Adventure Club

This week we had the first sessions of our new ten-week-long Adventure Club after-school programs that’s all about free play in natural settings. I meet the kids with my big backpack of odds and ends (tools, tarps, rope, old cloths, tape, bandaids, the usual….), armed for whatever kind of play the kids want to engage in.

Our Tuesday crew, at the Champ des Possibles, was all about drawing with charcoal using bits of burnt wood from a past fire someone had, investigating rock layers vis-à-vis smashing rocks with hammers, and getting to work on building “le club”, our “headquarters” for “Club d’aventure”, by adding to a pre-existing old wooden structure at the Champ. At their guise, we focused on making booby traps (“pièges”) to trap unsuspecting visitors and amused ourselves by making a teeter-totter/lever system of sorts out of an old 2X4 on top of the structure. We didn’t take many pictures Tuesday afternoon but here is a pic of our playschool kids testing out the teeter-totter system the next day!

 

Our Wednesday crew, at Mont Royal, was totally different, but equally fun. We played plenty of old school games such as Simon says, What time is it Mr. Wolf, freeze tag, etc., to get the after-school willies out – four out of the eight kids are at a school that has been renovating their outdoor area for quite some time – so some of these kids don’t get any outdoor time at school. We then set off to explore the mountain, mainly just rolling up and down a giant hill, digging in frozen ground, using hammers as ice picks on a “mountaineering expedition”, and plenty of tree climbing.

 

The weather was hardly something most grownups would get excited about this week. Tuesday was -5, and it was blizzarding for most of the Wednesday session, but this didn’t bother any of the kids. In fact, the only complaint I heard was that the club was too short!

Long live adventurous play! Can’t wait to see everyone next week!

-Megan

Chat au Champ

This Wednesday morning in the champ a cat followed us around and was “playing” hide and go seek sort of games with the kids. The kids had a blast following the cat around and of course playing “kitten family” (when are we NOT playing kitten family?).

Other fun things included dancing with our shadows, collecting pine cones and tons of rocks, following a robin around while it looked for food, listening to our resident cardinal at the marche, and cracking all the ice. On est très contents que le printemps revient!

-Megan

SETC & Transform(er) Montreal: March is Conference Month!

Spring is a great time for reflecting, evaluating and growth. This month I’ve been very lucky to have the opportunity to attend two two-day conferences in connection with my work at The Lion and The Mouse and am excited for what these deep conversations will bring.

For the Social Enterprise Toronto Conference (SETC), I hopped on the train mid-week to meet other social enterprises and their supporters. While the climate and culture in the Social Enterprise Sector, as they call it in Ontario, is quite different from ours at home in Quebec, it was inspiring to see the ways in which some of the non-profits were using technology and business acumen to leverage their resources and increase their impact. I was particularly inspired by Furniture Bank, one of the five stops on our bus tour, where we got a behind the scenes look at how they combine streamlined operations, analytics and a sky’s-the-limit culture to help their organization do more with less (and even more with more!).

 

 

This past weekend, Megan and I both had the privilege of connecting with other members of the Social Economy, as we say here in Quebec, at Transform(er) Montreal. While in many ways it felt like a homecoming  (Megan and I met studying Community Economic Development in Concordia’s School of Community and Public Affairs), I am sure it went deeper than roaming our old classrooms. With the conference’s focus on the Social Economy’s potential to democratize the world around us, we had the chance to revisit many of the conversations that led us to start The Lion and The Mouse and to reflect on how the structures that govern our daily lives can be adapted and put to the service of an inclusive and empowered community.

I was particularly touched by the key note given by Brianna Wettlaufer, founder and CEO of Stocksy United, who spoke openly about the difficulties (and importance) of creating inclusive and democratic social enterprises and the difference that makes in the every day lives of Stocky’s photographers. You can see the beautiful notes from her presentation taken by Paul of Percolab in the photos below.

 

 

All in all, it’s been a busy few weeks that have left me feeling highly motivated to take the successes that we have seen at The Lion and The Mouse and build on them even further. It is nice to be reminded from time to time that, as a social enterprise, it is not just what we do but HOW we do it that has an impact. We are governed by our members and the board they elect and that matters. We strive for transparency and consensus building amongst our staff and that matters too. While we spend most of our time thinking about the world of early childhood, it’s important to remember that in our every day activities and lives we are also building a world for these children to grow into.

-Margaret

 

 

 

Spring Break Adventure (Play)

A couple of weeks ago, Megan and I had an opportunity to put together a pop-up adventure playground in an empty activities room at the wonderful Marc Favreau library in la Petite-Patrie as part of the Festival Montreal joue over spring break. It turned out to be one of the funnest pop-ups we’ve done in ages!

