even the word ‘articulate’ can sound like it carries a certain kind of smugness we might want to avoid, but I truly think that articulateness is important and should not be undervalued.

The suggestion of course made by much children’s programming and literature today, and in how adults talk to children in general, is that language must be brought down for children to understand it. This includes the implicit understanding that the acquisition of language is a rational process more than anything else.

What I have found is that even when young children don’t intellectually understand more complex words, they can be joyfully exposed to the innate rhythms, cadences, and musicality of language – sometimes specifically when we introduce things to them which may seem a bit “above their level”. Surely a large part of literacy lies in being able to get inside a language and make it sing. Young children are amazing at doing this, and often can (as so many of us know) be the most natural poets!

Dr. Seuss books, as a lot of older popular children’s books, can be great for the kind of exposure to language I’m talking about. These books tell great, original and wacky stories that kids can easily understand, while also using words that provide some of the bedrock for eventual greater literacy (even when those words are not yet intellectually understood). One of the current favourites of some of the three-year-olds I work with is The 500 hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, which tells a story that they find truly captivating – even though the author uses more advanced words such as “procession” and “astonishment”, amongst others.

With so much children’s literature, television, movies, and music that speaks down to children, we would do well indeed to remember that one of the foundations of literacy lies in an immersion in language that is not intentionally constrained or dumbed down, and rather which is demonstrated as something with a complex and beautiful life of its own. Playing with language is also generally, as already suggested, hugely fun for children, and is listed as one of the sixteen play types (communicative play).

Exposure to new language, be it real or made up, seemingly simple or more complex, has incredible benefits for children of all ages. When children are exposed to the fuller rhythms and cadences of their language(s), they may more easily become articulate members of their communities. Children, in this, may more easily come to express themselves, in their developing lives, in a manner which is more fully imaginative (the imagination being where the intellect and emotions meet, in creativity).

We would do well to remember that, as Northrop Frye suggests, “a democracy cannot function without articulate citizens”. And we would do well, I believe, to remember that early exposure to articulate language may lay the foundation for the development of the kinds of citizens we will surely need in the future.

-Cam

 

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Guest Post Re-Post: In Praise of Snowball Fights

This is a re-post of this month’s Guest Post for Calgary Child’s Play. Check out the original post here! Thanks as always to CCP for hosting us!

The other evening, I approached the afternoon Adventure Club in one of our favourite green spaces, the Marché Des Possibles, to say hi after my day of working in the Playschool had ended. I quickly found myself stuck in a snowball-throwing battle for supremacy over that acre of whiteness among the evergreens of the Marché. Snowball fighting season had returned! The children Megan works with in that group, of ages 5-9, include a few natural snowball fighters who saw in me a worthy opponent. I felt a surge of excitement come over me when the first child threw his snowball at me!

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A few days earlier, before fighting these Adventure Clubbers, I had a spontaneous snowball fight with some of the parents who came to pick up their children at the local playground, at the end of one of our Playschool days. As we were throwing snowballs at one another – I’m not sure who even started it – I was reminded of my poor aim and that my left eye has very poor vision, while my right eye (which has 20/20 vision) compensates for it. I’m not usually so aware of this fact in my daily life. I wear glasses at home but have mostly neglected contact lenses otherwise. When it comes time that I need to aim at something precisely, though, I have learned to sometimes close my left eye and let my right eye do the work. If I don’t do this, I might end up missing the target by quite a lot.

I hadn’t needed to employ this technique for quite a while, though, and had forgotten how important it is to me and to my survival in such battles. So, as I was throwing snowballs with these parents, I was consistently missing them by quite a lot – snowballs flying far from my moving targets. Leaving the situation I felt both giddy and frustrated as I remembered both how fun it is to have snowball fights, and what it was I wasn’t doing that could have helped me in my game

So, by the time I met with the Adventure Club group, I knew what I needed to do to challenge them in the way they wanted to be challenged. I prepared my snowballs while they did the same, and I ran throughout the Marché, bobbing and weaving excitedly, imagining myself as a boxer, preparing for the fight. This time around, aware of my limitations, I closed my left eye when necessary and took aim in my highly asymmetrical way. I remembered what I hadn’t done in my last battle, and I knew how to get them this time!

