Making an Exception

In my last post I wrote about some of the reasons why I dislike play structures and therefore do not take my group to play on them.  However, there are times when I may make an exception.

There are play structures located in many of places that we visit.  The school has one but we never go there to play – we are usually at the school just to pick-up or drop-off someone or something and we are on a limited time schedule.

Every park we encounter also has a play structure of some sort but when we visit parks we are there for a different purpose.  We go to explore the gardens and forest trails.  We collect nature related items, or play tag and ball games in the big open fields.

On our last field trip we went to Kildonan Park – an excursion we usually make at least once each summer. This is place we are very familiar with but we still manage to find things we’ve never seen before.  Like this year when we found this massive old tree;

Holding hands together we couldn’t even reach halfway around it but we still tried to climb it.  There was also something else new to discover here on our visit this year.

Last year when we visited we had watched from our favourite picnic site as big tractors tore out the old play structure – how exciting!  This year when we parked the van and disembarked on our adventure we saw the new playground.  It covers a vast area compared to its predecessor – but I’m not sure why they chose to have it so close to the main roadway.

It was because of the road that I was originally going to say no when the children asked we could check it out but I was curious too.  This year the majority of my group falls in that 5-12 year old range and the youngest is three.  So, instructed to stay together we checked out each of the separate areas.

The first area is geared toward younger children.  It has a small pirate ship structure – typical ladder and slide – the boat could provide some play value but my group was uninterested.  Everyone was immediately drawn to the sand ‘box’/table – but certainly not for the purpose that it was intended for;

It makes a terrific balance beam and the sand is nice to jump into – just aim for the middle not the edge.

I do love the pathways and the little bridges over the dry creek beds (except that some are so close to the road);

I think it would be nice if some were arched instead of flat.

I detest the ‘baby’ swing since my 3 year old couldn’t see over or around the gaudy yellow plastic restraint.  I can’t imagine any baby that would be happy confined in it.  I loved the little forest area with the brightly covered toadstools;

It was popular with everyone in my group for climbing on, sitting on, jumping off and more;

And right in the middle there is an awesome tree;

This toadstool forest was the favourite area for my group and they would have stayed here longer but it was time to move on if we were going to see everything we had planned for today.

The next area was the largest and contains an expansive play structure.  There are many ramps and ladders and more slides than I have ever seen on one structure.  A child could practice going up and down all day.  There is a short video of the new playground available here.

I have no good pictures because it  is an enormous structure and there were several young children playing on it.  All of them well below the age stated on every one of entrances;

Most of my group of children did not even venture onto the structure and those that did were there for only a couple minutes.  However, they did appreciate the difference in heights of the various areas because it allowed them the opportunity to do things like this;

The older ones in my group did enjoy the three separate climbing structure – which interestingly were too difficult for the younger children to limb.  Finally, a structure that offers a challenge!

We liked this six foot tall climbing rock too;

But even youngest was able to climb it with ease;

So, we’ve tried out this new playground and liked some aspects of it.  The parts we liked most were probably those that cost the least to build. Will we be back?  Not likely – at least not often.  There’s more to explore in the forest.

My Problem With Play Structures

If you ask them, the children may tell you that I don’t like play structures. They would be correct because I do think there is little value in taking a group of children to ‘play’ on a play structure. We often go on outings to places that have play structures but I try to avoid the actual structure.

First you have to consider that I have a mixed age group and although many playgrounds have a smaller structure for the 2-5 year olds and a larger one for the 5-12 year olds the children don’t read the signs and choose the appropriate one.  Even if they did that would mean that my group was playing in two different areas and I can’t adequately supervise them all.

Sure, some of these structures look pretty cool – they are designed to attract our attention.  Each one has funky shapes and bright colors but ultimately the goal is to climb up and slide down.  Now, here I’m talking about the main purpose for which the structure was intended to be used.

