Category Archives: All The Rest

A safe and sterile playground for who?

When it comes to playgrounds, a 5 year research study from UBC recommends municipal park planners dump the pricey playground equipment in favour of designing more natural spaces for kids to play.

We found that outdoor play spaces that contain materials that children could manipulate — sand, water, mud, plants, pathways and other loose parts — offered more developmental and play opportunities than spaces without these elements.

The report seems to suggest that playground equipment is designed more for adult piece of mind rather than to challenge and aid kids in their development. Such an emphasis has been placed on safety that it has sucked all the challenge out of most contemporary play spaces.

The playground equipment industry has a very aggressive marketing campaign going on that is largely based on putting fear and guilt into the minds of parents. Landscape architects are under a lot of pressure to simply install equipment because its easier and more recognizably accepted by adults as a place to play compared to [a more natural environment].

My own experience has found this to be mostly true – that more often than not my kids will tend to favour natural play settings over playground equipment. At my daughter’s school, there is a playground which is surrounded by a thick cedar hedge along the fence line. Over the years, kids have worn trails through the hedge and have created caves and hiding spots in the hedge. On any given day there are just as many kids zooming in and out of those trails and trees as there are climbing on the playground equipment.

Our backyard is another example on the natural side. We have both a backyard climbing structure/fort thingy, and two apple trees and an empty garden plot full of dirt. Guess which get played with more? Yep, mud and tree climbing wins the day, with the playhouse structure taking more damage from the weather than from kid use.

However there are some exceptions. My daughter, for example, is a monkey bar freak. She regularly blisters her hands on the things, and can spend an hour just swinging. And give my son one of these things:

Playground Climbing Web

and he is good for a morning.

I think that some playgrounds are becoming sterile environments because playgrounds are often spaces for parents moreso than kids. Sure, we want our kids to be safe, no question. But sometimes I wonder if that emphasis we put on safety is really an excuse for us to not pay attention.

I am not talking about hovering and preventing our kids from exploring the boundaries of their physical bodies in a safe way, but rather how many times I have been at a playground and see parents chatting away to each other, completely oblivious as to what their kids are doing. The playground has become a social center for parents and a kind of babysitter.

Not that parents shouldn’t socialize and visit – playground conversations with other parents has often been some of the most productive parent networking I have done. But I have seen many an oblivious parent use the playground as a babysitter, completely abdicating the responsibility of making sure their kid is safe to the municipal park planners, who in turn take their marching orders from lawyers and risk assessment professionals who always err on the side of caution. Meaning our kids get sterile playgrounds.

Photo credit: Playground Climbing Web used under Creative Commons license

0 to 10 years in 1 min 25 seconds

We are 70% of the way through this cycle with The Girl, who , in just a few days, turns 7.

The (non)link between MMR vaccine and autism

To vaccinate or not is a hot button issue with new parents these days, thanks in no small part to one 1998 article published by the British medical journal The Lancet.

The article in question was written by Andrew Wakefild, which made the claim that there might be a connection between the MMR  (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and autism. Many see this controversial report as the beginning of the current anti-vax movement.

This month, 2 new pieces of information have been added to the debate that might influence the immunization decision for parents.

On February 13th, a special federal court in the U.S. ruled that vaccines do not cause autism. The case is significant for 2 reasons. For one, there were three separate cases involved in this ruling, each with their own judges acting independently of each other. And in all three cases, the rulings were similar in that all three judges found no evidence that the vaccines caused the children’s disorders. That’s three judges independently supporting each other with similar decisions.

In each of the cases, the plaintiffs did not have to prove their case with scientific certainty. They they only had to show that there was a preponderance of evidence or, as the article puts it,  “50 percent and a hair”. All three cases failed to do that.

Meanwhile, a related story from the Sunday Times earlier this month reexamines that original 1998 research by Andrew Wakefield, with disturbing allegations that Wakefield manipulated data and misreported his results to add weight to his claim that there is a link between MMR and autism.