When we play in a way that allows us to take stock of who we are, we can remember what our limitations and our strengths are. We can begin to approach what we need to do in order to strengthen our senses, capacities, and will. In Playwork we are aware of how ‘rough and tumble play’ often has everything to do with gauging personal strength, flexibility, and our own physical capacities. It allows us to exist more consciously in our bodies, and reengage more deeply with who we are as physical beings.

For me, being reminded of this physical adaptation I needed to make to be a good snowball fighter had everything to do with one of the most positive benefits of rough play – being more in tune with my physicality, in the name of self-reliance and confidence-building. I love being in a green space like the Marché and thinking of myself as making the kind of physical adaptations that are necessary to my survival, as an animal in my small space of wildness. And I loved being reminded that winter could feel as just as active, if not more, of a season as the summer. Most excitedly, I was reminded this winter, as I am every winter, of the importance of snowball fighting.

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-Cam

P.S. : It is nearly IMPOSSIBLE to capture great pics of snowball fights in action – sheer survival in face of a group of kids is key! But we managed to snap a great Instagram video earlier 🙂

let them eat snow

After a gloriously mild fall, winter came in with a bang on Sunday night with a big dump of snow and temperatures below zero all week. Many grumbled, but many rejoiced. I fell strongly into the latter category. Last winter it rained A LOT and while the mud kitchens were fun, being outside in the freezing rain was tough. Cold, rainy days means winter gear gets soaked through pretty much instantly.

My general love of snow and the memories of how many mittens I went through every day last winter made me RIDICULOUSLY EXCITED for the snow fall this week. The kids too. Yes, it is a bit colder outside, but not when we are running around, making snowballs, building snow forts, and climbing up the hills of the Mont Royal and sliding down on our bums (or the Human Toboggan, Megan). Plus, look how dreamy the Champ des Possibles is at this time of year!!

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A long-time popular winter activity for kids is eating snow and icicles. This week we had snow ice cream, popsicles, soup, marshmallows, and even snow croissants. YES, I know that snow and icicles are dirty and germy. I make sure kids only eat clean snow, so freshly fallen, and of course without any tracks or any sign of life around it, and no icicles off parked cars (they try – and I’ll admit I ate my fair share of car exhaust popsicles as a kid). One day at Adventure Club, the kids went on a full-on icicle hunt, searching for them all over the playground.

So much of spending time with children, our own or someone else’s, is emotional and heavily influenced in our own experience of childhood. When I see kids engaging in a simple act of eating snow off of a plant at the Champ, I think back to my own memories of seeking snow to eat as a child, and how much joy this brought me. Likewise for icicles. Since icicles require a pretty specific temperature shift, they aren’t around that much.

During the long Saskatchewan and Albertan winters, my classmates would always play this sort of game that would end in giving the same “advice”: “Don’t eat yellow snow”. I don’t remember the specifics, but we taught each other what was safe and what was pee-covered. No one wants to eat pee.

Kind of like play fighting, trying to stop something like eating snow is not easy – if I tell them not to do it, point blank, they will do it when I’m not looking anyways, and why they shouldn’t do it doesn’t make sense. Better to teach them what kind of snow is safe to eat and when they can eat it – IE, the fresh stuff, or at the very least, the white stuff. It brings joy, and memories around winter that will last a lifetime. Reverence for the natural world – and feeling happy and having fun – has far greater positive implications for their future health than the potential of alleged germs in freshly fallen snow.

PSST: I still eat snow sometimes. You know, for the kids, SWEAR. Parents/educators, if you haven’t done this in a while, or ever, I suggest you give it a go. It tastes good. Let’s just wait for some new flakes to fall first….
Megan

Post-tour reflections

At once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability, that is when one is capable of being in uncertainties. Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason. – Keats

Having recently returned to Montreal from touring in Europe with my band (Vesuvio Solo), I thought it would be a good time for me to discuss my life as a musician – especially since, as I see it, it relates so much to my life as an educator with children. I find myself always returning to the understanding that art and play are deeply related, and that the play-based work I do with children relates so much and so easily to my work as a musician.

