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.
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.





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


An Open Letter to The Grouchy Guy Killin’ Our Play Vibes

Dear Grouchy Guy Killin’ Our Play Vibes:

Thanks for your concern for the wellbeing of other people’s children. Well, actually, thanks but no thanks. You see, while I respect your right to express your opinion, as a playworker, I don’t believe this trumps the children’s right to play.

I get it. You don’t think that children should be allowed to play in the Champ des possibles (our favorite urban green space) because (as you said repeatedly while hovering over us):

  • People walk there and shoes are dirty, which could give you gastro
  • It’s possible that a dog peed there once
  • There might be (unlike at playgrounds…) garbage or something dangerous close by
  • There are chemicals in the soil from the railroad nearby
  • Etc, etc, etc

You also think that, since I brought kids there, I must be:

  • Crazy
  • Irresponsible
  • A criminal
  • A fantastical dreamer with an overly idealistic view of what it should look like to spend time with kids in nature
  • Etc, etc, etc

However, since you must now be the sixth or seventh passerby to interfere with my work (yes, play is my work) in the past year, mostly in the Champ, but even once in a traditional playground, I feel I must share a few basic facts about my work (play).

First of all, kids have a right to play. Period. Just ask the UN. As members of our community, they also have a right to be seen, to be listened to, and to participate. While I remain calm and joyful in front of kids, in reality intrusions like yours make me pretty grouchy myself. I see them as examples of how seldom children are allowed to participate in the public sphere and taken seriously as active members of our society. It’s a political issue of power being taken away from kids and families by telling them that they do not belong there and that they should only be allowed to exist within “kid-friendly” spaces.

Second, your opinion is not as widely shared as you think. The vast majority of people we encounter approach our work highly positively and appreciate seeing kids playing in green spaces. I’d say the sheer number of families who register their kids in our programs or put them on waitlists should be a pretty good indicator of how many people are hungry for more (outdoor and dirty) play in their children’s lives. And, of course, when I deconstructed your comments with the kids afterwards, we were all on the same page. Dirt is rad, playing with your friends is rad, and grouchy guys who yell at us aren’t.

Third, as you probably do as well, I have extensive training and experience in my field (playwork). I spend nearly eight hours a day five days a week outside with kids. I love talking about my job, my education and training, (which includes plenty of risk assessment, let me assure you). As part of my work, I have a very clear understanding of the environment we’re working in and the risks associated with it, including the levels of contamination in the soil, for example. However, since I don’t think my 5-8 year olds will be using the backs of their hammers to dig 10 feet under ground to the contaminated soil and then proceed to eat numerous pounds of it, in my professional opinion the benefits of an afternoon spent believing that treasure can be found in the most unlikely of places greatly outweigh the risks.

For these reasons and more, I for one will not stop going to the Champ des possibles or the park or any other urban green space just because a few people don’t like us being there, nor will I stop kids from playing in the mud, lying down and smelling the grass, getting dirt under their fingernails, or watching beetles form themselves into little balls and stretch themselves out again. I think we have a responsibility to continue to occupy public space as a place for play, to allow children to exist in these places, and to show how we can all share our precious fields, sidewalks and roads. My hope is that, slowly over time, we will actually listen to children’s voices about how we design our streets, our buildings, and our play spaces, so we can healthily co-exist.

While I learned early on that little can be accomplished in the moment by engaging with your type of passerby beyond a simple “thanks and have a good day”, I can’t help but ask myself if perhaps your unhappiness had less to do with the kids getting dirty and more to do with a need for more play time in your own life. With that, Sir, I invite you to come snail hunting with us, feel the grass as you roll down a big hill (as I had the pleasure of doing multiple times this week), get dirty in our mud kitchen, or test out our new tire swing. I think it will help you feel better. If not, I encourage you, as one of my kids not-so-quietly said after you left on Tuesday, to leave us (and our beautiful play moments) alone.




A River in the Champ (WE LOVE SPRING)

Milder temperatures this week have meant a lot of exploring, melting ice, and the first signs of buds. We even found this amazing “river” where Ethan was busy “putting little guys in to go meet their friends”. Vive le printemps!


Come play with us!

At The Lion and The Mouse, we like to play. As educators and play enthusiasts, we spend a lot of time thinking about play, play spaces and how we can support children while giving them the freedom to explore, create and learn. We hope that you’ll join us as we reflect on play, early learning and what it means to build a child-friendly world.

