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 🙂


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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.




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!)


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!


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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!


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!


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”.