I grew up in a musical family, love making music, and was always conscious of wanting to compose music and write songs. That I was so conscious of this fact, though, actually made it very difficult to compose freely – for a very long time, in fact! I was always searching for a vital source of inspiration – one that would allude me because I was so preoccupied with finding it. After seriously studying and playing guitar from a young age, in my teens I turned to trying to hone my skills as a lyricist. I wanted to be a songwriter, and becoming a skilled lyricist seemed the logical next step. I constantly tried to write from personal experience, seeking to shed light on my own feelings. Some of what I wrote at the time seemed good enough that I kept going, but I was aware of the fact that I wasn’t getting where I wanted to go in the pursuit.

Finally, in my late teens, I befriended a young singer-songwriter a few years older than me. He took me under his wing, and wanted me to play some shows with him. I was captivated by my friend’s lyrics in particular – the way he strung beautiful images together so fluidly. Finally, one day during a rehearsal I asked him how he’d written the lyrics to a particular song of his that was my favourite. I asked, ‘what were you trying to say there?’

He told me that he didn’t know at all what he’d been ‘trying to say’ with the song – and that he never quite did, when he wrote. He went on to explain that usually he wrote when he was really inspired by the strong feeling of something in particular – often just music that he loved, but sometimes other art or things in his life that he found beautiful or captivating – and that he could find himself writing for its own sake, very easily and playfully if he was lucky enough to be able to ride some of these feelings out… being in this kind of state of presence long enough to be able to compose a song.

The next morning I took my 18-year-old self into the sunny front room of my family’s childhood home, with a guitar and with paper and pencil. I had my friend’s song from the day before and his words running through my head and I began to play something on the guitar that was something like what he played in his song. Then I started to sing something, channeling his voice for a while – until something of my own voice began to emerge, and then I was writing freely… I suppose in a state of negative capability. I wrote vigorously for the next few moments – both melody and words that came from no place of conscious struggle. And when I was through with writing, I could tell that the song was both uniquely my own, and also the product of my influences (especially that of this particular friend who ended up teaching me so much). He gave me the starting place, and the the objects, as it were, to play with… and the creative mind plays with the objects it loves, as Carl Jung said, to piece together something original. Being able to embrace this playful and imaginative state of negative capability would inform my future life both as a composer of music, and in my play-centred work with children and adults in our L&M community and beyond. Being passionate about unstructured play relates to my experience of what it is to write music, to be creative, and to pursue creativity and imaginative exploration for its own sake.

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Guest Post Repost: Calgary Child’s Play: Loose parts in all their glory

This is a repost from our Guest Post with Calgary Child’s Play. Check out the original post here!

 “As soon as they arrived, children simply started playing, with whomever and whatever was around and interesting to them. Three girls were “talking” on their “cell phones”, using rocks they had found on the ground. Later on, they created an “office”, hauling over cinder blocks, which had been left beside the park after a festival. Several kids were playing foosball on an old foosball table that had been donated and fixed up by the kids. Two girls found several boxes from the supplies Megan had brought and were creating a house with ribbon, fabric, paint, and tape. One boy wanted to play ping-pong on the cement ping-pong table in the park (the same table later became a doctor’s office, house, secret hideout, Pokemon headquarters, and many other things throughout the week). Two boys were absorbed in drawing Pokemon characters (later in the day, a bunch of kids joined in the Pokemon games, without any actual cards or even necessarily a background knowledge of the “real” Pokemon game – including using bricks, cinder blocks, bottle caps, pinecones, and sticks to convert a wooden bench into a Pokemon “battle ground”). With a piece of cloth, one girl built her own swing. This led to the construction of a “house” made out of strips of cloth on the ground, ropes, and more swings. I was impressed with how engaged the children were in their activities, only asking for help with things like cutting tape or tying ropes onto trees. Loose parts play equals risk taking, having a variety of easily accessible materials and supplies, and giving children the freedom to make choices.” -Bonnie

