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.

And the winner for most overpackaged product this Christmas is…

Leapster game cartridges. Here is a photo of one of the games Santa tried to stuff into my sons Christmas stocking with a $2 coin  for comparison.

IMG_2386

and here is the actual size of what was contained inside that package.

Wasteful packaging 2

What a bloody waste.  I wish the Grassroots Recycling Network was still doing their annual excessive packaging awards. I would be nominating Leapster.

Love your games. Hate your packaging.

And I thought hockey Moms were rabid fans

They don’t hold a candle to these folks. I mean, follow European soccer and there are some rabid (and scary) fans, but I don’t think I have seen this kind of fandom demonstrated for 12 year olds. At 2:30 the flares come out for this young Polish side.

Thanks to the Good Men Project.

Who taught you to be a good Dad?

Just discovered a great new Dad podcast, Dads Unplugged, which introduced me to the work of John Badalament, author of The Modern Dad’s Dilemma: How to Stay Connected with Your Kids in a Rapidly Changing World. John was interviewed recently on the Dads Unplugged podcast, and he got me thinking about a great many things about being a Dad.

One of things John mentioned in the interview that has resonated with me is his question of who taught you to be a Dad? John says that no one ever talked to him about Fatherhood. No one ever told him when he was a boy that they believed had what it takes to be a good Dad.

It’s more than missing mentors and role models. In fact, I think we have a lot of models and mentors for great Dads around  (and, as an aside, I think there have always been great Dads – it’s not necessarily something new with our generation. I have something percolating in the back of my head about this so called “changing role of Dad” thing that I am suddenly finding irksome, but that’s another post). It’s just that there is not a lot of open discussion about what it takes to be a great Dad with those who matter the most – our sons.

I am not talking about publicly writing our blog posts, or carrying out these conversations over beers or on Facebook with each other, as important as those activities are. We Dads ARE connecting and having those discussions about what it takes to be a Dad. That is happening.

But what John says is missing are those conversations we have with the boys in our lives about what it takes to be a great Dad. It is about arming them with the belief and the confidence that they have the tools within them to someday be great Dads theselves, and then seizing the opportunities as they come up to help them refine those tools.

I am guilty. I don’t think I have ever consciously thought that while I am playing with my son I am preparing him to be a Dad. I am preparing my son for lots of things in his life. How to work as part of a team, how to think for himself, how to solve problems, how to treat and respect women, how to tie his shoes. But I haven’t ever consciously thought that I should be teaching him to be a great Dad.

I can’t tell you how uncomfortable typing that last line made me feel. Like I have just discovered some innate truth that I should have known all along. But the truth is, it is something that  had never occurred to me, beyond consciously trying to be the best Dad/Husband I can be in the hopes that I can model behaviour for him. But what John is saying is, while that is important, modelling alone isn’t enough – we have to be explicit and act consciously if we want our sons to be great Dads. As powerful as our modelling is, we can’t expect that our sons are going to get it just by observing our actions. It is, I think, an important point, and one that I need to pay attention to.

Here is some more from John.

My Dad doing his Christmas thing

My Dad's Christmas decorations

This is my Dad. Over the years he has taken some friendly ribbing about his enthusiastic Christmas decorations. It got worse once Christmas Vacation was released and we now had a name to lovingly hang on my Dad – Clark W Griswald. My Dad had so many cutouts, lights and decorations on our yard that they actually spilled over to the neighbours yard.

We grew up in a small town, and I have vivid (and sometimes embarrassing) memories of the traffic being backed up on our street Christmas Eve, flashbulbs popping as strangers took pictures of our house. I’m certain the flashes were redundant.

A few years ago, my retired parents moved from the town I grew up in to the town they grew up in. A province away. I thought that would have been the end of the decorations, considering they alone would probably fill a 1 ton U-Haul. But Dad packed them all up and took them and has continued the tradition at their new home.

As I get older with my own kids and spend more time in my childhood memories than is probably healthy, I have come to deeply appreciate this tradition that my Dad worked hard to carry on. Traditions are important. They are the glue that holds family together across time. And as the years go by, I have this feeling of pride in the fact that my Dad brought smiles to many faces, and probably contributed to a few other families Christmas traditions – the Christmas Eve drive-by of the Lalonde house.

Nice work, Chuck.

God is a concept, by which we measure our pain

Maybe this is why I am in a funk today. Just realized it’s December 8th. 30 years.