We were nervous at first because we didn’t know what the turnout would be like, or if children would be interested in the kind of play environment we were providing during their visit to the library. The group ended up being very lively, with some children coming and going but with an excited core group that formed spontaneously and stayed for the full two hours we were there. Most of the kids were elementary school age and easily and confidently use the loose parts we provided. Some children used the loose parts to build things that were very concrete (i.e. building cars, houses, and creatures) from cardboard and other materials. Others ended up creating things that were more abstract and highly personal and unique. Other children too simply used the loose parts as they found them to do things like dress up Megan, create a catwalk for modeling, tape each other to walls and floors, and play hockey with cardboard tubes and balls of material. It was an incredible group in that it showed Megan and I so clearly how creative and engaged all children can be when given the opportunity to design their own play.

It was especially nice to get to engage in pop-up adventure play at another community event, outside of the Lion and the Mouse’s daily activities, with fresh faces. As always, it was amazing to hear kids ask, in confusion, “What do I do with this stuff?” And to see the joy in their faces when we respond, “Whatever you want!” As Megan and I complete our playworker training with Pop-up Adventure Play, it’s wonderful to get out into the community and gain a deeper understanding of why playwork is a vital part of what we do.
– Cam

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!

 

Winter Party: Why campfires are THE BEST

This past Sunday was our annual Winter Party. Armed with s’more supplies, our two portable campfires, snow paint, shovels, tea and hot chocolate, we welcomed 30-40 kids and their parents to the Marché des possibles, one of our favorite local green spaces, despite some pretty unforgiving temperatures (-10 plus a nasty wind chill and a layer of frozen ice under the snow!). While a lot of the faces were familiar, we were happy to see plenty of new friends and friends of friends out for the occasion!

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When planning events and programs for kids, it’s easy to overlook the benefits that they have for parents too. While the kids were happy playing on one of the two huge mountains of snow, I had the pleasure of hunkering down with a group of parents by the fire as their kids popped in from time to time. It was wonderful to watch the parents hand down “techniques” for marshmallow roasting and to hear them share stories about their own experiences sitting around campfires. We exchanged songs and summer camp stories. There was a sense of nostalgia within the group, and I could feel a certain stirring of emotions as everybody chatted or perhaps reflected on the experiences they’d shared around a fire– whether it was weekend trips with their family to the woods every Sunday in rural Poland, working as a camp counselor in the Eastern Townships, high school bonfires, or scouting trips.

It was beautiful to see such reverence in the eyes of adults. In my work as an educator and playworker, I spend so much time focused on the reverence that kids experience in nature, or how kids benefit from play, that I sometimes forget how it touches the adults in their lives. After all, the memories that I have of my own experiences in nature and around campfires as a kid are a huge part of why I enjoy working as a Forest School educator. Last weekend, I was happily reminded that as grownups we need to play too and that we all benefit from a little time together in nature, roasting marshmallows and sharing stories around a campfire.

 

I heard so many kids ask their parents as they were leaving if they could “go camping”, “have a picnic”, or “make a fire” at home/next weekend/in the summer. I’m sure many of these kids already share these kinds of adventures with their parents, but I like to think that the event served as a gentle reminder in the harshness of Montreal winters that there are many ways to share in the joys of nature and play within our communities, even in the heart of the city!

-Megan

Cardboard Forever

The Playworker Development Course we’ve been taking has been extremely influential for Cam and I. Every day we feel like we are growing in our ability to truly be “play based” and “child-led”. We are really enjoying seeing how kids interact with loose parts, particularly cardboard boxes, tape, and various containers. One morning this week the kids made a game where they pretended to be packages being delivered in cardboard boxes, but would jump out and “surprise” whoever they were being delivered to. How funny is that? The ideas were all theirs 😉 quel plaisir!

-Megan

Ateliers de danse avec Sybille

On aime bien bouger au Lion et la souris. Courir, sauter et escalader; tirer, pousser et balancer;  rouler, pirouetter et danser. Par conséquent, nous étions vraiment très heureux de suivre quelques ateliers (animés par la merveilleuse Sybille)  autour de la danse et le mouvement la semaine passée.

Tous les participants, à la fois grands et petits, ont pu explorer ce qu’on peut faire avec nos corps, et on a saisi l’occasion pour en profiter pleinement.  Sybille nous a  offert l’opportunité  de créer notre propre danse, laissant le choix de mouvements aux enfants eux-mêmes. Nous étions particulièrement reconnaissants que cet atelier soit durant une semaine de grand froid, avec peu de temps à l’extérieur,  quand on avait particulièrement besoin d’habiter pleinement nos corps .

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Un grand merci à Sybille (et à Iren, qui a si gentiment partagé sa maman avec nous). On espère encore profiter de ta présence en futur!

– Grace Shamy

 

Play: Not just for preschoolers

Over the past month I’ve been preparing for this summer’s day camp, meeting with Margaret to reflect and improve (bring on those portable toilets!), and have been thinking a lot about the experiences I had running the day camp program in 2015.