“I went with a group of kids to the Champ des Possibles, a green space about the size of three city blocks and used by a variety of people, to look for snails.  Around the walking paths there were indigenous plants and grasses, almost as tall or taller than the kids, weaving through smaller and larger bluffs of trees and small hills or ridges. The children were totally engaged in exploring this space that they had come to know”. -Jim

This August, as you may have seen on CCP’s Facebook page, Bonnie and Jim from CCP came to visit Montreal and spent a few days observing and participating in The Lion and The Mouse’s Adventure Camp day camp program – an entirely outdoors summer camp based on free play in natural settings. Afterwards, we debriefed about their experience and I asked them to share some of the moments that really stuck out for them or just general observations. The biggest take-away for them, as noted above, was the use of loose parts and how children use loose parts (found in the existing environment/ play space or provided by adults) to create or shift their moments of play.

The theory of loose parts was first proposed by architect Simon Nicholson in the 1970s and have influenced thousands – millions? – of teachers, parents, early childhood educators, playworkers, landscape architects, museum directors, and more. Nicholson proposed that it is “the ‘loose parts’ in our environment that will empower our creativity. That is, “materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways. They are materials with no specific set of directions that can be used alone or combined with other materials”. (http://www.readingplay.co.uk/) As Nicholson (1970) laid out in one of his articles, “In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it.”

I heard about loose parts a long time ago in my work with young children, and more so when I started learning about the Reggio Emilia approach. However, I didn’t really understand the theory of loose parts until I began my Playwork course last fall. In my experience with the Reggio Emilia approach in North America (to no fault of its own, but that is an entirely different discussion) loose parts are often presented as beautiful additions to adult-created play spaces, and to me seemed limited, controlled, and highly “curated”. In playwork, and of course through Pop-Up Adventure Playgrounds, I discovered a different understanding of loose parts – that pretty much any object could be used to make almost literally ANYTHING without an adult agenda, a specific curriculum, or “theme”. Having empty cardboard boxes, tubes, yogurt containers, TAPE, rocks, rope, paper, blocks, and other supplies readily available for children to use and manipulate as they see fit can create the most interesting objects or moments of play.

Particularly influential for me was an article I was sent in my course about loose parts in a children’s museum: “The best loose parts are objects children find and make their own. Traveling close to the ground, eyes wide open, and fingers outstretched, children notice, pick up, and become proud owners of dropped, discarded, and forgotten objects.” Adults-including myself- often dismiss these discoveries as irrelevant or as garbage, and indeed these “loose parts” are often actually destined for the garbage, such as bottle caps. However, it is pretty rare that kids get to make decisions on what they own, and truly “own” things not given to them and ultimately decided upon by an adult, so being able to gather pinecones, rocks, bottle caps, etc., is a wonderful feeling.

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One of the fantastic elements of loose parts are that they are often free or very inexpensive – the biggest “supplies expense” in many of our programs is tape (and trust me, we use a LOT of tape)! It doesn’t take much to incorporate more loose parts into our play spaces or homes. More important than what materials are provided, because “loose parts” of one kind or another are all around us, is communicating to children that they are “allowed” to do as they wish, that there is no “final product” we are expecting them to make, and giving them the time and freedom away from a scheduled activity (and of course, being open to a bit of mess). Letting – or encouraging – a child to pick a few flowers or gather rocks on a walk is already a start. Have some tape, rope, old sheets, elastic bands, clothespins, bits of material, scissors, recycled objects, and perhaps some bottle caps available and you will be amazed by all that will come of it!

-Megan

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On Swinging

Although highly inspired by Playwork, Forest School, Reggio Emilia, and other emergent and alternative educational models, we are by no means inherently opposed to conventional playground spaces. We especially love swings and the joy that comes from swinging, be it in pushing kids or swinging ourselves, remembering swinging as kids but still enjoying it as grownups.
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When I am swinging, making the effort to get higher and higher, gives me feelings of emotional ascention that parallel the physical activity itself! It makes me feel like I can do anything. I return to a source of deep excitement I have about life. I enter into a realm of imagination that is confidence-giving. I think of the outrageous dreams and ambitions I had as a kid and they suddenly seem vivid again.