My mom used to listen to the radio in bed as she fell asleep at night. My room was in the basement of the house. I remember coming upstairs in the evening and hearing the sound of my Mom crying in her bedroom. 14 year old me went in and asked her what was wrong. She told me against the sonic background crackle of AM radio static, through which I faintly heard a voice and a song.

5 Funny Amazon Reviews

Comments on websites are both a blessing and a curse. Take YouTube, for example, where responses to user videos are often juvenile at best. Amazon, on the other hand, oh how I love the comments on Amazon. Maybe it is because Amazon was born out of a community where people had a love of the written word. Here are 5 of my favorite Amazon product reviews that make me laugh.

5. Playmobil Security Check Point

Lord knows I love my Playmobil, but this product takes realistic place settings to a whole new level. All that is missing is the full body scan and inappropriate patdown area. Here’s the review from loosenut:

I was a little disappointed when I first bought this item, because the functionality is limited. My 5 year old son pointed out that the passenger’s shoes cannot be removed. Then, we placed a deadly fingernail file underneath the passenger’s scarf, and neither the detector doorway nor the security wand picked it up. My son said “that’s the worst security ever!”. But it turned out to be okay, because when the passenger got on the Playmobil B757 and tried to hijack it, she was mobbed by a couple of other heroic passengers, who only sustained minor injuries in the scuffle, which were treated at the Playmobil Hospital. The best thing about this product is that it teaches kids about the realities of living in a high-surveillence society. My son said he wants the Playmobil Neighborhood Surveillence System set for Christmas. I’ve heard that the CC TV cameras on that thing are pretty worthless in terms of quality and motion detection, so I think I’ll get him the Playmobil Abu-Gharib Interogation Set instead (it comes with a cute little memo from George Bush).

4. AudioQuest K2 terminated speaker cable

Because, you know, what Dad doesn’t need a pair of $6,800 speaker cables? Review by Happy Customer

I was a bit skeptical, but decided to take a chance and took out a second mortgage on my home to buy these cables. In a great wave of luck however, the cables actually built me a NEW house shortly after I lost mine to foreclosure (I lost my job after missing 2 weeks straight due to illness. Between you and I, though, I was really just spending 16 hours a day tweaking the connectors on these cables to get the best possible sound from my speakers.)

Although I love my new home, I do not love it as much as I do these cables. They are quickly becoming the favorite thing in my life, a position which used to be held by my daughter. She’s old enough to take care of herself now, at least that’s what I tell the Children’s Services agent when they try to lecture me about food and clothing and blah blah blah.

Final verdict: buy 3 pair.

3. Playmobil Police Checkpoint

Another fine product from the realistic setting folks at Playmobil. Review from Christoper Barber.

This playset is one of the best purchases I have made for my three-year-old. In the past, when we have been stopped at roadblocks, or when during one of Daddy’s arrests, he would start crying uncontrollably. Now, after playing with this for the past several months, he is perfectly docile.

As an adjunct to this product, I would also recommend that you purchase the Playmobil Armed Standoff Playset, Fisher-Price Little People Battering Ram, and the Nerf Tear-Gas Canister Deployment Gun.

Bill of Rights sold separately.

2. Tuscon Whole Gallon Milk

Yes, you can buy milk on Amazon. Who knew? Catherine Swinford’s review raises the literary bar for Amazon product reviews.

He always brought home milk on Friday.

After a long hard week full of days he would burst through the door, his fatigue hidden behind a smile. There was an icy jug of Tuscan Whole Milk, 1 Gallon, 128 fl oz in his right hand. With his left hand he would grip my waist – I was always cooking dinner – and press the cold frostiness of the jug against my arm as he kissed my cheek. I would jump, mostly to gratify him after a time, and smile lovingly at him. He was a good man, a wonderful husband who always brought the milk on Friday, Tuscan Whole Milk, 1 Gallon, 128 fl oz.

Then there was that Friday, the terrible Friday that would ruin every Friday for the rest of my life. The door opened, but there was no bouyant greeting – no cold jug against the back of my arm. There was no Tuscan Whole Milk in his right hand, nor his left. There came no kiss. I watched as he sat down in a kitchen chair to remove his shoes. He wore no fatigue, but also no smile. I didn’t speak, but turned back to the beans I had been stirring. I stirred until most of their little shrivelled skins floated to the surface of the cloudy water. Something was wrong, but it was vague wrongness that no amount of hard thought could give shape to.