In evidence presented to the GMC (General Medical Council), however, there has emerged potential explanations of how Wakefield was able to obtain the results he did. This evidence, combined with unprecedented access to medical records, a mass of confidential documents and cooperation from parents during an investigation by this newspaper, has shown the selective reporting and changes to findings that allowed a link between MMR and autism to be asserted.

The article also goes on to say that since Wakefield’s results were originally published in 1998, no other researcher has been able to reproduce the findings.

Some used statistics to see if autism took off in 1988, when MMR was introduced. It did not. Others used virology to see if MMR caused bowel disease, a core suggestion in the paper. It did not. Yet more replicated the exact Wakefield tests. They showed nothing like what he said.

As a result of the 1998 report, parents in Britain immediatly began questioning whether or not they should vaccinate their children for MMR. As a result, immunization rates in Britain fell from 92% to 80% and measles in Britain is now “endemic”. In 1998, there were only 56 cases of measles reported. Last year there were 1,348. Since 2007, cases of the measles has increased by 36% in Britain. 2 children have died from measles, a disease that had not taken a British life in 14 years.

There is no doubt that immunization is a controversial topic. There are dozens of websites dedicated to both sides of the issue, some vitriolic to the point of rage, others more reasoned and sensible. As a parent, immunization is just one of those areas where you have to do a bit of research and make a decision that sits right with you and your beliefs.

Flickr Photo credit: The children who will die this year from diseases for which there is a vaccine by grewlike. Used under Creative Commons license.

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Pirate’s Gold Milk Chocolate Coins may be Contaminated with Melamine

Just in case you didn’t hear this warning a few weeks ago, I thought with Halloween in a couple days a repost of a warning from the Canadian government that some chocolate coins may be contaminated with melamine would be timely.

The affected product, Sherwood Brands Pirate’s Gold Milk Chocolate Coins, is sold in 840g containers containing 240 pieces per container bearing UPC 0 36077 11240 7 and lot code 1928S1.

This product is sold nationally through Costco stores and may also have been sold in bulk packages or as individual pieces at various dollar and bulk stores across Canada.

One guess as to the country of origin of the candy coins.

Halloween as a community building exercise


I am a chocolate fiend, which means I love Halloween. But one of the things I appreciate the most about Halloween is that it gives me the opportunity to knock on my neighbours door and have a chat.

In recent years, it seems that walking around your neighbourhood has been replaced  by walking the malls as the way for families to have a safe Halloween experience. This is a shame and, to me, represents a missed opportunity to contribute to a stronger neighbourhood. The simple act of getting to know your neighbours goes a long way to creating a safe place for everyone.

In some respects, this thinking gets back to the post-pagan roots of contemporary Halloween, according to The History of Halloween from The History Channel.

In the late 1800s, there was a move in America to mold Halloween into a holiday more about community and neighborly get-togethers, than about ghosts, pranks, and witchcraft.

By the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween had become a secular, but community-centered holiday, with parades and town-wide parties as the featured entertainment.

What could be more neighbourly than knocking at their doors with a couple of cute kids in tow? Is there a better opportunity to strike up a conversation about the issues in our neighbourhood? And what a chance to show my kids that the houses on our street, usually devoid of any signs of life when we walk up and down the street (except for our neighbour Tom 4 houses down who always seems to be tinkering with a truck in his driveway when we wander past) are homes inhabited by friendly faces.

So, this Halloween the kids and I will be taking our time walking up and down the street, making a real effort to get to know the faces behind the doors. Munching on Kit Kats and gummy worms the whole time, of course.

Breast is Best

Some of you may know that I am a huge fan of the English soccer club Arsenal. One of their rising young stars is a kid named Theo Walcott. He’s 18 years old and has just lent his name to a major breastfeeding awareness campaign in the UK.

I’m not sure I know many professional athletes, let alone 18 year old guys, who are even aware that breasts have a function, so major kudos to Theo for stepping up and becoming an advocate for breastfeeding. True, he is getting a bit of media coaching from his midwife Mom, but still a big deal for someone like Theo to take this on. he realizes it isn’t without risks.