As I child I remember daydreaming as I still do, while swinging higher and higher, about being an adventurer on my boat about to enter into a port city flanked by the masts of tall and beautiful ships of teak and gold. It is an ancient port city, but filled with modern possibility and knowledge. The streets are full of people overjoyed by my presence. Maybe there will be a parade at some point. I will not rule the city-state in spite of my popularity there, though, because I am only passing through. Beyond it there are more places like it, of similar vividness but full of even more different possibilities. I will return to my small vessel and fill it with all the treasures I’ve collected. Maybe it will fly, eventually, as I’m going along my way, lifted out of the water by a gale wind to discover its own wings. Maybe I will leave this world altogether, on it. And if I do, I will surely return to my slowing swing in the conventional city playground, here in Montreal, and feel my feet scrape against the indentation in the ground beneath the swing as I halt the swaying quickly enough to snap myself out of the dream. I will carry the best of the dream with me, though. It will help ground me in my life of responsibility and adulthood.

-Cam

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Guest Post Repost: New school year, new ideas, new pals

We are happy to be blogging with our Playwork friends Calgary Child’s Play. This is the first of our monthly blog series with them over the next ten months! Check out the original post here. All photos courtesy of Alana Riley, our awesome volunteer photographer! Check out her work here!

September is a time for many kids for all that comes with back to school – new classes, teachers, and friends! For those of us long out of grade school, the changing temperatures and colours of the fall and a new burst of energy post-summer make it seem like the perfect time to launch projects and explore new ideas.

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Inspired by our existing blog and Facebook page and our organizational philosophy, I was asked by Dee and Julia a few months ago if the organization I co-founded and work for, Le lion et la souris (The Lion and The Mouse), would write some guest posts for Calgary Child’s Play’s new blog. My colleagues and I were thrilled to get involved. We are huge advocates of play, making it the centre of all of our programming and community organizing. CCP is too, as is clear from conversations with Dee, Julia, and numerous other staff. One example that strikes me is that CCP is one of the few organizations in Canada that calls its “care workers” “Playworkers”, a small, but important distinction: seeing staff members as playworkers means encouraging staff to strive to “enable children to extend their own play and they protect and enhance the play space so that it is a rich play environment” (Play Wales).

Image by Alana Riley Play, to playworkers at least, is defined as play that is ‘freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated’ (PlayEd 1982). This is often called “free play” or “unstructured play”, but by definition, all play should be “free” and “unstructured”. The U.N.’s Convention on the Rights of the Child recognized long ago not only the value of but also the right to play. Much academic research– and anecdotal evidence- shows that play increases cognitive functioning, independent thinking, self-regulation, social skills, physical activity levels, and overall well-being. Most importantly, however, play for the sake of play itself is fun and 100% necessary for all of us. As our friends over at Pop-Up Adventure Play said, “Play is play. Learning is incidental.”

_MG_5333Currently in Canada the value of and need for play is not fully heard. Kids in school are required to sit for long periods of time, standardized tests are abound, and in general, Canadian kids’ lives are increasingly adult-led, over-scheduled, and screen-filled. We got a D on the most recent Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth from Participaction. Thankfully, things are changing. Calgary is set to host the International Play Association’s 2017 world conference, and is one of the few Canadian cities to be developing a city-wide Play Policy. This summer, they hosted a number of Pop-Up Adventure Playgrounds and are working hard to bring more natural additions and loose parts into their public spaces. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but through working together, with our friends and allies across Canada and around the world, I’m confident that how we see children – and their inherent right to play – will continue to shift. For now, we will celebrate the small things – exchanging ideas and communicating with parents and community members on our experiences in play, online or in person._MG_5253

Thanks again to Calgary Child’s Play for inviting us to blog with them, and for joining us as allies in support of play. We look forward to our monthly blog posts (look for them on the 7th of every month!) and future collaborations. September’s post will be all about loose parts and CCP staffers’ reflections on their visit to The Lion and The Mouse in August. Have a playful end of summer!