Arthur Battram[1] once said, “Through play we become human.” With that in mind, we thought it only fitting to introduce ourselves, Megan, Grace, Cam and Margaret, through our favorite play spaces. Welcome. It’s nice to meet you.

Megan: When I moved to Gibbons, Alberta, from a smaller town elsewhere at the age of 8, my family befriended one of the town founders, who owned farmland about a block from my house. With her permission, I started exploring this area with my family, and as I got a bit older, with my best friend Karrolann. The place we especially loved was an area with three old abandoned pioneer homesteads (mostly ripped down but with plenty of old artifacts and wood), which became a central tenet in our play for years. We constantly built and rebuilt tree houses, using the wood and the old pioneer artifacts, which would then be destroyed by local teenagers, but we didn’t mind rebuilding. The surrounding fields and river valley were also central in our play, and we played “at the farm” until I moved to a new town at the age of 14. Being away from the adult gaze and in open space evokes many memories and sentiments of joy, freedom, creativity and strength that I feel fortunate to have experienced.

Grace: I was not a very active child. I liked most to disappear into daydreams, imagining all sorts of beautiful things. When I was small, there were no houses across the road, but rather a meadow.  In my memories, it was always filled with sunshine. Il poussait dans ce pré des chicorées sauvages (mes préférées), des épervières orangées, asters, mauves, vesces jargeaux, trefles, pissenlits, rudbeckies tardives, carottes sauvages… à n’importe quel moment libre, je suppliait mes parents pour qu’ils m’accompagnent à travers la rue (défendu de la traverser toute seule) pour que je puisse m’installer dans ce petit coin sauvage. Enfin arrivée, je m’installait par terre, les fleurs, les feuilles, les tiges m’entourant, et je les examinait minutieusement. Toujours reveuse, je regardait les petits papillons aux ailes blancs qui virevoltaient autour et les coccinelles qui (si j’avais de la chance) choisissaient d’aterrir sur mon corps. Je regardait les oiseaux qui passaent au dessus, je me demandais à quoi ressemblaient leurs trajets, leurs migrations. Je m’allongeais sur le sol pour mieux observer les nuages. Des heures de mon enfance se sont écoulées comme ceci, immobile, nourrie par la nature et l’imagination.

Cam: My favourite place to play as a child was a large protected provincial park near Chatham, Ontario, Canada where I grew up – a forested beach-surrounded peninsula on Lake Erie called Rondeau. My Grandparents used to have a cottage there before it was sold, right up against one of the main stretches of beach. The back door and porch of the cottage led immediately onto the beach, with a fire pit for our nightly bon fires a few feet away. The front of the cottage looked onto a narrow one-lane road, on the other side of which was an enormous expanse of forest, full of endless trails to explore. I always remember experiencing the world vividly through the feeling of the ground beneath my bare feet. I could quickly go from being barefoot on the forest floor, to onto the hot or cool parts of asphalt (some parts shadowed, some exposed) of the road in front of the cottage. And I could go from the soft grass of the lawn in front of the cottage, to inside the cottage itself on the retro shag-carpeted floors. Outside the backdoor of the cottage I could run onto the beach, then into the big clusters of reeds and tall grass closer to the water. Out on the wet brown sand, I traced the soft lines created by the lake with my big toe. I could then fully submerge my feet in the waters of the huge lake before usually throwing my whole, sometimes fully clothed body into the water.

Margaret: When I was a kid, we used to play in a place called The Back Forest. In The Back Forest, a piece of undeveloped woods behind the neighborhood houses, we fluctuated between explorers and homesteaders. We built forts, outhouses, and fields and even dammed the creek to irrigate our crops. We dreamed of one day being self-sufficient, in our own separate version of the world where we could just be. Of course, we weren’t the only kids out there. As we got older there was tension between groups over the best trees and the best spaces. We took up trail and map-making to mark out our territory, but didn’t put nearly as much effort into them as we did into fortifying our fort against raids. Half the fun of having our own space was having to defend it, all in time for dinner.

We hope that our stories have given you a glimpse into who we are and the passion for play we look forward to sharing with you. We encourage you all to share your own special play spaces with us and to let the children in your lives share theirs with you. Thank you for reading and happy playing!

[1] As quoted by Penny Wilson in “The Playwork Primer: 2010 Edition”.