I remember many years ago when I was a parent council member of a school which had just installed a new play structure. For the grand opening of the structure a company rep was on hand to demonstrate and ‘teach’ the children how to use the equipment properly.  For most children, using a play structure ‘properly’ translates into don’t ‘play’ on it.

You see, real play is learning that is interesting and fun.  So, once you’ve mastered the climb up/slide down aspect then the play structure becomes boring and you have to create other ways to use it.  Ways for which it the structure was not intended to be used.

For example my own son, at four years of age, had mastered all the aspects of the play structure at the neighbourhood school – a structure designed for 5-12 year olds.  So, for a new challenge he expanded his skills and climbed onto the roof of the platform at the top of the slide.  Now standing more than nine feet in the air, on a sloped platform without a railing he was free to leap off the structure and land – safely – on the ground below.

Play structures are simply too easy to climb up. Most toddlers can manage the steps and ladders on structures designed for school-age children.  But they can’t recognize the risks – hence the sign ‘For 5-12 year olds’.

On play structures children don’t learn to identify the hazards associated with heights. They don’t learn that getting down is often harder than getting up.  They don’t learn that if you don’t wear appropriate shoes climbing is difficult or impossible.  They do learn to ignore safety rules and take unacceptable risks because there are few real consequences.

So I don’t like play structures.

I originally wanted to write about our last field trip and this was intended to be a little background information – but I babbled too much.  My ‘introduction’ became an entire post so now that I’ve explained why I don’t take children to play on play structures, in my next post I’ll tell you about why I made an exception.

Laying a Foundation

There has been some amazing development around here.  The children have been busy building more than just towers. The addition of the wood scraps and other loose parts have enabled the children to create some really impressive structures.

They’ve been laying foundations. Like piers for bridges;

Solid footings for buildings;

Able to support traffic;

Additional design elements;

Incorporating different sizes and shapes;

Experimenting with angles and viewpoints;

Amazing architecture;

Creativity and imagination;

To build foundations and develop skills for problem solving, colaborating, communicating, calculating and so much more.


What We Saw, What We Think

I’ve heard so much about the new Nature Playground at Assiniboine Park which opened this Spring.  Since they first announced the plans to build it I knew I would have to check it out.  Any place that combines children and nature and I’ll be there.  Of course the boy wanted to come too 🙂

The front gate was impressive;

Once inside we were immediately attracted to the awesome snake;

The giant bird nest was really cool too;

I grinned when I overheard a young mom tell her child he couldn’t climb on it but she couldn’t catch him before he did.  Of course you’re supposed to climb on it.

Likewise, my boy and many others were compelled to do this;

The playstructure and slide were far to busy for me to take any pictures of while respecting the privacy of those playing there.  I did however get some pictures of the green rubber hill;

I’m really not sure how I feel about.  I’m certain it will wear well and be clean and safe — but seriously, a rubber hill?  I may not be the only one who feels that way since it didn’t appear to be that popular.

The water and sand area certainly was appreciated;

And I just loved these;

Except for the ‘DO NOT TOUCH’ signs which don’t belong in any children’s garden.  I was also a little confused by these structures (one pictured but there is another one too);

The boy and I thought they’d be great for climbing on but they were placed in the middle of flowerbeds so we assumed they were ornamental?!?  Apparently everyone else thought so too — a waste of a great opportunity.

We’d only been here for about 20 minutes and I felt somewhat let down.  Then I realized that I had lost the boy.  Where did he go?  Oh, there he is;

Still inside the gate but he’s wandered off the path — and he’s found all the cool stuff;

A child in a true nature playground. Ok, I know what you’re thinking — he’s 17 years old, not really a ‘child’.  But he was just 2 years old when I opened my childcare home and has embraced his role as ‘evaluator’ of everything.  I trust his judgement because if he is bored the others will be too.  He knows nature and adventure — where it is, and where it isn’t.