-Megan

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Freedom Camp

I found out mid-way through last week that some of our kids have been calling L&M’s day camp “Freedom Camp”, because they get to “do whatever they want”. Kids have talked to me about this previously – that they like coming to what we call “Adventure Camp” because they can pick what they want to do, and there aren’t that many rules. We make it clear from the get-go that the few rules we have at camp are to keep kids safe and healthy, which makes it easy for kids to understand and respect them.

As an advocate for true, child-led play, and a student of Playwork, learning this camp nickname makes me pretty happy. Freedom allows us to be creative and innovative, to daydream, to stand up for what we believe in, to experiment, and to get to know ourselves and each other. Kids -and adults- need freedom to allow for growth and discovery, within and outside of moments of play. I’ve been continuously blown away by all the cool inventions, games, art experiments, and construction projects that the group has thought up this summer, be it with our large collection of loose parts at the Marché, to found objects at the Champ, to equipment at the playground. From making new friends, to climbing higher than they’ve ever climbed, to learning to love getting muddy or paint covered, to dealing with conflict in healthier ways, the open spaces we visit and open-ended nature of camp, along with the respect and encouragement of Camp Leaders and each other, has helped kids grow leaps and bounds throughout the summer. Some kids who were grossed out at the thought of touching a snail ended up being the most passionate snail hunters, letting snails crawl on their hands and even faces and making enormous “cities” for the snails to play in. Kids who hated getting dirty became “paint queens”, covering themselves head-to-toe with paint. All of this was done on their time, and following their lead.There was no schedule where at 10:30 AM everyone was required to touch a snail, I didn’t “teach” kids how to play Pokemon out of sticks and bottle caps, make cell phones out of rocks, or construct a hotel out of boxes, they just did it, on their own, freely, and at their own pace. I’ll be reflecting on some more of my observations from Adventure Camp and exploring some of the major play themes that came up in greater detail in future blog posts.

Today is the first day of the last week of “Freedom Camp”, and I can’t help but feel nostalgic about the summer that is about to end. Knowing that I will continue seeing many of the kids, and of course some new faces, via our after-school Adventure Club and fall Pop-Up Adventure Playgrounds, in addition to getting to see some of my smaller pals in our Junior Adventure Club and Playschool programs, helps make the end of day camp seem easier to swallow.

I feel confident that kids and their parents will take their experiences at camp and create opportunities for unstructured playtime throughout the school year. I also hope parents (and teachers!) will have chances to observe –without taking over – some of the magical play moments that their kids create when given the space to do so.

Thanks everyone for a wonderful and playful summer!

-Megan

 

Guest Post: Fostering a “Necessary Wilderness”

Maija-Liisa Harju  (L&M parent, Children’s literature and culture scholar)

 http://mcgill.academia.edu/MaijaLiisaHarju

David Almond, a much lauded UK children’s author, once argued that a feeling of “necessary wilderness” is inherent to childhood, and is something that children and adults must try to maintain throughout their lives. What is it to be wild? To run, jump, scream, howl, bark, burrow, growl, rage? Climb trees, climb shipping containers, make snail houses, make fires, tell stone stories?  Almond shares this particularly vivid childhood memory of being in and carrying home the wilderness:

And we’d get to the heather hills themselves, a scruffy little area of wasteland at the top of town, with its pond and abandoned mineral lines, the place where we dug our dens and built our fires and we re-fought ancient wars, and we ran laughed and screamed and howled and whispered. And generally had a great time under a massive sky in the reddening dusk as the first stars started to appear. And when darkness came on, the voices would start, echoing out from the town we had left behind […] and we reluctantly began to disperse and to retrace our steps to head home again. Back across the fields, past the allotments, back into the estate, into the garden, into the living room, into the house where it was warm and safe and civilized, and food and bed waited. And what does it feel to be a child like that, just returned from the wilderness and the dark? Safe at home, yes, civilized, the radio on, the TV on, everything at peace but the skin’s still tingling from the outside air; the mind’s still seething with what it’s seen, and what it’s heard and felt and imagined. The house is a picture of order, but the child has brought the outside wildness and darkness in. (“The Necessary Wilderness.” The Lion and the Unicorn, 35.2, 2011, p. 110-111).