When we launched our forest-school inspired camp last summer, we weren’t sure if school-aged kids and their parents would be interested in an all-outdoors, child-led program. Parents had been asking us about a day camp for a while, but we wondered how well kids who were in school, used to a traditional model of education which valued academic achievement, results-based learning, tons of tests, and sitting (inside) for most of the day, would take to it. The research is loud and clear that kids need to be active, and that simply being in a natural space allows for greater learning opportunities, but nonetheless, I personally was nervous that many parents of older children wouldn’t be interested in just letting their kids “play” all day, and that some kids might even feel “bored” without a highly structured routine to guide the day.

Thankfully, I was wrong.

Our camp quickly filled up. In part with our L&M playschool families who were transitioning to kindergarten, their older siblings, but also with many families who had just heard of us or the day camp via word of mouth.

The true test, of course, was the weeks spent at camp itself. This is when I started believing 100% in the necessity to give older children continued access to natural environments, free play, and the chance to “choose their own adventure”. This child-led approach was also a valuable learning opportunity in democracy. With eight kids and one adult, not everyone agreed on what the group should do for that particular block of time, but together we talked it through, debated, and compromised. Through this process, I saw the kids come away feeling like they were active participants in our camp and that their particular goals or wishes were fulfilled.

I have many highlights from day camp – every day truly was an adventure, and I had a blast. Sometimes, I actively played with the kids and was a key participant in their games, such as “monster” at the park, “server in a restaurant” at the Champ des possibles, and “throw the babies into the pool” at Parc Laurier (to be clear, the babies were day camp kids, I did not throw actual babies into the pool!!). Other times, the kids were happier to play on their own, what I would call in Playworker terms “low intervention” playwork. I was there simply to ensure that everyone stayed safe, but they were fully absorbed in games either as a group or in smaller groups, getting lost in their imaginations as kids tend to do when given the opportunity.

I also got to see the kids learn to calculate risks and push themselves. Some of them truly were fearless and I like to believe that me trusting them to know their own limits helped develop their self-confidence and ability to trust themselves, a valuable life skill. Others found small ways to step out of their comfort zone, whether it was by climbing trees, actually digging in the dirt and touching mud, letting snails and other small creatures climb on them, or simply just learning to embrace the rain.

One of my favourite, and consequently messiest, days at camp was a day where it poured rain almost all day. Two older boys really helped me get the kids enthusiastic about embracing the weather. We built a large shelter under a picnic table in the morning. We were only there for a few minutes before one of the girls decided we should have a massive dance party in the rain. We ate our lunch under a lean-to we’d built, sang songs and told stories as we waited for the rain to pass. When it didn’t, we played in the dirt and mud instead. Most of the kids literally swam fully-clothed in the large mud puddles. Seeing the sheer joy on their faces was confirmation that we were doing something right.

This post would not be complete if I didn’t mention the “twisted sister” – a day camp signature move on the swings and what I consider to be the true embodiment of day camp life. Invented by a couple of the campers, the twisted sister involves first twisting the swing and THEN giving a full underduck/underdog. The twisted sister “ultimate” is the same, but you do the HIGHEST UNDERDUCK POSSIBLE so it’s super high and super fast, and you twist the swing around tighter. Some of the parents at the park looked a bit skeptical, but we always ensured kids were ready for this ultimate swing move and only went as high as they were prepared for! I even tested it out myself! It was a lot of fun!

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I highlight this as an example because I think it shows the kinds of things that can happen when you give kids agency to choose how they play and listen to the limits they create for themselves. To be clear, there were no accidents as a result of this wild swing move – we did have one broken arm over the summer, but it was due to sliding down a baby slide at the park, not from any of the risky play scenarios we put ourselves in! Go figure ☺

I could go on forever about the joys I, and the campers, experienced while at day camp, our construction feats, weekly trips to the woods at Beaver Lake and never-ending performances and talent shows. By the end of the summer, I couldn’t help thinking what a shame it was that child-led and play-based programs are offered primarily to preschool-aged children, when I would argue that school-aged children need opportunities for unstructured play and outdoor education just as much if not more. Older kids have the ability to take their explorations that much farther. They are physically able to climb higher, and can take on and execute complex projects, like the mini 3-D toilets complete with flushable handles and figurines to use them some of our campers made last summer.

After my experiences last summer, I know that I for one will be an active advocate for providing older children with play opportunities, and I hope that more schools and community organizations hop on board. In the meantime, I’ll be counting down the days until I can be back with my crew of 5-8 year olds, hanging out in the Marché and Champ, getting (extremely) dirty and passing my days singing, dancing, digging, painting, and, most importantly, PLAYING!

-Megan Cohoe-Kenney