From Chocolate to Worms

The children need little from me when we are outdoors.  Indoors they sometimes need redirection or assistance choosing an appropriate activity but not outdoors.  Outside they are never bored.  They enjoy a wide variety of activities — sometimes active, often dramatic, always creative.  I should know better than to interfere.

Last week they engaged in an elaborate activity that involved all the children in a variety of roles.  They started a ‘chocolate factory’.  Mmmm. I do love chocolate.  This chocolate however was not your typical chocolate.  This chocolate came from a mine.  So first the ‘miners’ had to dig a mine to find the chocolate;

You see, the top layer of gravel is ‘vanilla’ but underneath the gravel is ‘chocolate’.  I know why, do you?

The ‘shopper’ had the task of working as liaison between the miners and the baker.  The shopper made regular trips from the bakery to the mine to get the necessary supplies.  She always arrived with empty containers but after a little negotiation — using gems for currency – she left with containers full of delicious chocolate;

The bakers were pleased.  They had plenty of cocolate to use in their cupcakes;

I got to pick my favorite — the one with the most chocolate of course 🙂

After I finished my cupcake I went for a walk in the garden and inadvertently ended the chocolate factory game.  You see, in the garden I noticed a multitude of cabbage worms on our broccoli plants.  My expression of annoyance and disgust attracted their attention and I was nearly trampled.

Apparently some people like worms more than chocolate;

I’m not one of them.  Even if they are just ‘baby’ worms and you try to persuade me they are ‘sprinkles’ I still don’t want any.  No thank-you, I’m not hungry anymore.

More Parts for Play

My husband has been organizing his shed and getting rid of things he doesn’t need.  He asked if I wanted to go through the pile of miscellaneous wood pieces to see if I wanted any of it for the loose parts area.  What a silly question, like I’d say no to an invitation like that.

So our loose parts area is looking a little more substantial;

I was eager to see what the children might do with the new items.  They noticed it immediately when they went out in the yard and they quickly moved much of the wood to the ‘workbench’.

Interesting how quickly the box/stage suddenly became a workbench — and ironic since if I hadn’t rescued the wood it would have been under the box in the fire pit.

The children did a lot of sorting and rearranging of the various pieces of wood while they decided what to do with it.  You could see how hard they were thinking.

Of course they started by building a tower;

I’m not sure how it stayed standing — I cringed every time they added another piece but it never tipped over.  Maybe we’ve got some architects here.

Then they made some ‘frames’ — aptly named;

The frame became a decorative element for the stage and there was a brief demonstration;

From there the creation continued to evolve and the frame became much more elaborate with many new features;

I love loose parts and all their possibilities.

To Water or Not

I have two water barrels that collect rainwater to use for our garden and planters.  Filling watering cans to water the plants is one of the children’s favourite outdoor activities;

The rain barrel that is located in the gravel area has also been used to fill containers with water for play and experiments;

The hot dry summer has taken its toll on our water supply and, even with some restrictions on the amount of water we could use each day, our rain barrels are now empty.  My husband asked if I wanted him to use the hose from the house and fill the rain barrels.  I said no.  Empty rain barrels is part of the lesson.

So yesterday the weather forecast predicted rain and the dark clouds looked promising.  We went outside to play.  One of my ‘newest’ children said “I thought we wouldn’t play outside if it was going to rain.” I laughed.  “But we love the rain, why would we stay inside?”

Then it started, slowly;

And the dust began to turn to mud;

The rocks look really pretty when they are wet;

And the children noticed all the droplets of water;

And they were quick to react;

Sharing and working together;

But sadly the rain lasted barely five minutes — not nearly enough to produce the results we wanted;

But that too is part of the lesson.

Shiny & New

While cleaning out a cabinet last week I came across a container full of shiny, star shaped decorations left over from a past project.  Then, of course, I put them in the loose parts area outside.

Being ‘new’ and shiny too they have been part of many recent activities.