In this passage, Almond identifies wilderness as something that is not only experienced out of doors, but a thing that children can embody: an essential, primal relationship that they carry inside them, in and out of civilized spaces. This ‘embodied’ knowledge of nature, a way of making meaning of the world through active, sensory engagement, is something that I see the Plaworkers at The Lion and The Mouse engendering—a “necessary wilderness” that my daughter can hold onto, for example, as she negotiates the socializing forces that dominate her daily life.

 

As evidenced by Cam’s recent post about stone stories, there are clear connections between children’s play landscapes (both natural and urban), experiences, story-making, and story sharing. Stories reinforce our experiences, help us understand them and allow us to share our adventures with others. In the spirit of this, I thought I’d share a few contemporary children’s picture book titles that can also foster a sense of necessary wilderness and connection to the natural world for readers of all ages (book covers above):

Wild, Emily Hughes

Virginia Wolf, Kyo Maclear & Isabelle Arsenault

Tokyo Digs a Garden, Jon-Erik Lappano & Helen Katanaka

Bright Sky, Starry City, Uma Krishnaswami & Aimée Sicuro

The Specific Ocean, Kyo Maclear, Katty Maurey

The Moon Inside, Sandra V. Feder & Aimée Sicuro [Available September 2016]

-Maija

 

Reclaiming Urban Space Part 2: Everything is Nature

Near the southern perimeter of the Champ des Possibles (where tall condos are beginning to be constructed) the remains of inustry and commercial activity provide part of the landscape of our regular play in several of our The Lion and The Mouse programs. Next to the luscious, green open field, this more “run down” area connects us to the concrete fabric of the city. Here, the left-behind playthings – some of the urban ‘loose parts’ we engage with – provide inspiration in the movement of our play from ‘natural’ objects to the human-made (often decaying and random in their wondrous possibility).   We have learned at The Lion and The Mouse (on our regular walks through the Champ des Possibles and beyond) to easily and seamlessly make this transition from green space to an environment of concrete, iron, and metal. Perhaps this is a metaphor for how, when we begin to transcend the opposition between ‘nature’ and the ‘human world’ in our play and within ourselves, we are in touch with the play instinct that is at the heart of creativity. Two of the main poles of our inspiration at The Lion and The Mouse are Pop-up Adventure Play (or ‘Playwork’), and Forest Schools. In light of this, being able to transition smoothly between play environments that speak to both of these inspirations has been crucial to the development of our approach. There is a lot of crossover and harmony between these approaches (as is well documented by Playwork specialists like Penny Wilson and others, in their praise of year round outdoor play), and the diversity of our local play environments very much allows this natural harmony to sing. Some of the first Adventure Playgrounds emerged in England with childen playing freely in the rubble that was left by bombing during the Second World War. In our programs, the rubble and constructive chaos of abandoned or discarded concrete, steel, and other urban objects and materials, is ours to reclaim with children for the purposes of play. Though these found materials may not be the result of warfare, I feel our reuse of them for play is in the same spirit as that of post-war children’s playful reclamation of bombed-out sites.

 

 

The spirit of playwork, which for us is often inspired by the reclamation of this kind of neglected urban landscape for play, complements our forest school inspiration so well. We invite children to play within the freedom that some of this neglected concrete space allows, while also truly indulging in biophilia when encountering the biodiversity of places like the Champ des Possibles.  As we hold these two poles of inspiration in tandem, we come to know that experiencing nature in the city should not mean only to experience the incredible urban biodiversity of places like the Champ. Perhaps we may come to realize, in our fluid transitions from green field to concrete jungle, that everything is nature, and that in exploring freely within these environments we may further discover our own nature as creative and playful human beings. “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.” -C.G. Jung

-Cam