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

Guest Post: Kindergarten Garden Party with Lisa Bagchi

As a parent, it is in my nature to subdue, quell and calm. As a child, it is in my son’s nature to explore, challenge and entice. I want him to feel free, I just can’t seem to let that happen. That’s why I’m so grateful for Adventure Club, a weekly kindergarten garden party held in the secret spots of Mont Royal Park, guided thoughtfully by Megan and Cam of Le Lion et La Souris.
What happens at Adventure Club is that your child’s capabilities are trusted in whatever environment he occupies; rocky cliffs, fallen trees or rolling hills.
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No idea is rejected, no imagination too outrageous.
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“Screen Time”

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Building a wall

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“EVIL VILLAINS ALLOWED”

Your child’s investigative nature is also encouraged.
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 Adventure Club is freedom and fresh air; things that are often hard to come by in a kindergarten classroom, in a city like Montreal, under the vigilant guard of a scaredy-cat parent who finds it hard to let go.  But let go I must, for nature demands it and children flourish from it.
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Thank you Megan for letting me tag along in those secret spots, and for being such a significant part of my child’s development.
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Lisa and Arlo Bagchi

Graduation and Goodbyes

Today was a big day at L&M. It was graduation day for some and my personal last day before starting maternity leave.

In the three short years we’ve been here we’ve seen lots of kids come through our programs. While we’re lucky that our community keeps us all connected, we’ve come to expect that we’ll miss sharing the ins and outs of sharing our day-to-day with the playschoolers we’ve come to know so well and for so long. One of our graduates started when she was barely two years-old and has spent more than half of her life playing each week with us at L&M.

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While I know my replacement Monique will be wonderful, I can’t help but think that part of me will miss the day-to-day with  my wonderful colleagues and all the families who have come to form our community. Cameron, Grace and Megan are much more than coworkers or even co-founders. They are true friends who I’ve had the privilege of working along side to bring The Lion and The Mouse from a vision to a reality. Their hard work, ingenuity and passion inspires me on a daily basis and I am excited to see what they and Monique have in store for The Lion and The Mouse in the coming year. Even more than that, I am grateful that my own son is part of such a vibrant and caring community and will one day be a proud L&M graduate himself.

-Margaret

Stone Stories

So much of the way in which we play is deeply symbolic. One of the most beautiful expressions of this is that of watching children tell stories with stones. Children often start by building structures with stones, then structures may come to stand for something, different stones can represent people or emotions, stones can be used to make symbols directly that stand for something inexplicable to adults but that mean something profound to the child… The possibilities are endless! We love observing children tell stories with stones 🙂

-Cam

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Reclaiming Urban Space

Sometimes when walking back towards L&M from the champ we go through the empty lot to the south. Last week the playschool children happily discovered that the large concrete blocks which were usually more strewn around the lot had for some reason been lined up against a building wall, perfect for climbing and for running along and for happily jumping from.

One of the nicest things about where we’re situated is that not only do we have ample opportunities for natural play in the champs – we also have amazing post-industrial space which allows children’s play to continue spontaneously in a manner which has them reclaiming the rubble left over by industry and other human activity. This is such a big part of what playwork (such an important pole of our inspiration at The Lion and The Mouse) is all about!

-Cameron

Spotlight on Playwork

With the popularity of Megan’s Open Letter to The Grouchy Guy Killin’ Our Play Vibes, I thought it was high time we shared a little more about this playwork we keep talking about.

Megan, Cam and now Grace have been learning about playwork over the past year with our friends over at Pop-up Adventure Play. They’re the same organization that first introduced us to the ever popular pop-up adventure playgrounds we’ve been hosting in and around the city (stay tuned for the summer 2016 schedule coming shortly!) and have had a huge impact on how we as an organization understand our work with kids.

For a basic understanding of playwork as a field and a practice, we encourage you to check out these highly informative guides from The Children’s Play Information Service and Play Wales.

What Is Playwork (The Children’s Play Information Service)

Playwork Principles (Play Wales)

If you’re interested in finding out more or how we apply these principles to our work, we encourage you to check out our resource page or drop us a line!