Over dinner that night I casually inserted,”What happened to the milk?” 
“Oh,”he smiled sheepishly, glancing aside,”I guess I forgot today.”

That was when I knew. He was tired of this life with me, tired of bringing home the Tuscan Whole Milk, 1 Gallon, 128 fl oz. He was probably shoveling funds into a secret bank account, looking at apartments in town, casting furtive glances at cashiers and secretaries and waitresses. That’s when I knew it was over. Some time later he moved in with a cashier from the Food Mart down the street. And me? Well, I’ve gone soy.

1. The Mountain Three Wolf Moon Short Sleeve Tee

The grandaddy of Amazon reviews imo. So lovingly paid homage to in an episode of The Office, and sweetly reviewed on Amazon by B. Govern

This item has wolves on it which makes it intrinsically sweet and worth 5 stars by itself, but once I tried it on, that’s when the magic happened. After checking to ensure that the shirt would properly cover my girth, I walked from my trailer to Wal-mart with the shirt on and was immediately approached by women. The women knew from the wolves on my shirt that I, like a wolf, am a mysterious loner who knows how to ‘howl at the moon’ from time to time (if you catch my drift!). The women that approached me wanted to know if I would be their boyfriend and/or give them money for something they called mehth. I told them no, because they didn’t have enough teeth, and frankly a man with a wolf-shirt shouldn’t settle for the first thing that comes to him.

I arrived at Wal-mart, mounted my courtesy-scooter (walking is such a drag!) sitting side saddle so that my wolves would show. While I was browsing tube socks, I could hear aroused asthmatic breathing behind me. I turned around to see a slightly sweaty dream in sweatpants and flip-flops standing there. She told me she liked the wolves on my shirt, I told her I wanted to howl at her moon. She offered me a swig from her mountain dew, and I drove my scooter, with her shuffling along side out the door and into the rest of our lives. Thank you wolf shirt.

Pros: Fits my girthy frame, has wolves on it, attracts women 
Cons: Only 3 wolves (could probably use a few more on the ‘guns’), cannot see wolves when sitting with arms crossed, wolves would have been better if they glowed in the dark.

Honerable mention for Three Wolves shirt goes to DrCoolSex (and bonus point for working in Tuscon Whole Milk):

What are your favorite reviews on Amazon?

Changing your profile pic on Facebook is a start

If you are on Facebook, you may have noticed that your news update is beginning to look a lot like some bastard love child offspring of Hanna-Barbera and Walt Disney as profile pictures get changed. To go along with the change is the message:

Change your FB profile picture to a cartoon from your childhood. The goal? To not see a human face on FB until Monday, December 6th. Join the fight against  child abuse, copy & paste to your status and invite your friends to do the same!

My profile picture right now is Batfink, a little known cartoon character that aired after schools when I was a kid.

This is fun (and perhaps the largest collective copyright infringement movement I have ever seen hehehe ), but there needs to be more in order for this to work. Changing your profile picture does send a message, but ultimately it is a meaningless act.

So, let’s all remind our networks that, if we really want to send a strong message that we believe violence and abuse against children is something we do not tolerate in this society, let’s back it up with some action. I urge you to not only donate some cash to an organization that works to eradicate this issue, but send the message out to others in your network to do the same. Make the change mean something. Here are some suggestions:

Why it is important for Dads to read stories

The latest issue of Literacy Lava came across my Twitter feed in a tweet from tessadad. In it is an excellent article called Story Time with Dad by Kelly Burstow about the importance of Father’s reading stories aloud to their kids. In the article, Kelly quotes from Jim Trealease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, who says:

Fathers should make an extra effort to read to their children. Because the vast majority of primary-school teachers are women, young boys often associate reading with women and schoolwork. And just as unfortunate, too many fathers would rather be seen playing catch in the driveway with their sons than taking them to the library.

I do the vast majority of bedtime reading with my kids. I enjoy the time that I get to spend with them at the end of each day. And it reconnects me to my childhood. I loved reading, and I love the opportunity to connect my kids with the books I loved as a kid. It reminds me that at one time of my life I read as entertainment – to escape – as opposed to today where I often read to understand. Balance the time crunch of being a full-time working parent with the demands of a Masters program, and reading for escape and pleasure has taken a back seat in my life for the past few years. So when I get a chance to read The Littles or the Magic Tree House to my kids each night, I relish the fact that, for a few brief moments every day, I get to share a moment with them and escape with them into another world, a temporary distraction from the hectic reality of life.