He seems unconcerned (or perhaps unaware) about the potentially lethal dressing-room combination of being baby-faced and advocating mother’s milk. “I know I’ll get the mickey taken out of me, but that’s always happening anyway. What can I say? It’s the right thing to do. It’s about healthy eating, getting healthy bones, right from the start of life, and men need to support their wives in that. That’s what I’ll be doing with my kids.”

The Breastfeeding Manifesto Walcott is promoting has been produced by a coalition of 39 organisations, including the Royal Society of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Royal College of Midwives. It not only calls for health-care professionals to be fully trained to support mothers with breastfeeding but also for government support for breastfeeding in public.

Money magazine looking for single dads

Got this in my inbox a couple days ago. Thought I would throw it out here in case one of you might be interested.


I am a Senior Writer for MONEY magazine, and I am looking for a single father (or one with primary custody) to profile. If you have any ideas, feel free to call me or shoot me an e-mail. I’d be most grateful.

Josh Hyatt

You can contact Josh at or phone 617-954-9408.

I Was Fark’ed

The site was down for a few hours this morning. Apparently, my Why Do We Dress Our Daughters Like Skanks story was picked up and posted by, leading to the dreaded Slashdot Effect. If you are not familiar with the Slashdot Effect, it is when a popular website (Fark) links to a less popular website (me), hence crushing my poor hosted server with incoming traffic….5 thousand visitors in a matter of seconds, forcing my hosting company to throw the switch on the site.

Perhaps this is the internet equivalent to my 15 minutes of Warholian fame. If so, then I’m glad it was for this post and not for the one about the consistency of my sons poo. Not that the consistency of my sons poo is unimportant, but in the grand scheme of things probably less so than the sexualization of our kids.

Obviously the sentiment in the post has struck a chord with a few folks, which is good. The more we start paying a bit more attention to how our kids are sexualized at an early age the better.

Spanky New Look…Same Old Content

Somehow I’ve found a bit of time (4am) to upgraded the site. I’m using the wonderful GluedIdeas theme and have added the WordPress widgets plugin (for those of you geeky enough to care). So far, both have exceeded my expectations and if you are running WordPress you might want to check them both out.

The Stalling Toddler

Is there a more frustrating event with a toddler than bedtime? No matter how entrenched the routine is, The Girl is quickly becoming a master of “The Stall”. And oh, she’s getting veeeeery good at it.

For example, she is getting close to being potty trained, so she knows that if she says she has to go pee, that’ll be a few minutes more as we make our way down to the bathroom, stop on the stairs to pick up a wayward stuffy, linger at the bottom of the stairs to examine a dust particle, mosey on into the bathroom, with one quick pause to admire the collected stickers on her cooperation chart (which has been unused for the past few nights).

Once inside the bathroom, a few more moments are wasted while her pj’s and night-time diaper are removed. Then the big decision – potty or toilet. She examines the toilet, then moves over to the potty…then back to the toilet and continues moving indecisively between the two until my voice, lowering in frustration, growls “pick one.”

And so it goes, for the next 10 minutes, until we are back in bed …. and she declares that she is hungry. But we were prepared for this since she has tried this one before. We have been warning her in the evening, before bath, that if she is hungry to have the snack we are offering her now because there will be no more food until morning. So, we tell her this.

Let the wailing begin.

What was once a very pleasant part of our day – a time when we snuggled in warm towels after a hot bath and cuddled under blankets reading The Cat in The Hat – has become The Mother of All Toddler Battles, usually ending in tears, threats, warnings and toddler screams of “NO!”

What is even worse is the toll these night-time battles are taking on her Mom, myself and our relationship. We’re usually okay when we are in the heat of the moment staying relatively calm and working together (never let them see a crack is my motto), but once The Girl is down for the night and we do our post-tantrum analysis, I’ve noticed there seems to be a bit more of “well, if you wouldn’t have…” and “well, maybe you should have…”‘s entering into the discussion.

Fortunately, we are both good at recognizing this, usually the next day, after we are well rested and have had a night to think about what happened. But these past few weeks have been very tough, and I have a feeling it will only get tougher when the new baby arrives any day now.

In the meantime, I’m off to do more research on bedtime strategies and how best to cope with “The Stall”. And continue talking with Mom about our strategy and the importance of presenting a united front to The Girl.