Happy reading!

-Margaret

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.

Sincerely,

Megan

 

Guest Post: Art, Parenthood and Loose Parts with Susannah Wesley of Leisure

Lately a provocative conversation has begun to rear its head in the media – how to manage being an artist and a parent. One requires you to be selfless and the other selfish. Both are extremely time and energy consuming and don’t stick to convenient set schedules. So its a challenge to maintain the two, let alone – if necessary – some kind of better paying gig on top. My collaborative partner Meredith and I (aka Leisure) have been struggling with this reality since we began our respective families and one imagines artists (particularly women) have been struggling with this for generations. Our discussions have involved not just how to manage it all, but what effect our children have on how we want to make art and also what effect our art practice might have on our children – how they understand what we do and experience art in general.

 

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Conversation with Magic Forms (work in progress), Leisure, 2016.

 

This year Meredith and I have been developing a work entitled, Conversation with Magic Forms. It takes its name from a series of sculptural ‘forms’ undertaken by British sculptor Barbara Hepworth after the arrival of triplets (Simon, Rachel and Sarah) in 1934. In her pictorial autobiography Hepworth describes this period as a new investigation of “relationships in space, in size, and texture and weight, as well as in the tensions between the forms,” all created within a studio she describes as, “a jumble of children, rocks, sculptures, trees, importunate flowers and washing.” Expressing the significance of the arrangement of forms, Hepworth focuses on the sensation of touch and the ‘stereognostic sense’ “a fundamental sensibility which comes into action at birth… the ability to feel weight and to assess its significance.” This fundamental observation explored by Hepworth can be seen as a potential influence on her son Simon Nicholson’s ‘Theory of Loose Parts,’ a text which advocates for freedom of individuals (beginning with children!) to have agency over the shape of the environment in which they live, work and play. Since its publication, early childhood education has put Nicholson’s theory into practice. Notably, its among the founding approaches at The Lion and the Mouse, which is partly why I became interested in their programs.

 

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Conversation with Magic Forms (work in progress), Leisure, 2016.

 

Our work, Conversation With Magic Forms, attempts to evaluate the environment in which Simon Nicholson’s text might first have been imagined. The active space of his mother’s studio, where work and life were intertwined in a chaotic, creative and materially-diverse environment. Combining these concepts with ‘sculptural arrangements’ captured from our own children’s daily interventions in their physical environment, we attempt to understand a new way of being and making, seeing and re-imagining our world. There is not a lot of room for children, real or represented, within the contemporary art world, but through Hepworth and Nicholson’s example we seek to promote a more physically engaged, exploratory, and participatory understanding of the relationship and tensions between life and work.

-Susannah Wesley

Snail Playgrounds

Over the past couple of weeks our playschool kids have been loving their Adventure Play. They love to build, love to climb, love to destroy. We provide them with real tools and materials because we believe that (even at the age of 3) they can build real things if we give them the room and the support they need.

Yesterday the kids decided to include some pint-sized friends in the fun. With a few buttons and other beloved loose parts they made an Adventure Playground that was just the right size for SNAILS :).

 

 

(I couldn’t help but share are a few photos of the amazing swings the kids have been building for themselves. Can’t wait to see what they do with our new stock of construction materials for spring!)

-Margaret

We LOVE mud (but like really really love it)

This week has been wonderfully muddy and at L&M we love mud. We love mud kitchens, mud puddles, mud baths. One time last summer the day camp kids even gave Megan a mud makeover and it was THE BEST.

In fact, we think that most people out there love mud too. It’s often when our kids are at their muddiest that people stop to watch them play. This week I was walking home with my son after he had spent a particular muddy morning outside with me in our parent & toddler group and a muddy afternoon outside again in the playschool when someone stopped us on the street with a big smile and said, “My goodness, that is one muddy, happy kid.”And he really was.

Unfortunately, a lot of people miss out on the joy of messy, muddy play, whether it’s because they’re too shy, too busy or too underdressed. So with that in mind, here are some of the highlights from our week. I hope that they inspire you to suit up, get dirty and get playing!

-Margaret

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