Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Real Community Playspace

Finishing the year on a bright note. A few weeks ago my son and I visited a local community playspace. Most people from the region know about it to some degree, but for those of you not from the Newcastle area, or from overseas let me explain.
Several years ago one of the local government councils (Lake Macquarie City) has a purpose built playground for the children of the area that was so much more than the existing play equipment available elsewhere.

Although big compared to what was established beforehand, the initial project was just a starting point. What is there now is at least four times the size of the original playspace.

One of the great things about this space is that it has pretty much been an ongoing work. As ideas and concepts came to light the construct of the facility changed shape, both physically as it began to expand and metaphorically as its components took on a more natural, child-focused feel.

Gone are the multi-coloured climbing frames, plastic cubby houses and sterile equipment. Now the park is full of a variety of areas, from the water play section to a growing natural maze. There's a pirate ship, interconnected sand areas, loads of netting to climb, flying foxes, climbing walls, secret hideaways, slides, swings and a giant tower that has multiple ways to get to the top and a huge, twisting tunnel slide as the main way to get down.

It's a mark of the popularity of this marvellous space that despite the lake being literally 100 metres away, both children and adults alike throng to this area because of the diversity in what it offers. There's something for absolutely everyone. Parents with young babies, toddlers, older children, teens and adults all seems to have a ball. There are even loads of wheelchair/pram access areas and a swing available for those with mobility issues.

There's even a bike track that integrates road like features into it including signs, crossings and a fuel pump. I can picture schools bringing groups of children here for road safety lessons.

As great as all that I have said sounds, it's not what the park contains within that is the real appeal. Rather, it's the sense of community you gain as soon as you go through the gate. This probably began as a vision of the local council, but has grown into a truly community-orientated facility that reaches far beyond local government boundaries.

It claims to be a place that caters for 'all abiities' and that seems obvious right from the moment you enter. Just check out all the possibilities for risk taking on so many levels.

Other great features that might otherwise go unnoticed are the plants used for the maze are drought resistant flora native to the Lake Macquarie area, as well the recycled water for the water play component of the park.

I think what speaks volumes for the high regard in which this place is held by all is that there is absolutely no evidence of any graffiti, vandalism or other disrespect for the grounds and all that it contains. Rarely have I been able to say this of such a public space.

If you are ever in the Lake Macquarie area, Speers Point to be precise, you should definitely drop by and check this collection of experiences (the term park just doesn't seem to do it justice).

Until you do, or if you never get the chance, just take in the images. Not some of the best photography you'll ever come across, but they convey my message so much better than my words are able to.










Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Hessian Christmas

It may be hard to tell from the photo below, but this storefront tree is adorned entirely with decorations made from hessian.

This store is not selling these items. They have simply decided to use them for their Christmas decorations. It may be a statement. It may simply be a choice to move away from commercialised paraphernalia at this time of year. I just don't know.

What I do know though is that it is as beautiful as any storefront Christmas display I have seen and sends a valuable message to us all. This time of year doesn't have to be about consumerism. Let it be about what is in your heart.

That's what I take away from these images. What it does or doesn't do for you is your business.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Defending the Indefensible

I'm not about to go into the details of the tragedy of Newtown, Connecticut. There has been enough coverage of it and as a result too much sadness for too many people.

What I am doing is voicing my personal opinion on what should follow such a tragic event. There is currently a heated discussion on this topic occurring on the Males in EC Facebook Page.

Anyone who owns a gun and keeps it in their possession needs to have a long hard look at the reasons they do. If you are one of those people and live in the USA you might well use the 2nd Amendment to defend your 'Right' to bear arms. This is in fact exactly what the 2nd Amendment says:
"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."
Now a rational person may read that and  see that the 'Right' was intended only for those individuals being part of the militia to protect the Free State. Those who read an individual's 'Right' to bear arms should not be infringed are missing the point in my humble opinion. If the Amendment was intended to refer to individuals in isolation than there would be absolutely no necessity to even mention a militia or security of a Free State.

If you keep a gun to keep you and your family safe then perhaps you should be aware that you are much more likely to harm yourself or someone you love with such a weapon than to use it against an intruder. Or that the intruder will use that very firearm against you.

The sad fact is that most murders and mass killings occur by means of use of legal guns. It is also a terrifying fact that the NRA is such a powerful force in the USA. So powerful that change through political means is highly unlikely.

You can own a gun if you wish. Many people do and use them at shooting clubs or for hunting. Keep them locked away at such clubs, stored separately from the ammunition. When you require them you should have to sign for them with adequate ID.

History has proven they do not deter crime. If you possess a gun then someone will simply come along with a bigger gun or more weapons. Where a society if so full of and reliant on guns there can be no winners. They were created to cause death and that is their main purpose.

Once again, these are my personal views. Feel free to disagree with any or all I have talked about here. But please think about your actions and their possible consequences. Even if such consequences are simply the messages we are sending our children. Do not post hateful comments as they will be reported. I will publish any comments that add to the discussion and are constructive, regardless of whether you agree or disagree

Monday, December 10, 2012

Respecting Diversity

Culture can mean and include many things. Your heritage, traditions and ways of being and doing. It is far more than ethnicity. Each family has their own specific culture which resides within the culture of their local community. Many communities contain multiple cultures.

We are very lucky to have a Family who hail from Bangladesh at our service. Many aspects of their culture have been shared with us, including a number of meals and snacks.

This time it was Henna tattoos that we were privileged to receive. For those not in the know Henna is a plant from which a paste is made. This is applied via what can best be described as a mini piping tube.

When first applied the henna is soft and takes about 30 minutes to dry. During this time it is neccessary to keep the area decorated as motionless as possible to avoid smearing. Once it is dried the excess henna can be brushed or washed off. What remains is the design, but absorbed into the skin. It is only the protein of the plant which the body absorbs so it is quite safe. The tattoo will begin to fade in about 4 days and will last around a week.

The children and staff all loved this experience. Not only did they get to experience the sensation of the henna being applied, but they also compared tattoos with each other. The size, shape, what they looked most like. They were also able to ask our visitors about why they do this and how they get the materials.

There is so much learning potential here, but more importantly it was an opportunity to community members who origniate from another country to come and share a part of their culture with us. The interest has remained too. Drawing on their own hands and arms may be met with some quizzical looks, but it does wash off and the children are exproring this cultural tradition in their own way to broaden their understanding and respect for an alternative way of being and belonging.

If you haven't tried this before then may I suggest you give it a go. And a little tip for you. If you smear baby oil over the tattoo it will become slightly darker and last a few days longer.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Child's Idea of Decorating the Tree

We all get stuck in our ways - traditions we often like to call them. Most the time I believe it's more a case of not wanting to change a way of doing something because that's how it's always been done.

In most circumstances I would like to think that I buck the trend rather than follow it. I'm usually not big on blindly following what's gone before. However, when it comes to Christmas I have to admit that in some areas I do stick to the tried and true.

The best example is decorating the tree. Whether at home or at work with the children, it has usually been about putting an artificial tree up, decorating it with store bought plastic decorations and voila!


Of course there have been modifications to this. In particular the home-made decorations which the children, mine and those I work with, make themselves. A slow move towards more natural materials too. For instance, we made a star  out of twigs found in our playground, plus an alternative tree from a fallen branch that we also decorated.

But to truly think outside the square it took the genius of a young boy determined to make the tree beautiful in his own way. And boy didn't he succeed? I don't think I've seen a greater adornment of a Christmas tree, especially as none of the 'decorations' are actually on the tree.

We can all learn alot from the children we work with if only we take the time to stop, look and listen before crossing the road to reality.