Sorting and Sharing
Hiding for 'Treasure Hunts'

Of course, when you bury gems in gravel they get dusty so you have to clean them;

But my favorite part was when they decided that warm water would be better for cleaning so they put the ‘washer’ in the sunniest place they could find, and waited.

Painting the Day Away

It was back in 2005, when I began working on my CBA portfolio, that I first saw a painting activity that used clear acrylic panels for children to paint on.  I thought this was such a fabulous idea that I just had to find a way to incorporate it here.

I love painting.  When I paint I become completely immersed in the activity.  I’d love to give the children the opportunity to paint all the time.  Sadly I had not been able to.  Certainly we do paint but not nearly as often as I’d like to.

I do have a designated indoor art area which the children use freely but it only has paint when we are doing a group art activity.  The reason for this is because there is so much set up and clean up involved with paint that it just isn’t feasible to have it available all the time.

Sure, I can involve the children in the set up and clean up – some of them would enjoy that.  The biggest problem is that no matter how often I read ‘washable’ on a container of paint I know from experience that they are lying.  In fact, I’ve had better success cleaning up after painting the walls in my house than cleaning up after the children have painted with ‘washable’ paint.

So, painting becomes an activity with too many rules.  I loathe painting rules.  Rules and creativity are antonyms.

Paper is the other issue with painting – more specifically, wet paper.   Some children enjoy creating elaborate creations with painstaking detail that requires the precision of a surgeon and hours to complete a single piece of artwork.  Others take mere seconds to cover a piece of paper in paint and then make another and another and another until there is no where left to hang any more.  Then there are the ones that like creating texture with their paint – piling it on so thick that it will be at least a week before the paint will dry.

Now I’m back to the clear acrylic panels for painting – it would solve the paper issue but what about the mess.  Then it occurred to me that the once place where we never worry about messy play is outside.  So this spring I incorporated a clear acrylic panel to the ‘manger’ (nickname for the covered seating area).  Located between the gravel area and the deck it can be accessed from either side allowing many children to use it at once. The addition of a garden hose with both hot and cold water and a laundry tub which drains into the gravel makes clean-up super easy too.

We have used it often this summer;

In fact, I’ve now run out of paint!

Our Garden Grows

The past two summers were very wet.  Plenty of rain meant we never needed to water our garden.  This year has been hot and sunny and the children are thrilled that we have had to water the garden every day. It is still very dry — we need some rain.

The prairie plants on the hill don’t seem to mind the heat and lack of water — being native to this climate they are resilient.  There is a stranger by the hill too;

Probably a weed or wildflower (same thing ?) but I like it so it stays.  Leave a comment if you know what it is.

In the garden, the spelt, triticale and wheat were planted close together and even though we have nametags in the ground we can’t really tell them apart;

The kamut was planted on the other side — I  think it is my favourite of the grains.  It is much larger than the other similar kinds.

The oats seem to be doing very well too but as one of our new type of plant we have nothing to compare it to;

The soybeans are new to us too and I wasn’t sure if they were healthy but they are just beginning to produce some ‘fruit’;

I think the swiss chard looks great! These were leftover seeds from last year when our swiss chard drowned and didn’t produce anything edible.

The broccoli has replaced the kale from past years and proves to be a favorite for the cabbage worms/butterflies;

There are many tomatoes hidden deep inside the dense foilage;

And two purple jalapeno peppers;

And even some Bolivian Rainbow peppers which we moved here from our indoor garden.  These plants were started way back in January and were the only survivors of the white fly infestation;

The corn is much shorter than last year — only about three feet tall so far — but we are hopeful;

We’ve even got some moonbeam squash starting to grow.  Last year it was late September before this happened and it was too cold to grow any more;

The cucumber plants are nearing the top of the trellis;

But the winner of the battle for garden space must go to the zucchini;

I keep cutting them back so they don’t overshadow everything else.  If all the flowers become actual zucchinis we will have hundreds of them.  Therefore I’ve been encouraging the children to eat zucchini flowers — which most of them are eager to do;