Recess is now a lot more fun at Elmdale PS

Although it was kiddie chaos at Elmdale’s annual Elmdalepalooza,
students took a moment to thank those who helped make the new junior play structure a reality.

Elmdale Public School has plenty of reasons to be proud of their brand new play structure. Not only has it become an essential part of students’ active play time this year, but the kids got a say in how it would look.

“The kids are enjoying it so much that we had to create a schedule in the first month of school,” says Suzie Robertson, the Principal of Elmdale Public School. “They were playing on it in the summer and now they go on the structure before and after school, and on the weekends.”

Students were polled on what kinds of play equipment they wanted on the new structure. Some options included the type of slide (curved or straight), the number of monkey bars, or whether there should be a moving bridge or not. A parallel community survey was also passed out amongst parents in the community.

Elmdale Public School Principal Suzie Robertson, Vice-Principal Julie Derbyshire, and Superintendent Susan MacDonald, at the official launch of the new play structure on September 18. Photos by Andrea Tomkins

“Each class was having this conversation during school,” says Robertson. “In kindergarten we had the kids use dots to mark which things they wanted.”

In 2012 the old, wooden play structure was deemed unsafe by an inspector, and removed. By the fall of 2012, Elmdale began raising funds for a replacement.

Many of Elmdale’s annual events were restructured so that the funds went directly to paying for the new play structure. The school also held countless fundraisers that included bake sales, raffles, and dance parties.

Robertson says the fundraising process also served as a way of building community.

“It was the work of everyone coming together,” says Robertson. “Not just in raising the funds, but choosing what we wanted to do… it created a sense of community in that one year which really brought families together.”

The total project cost, for both site preparation and construction, was just under $73,000. $39,000 of that sum came from the City of Ottawa.

Elmdale is now considering future expansions to their two outdoor classrooms, their gardens, or even more playground equipment.  These could include pretend trucks and other features to allow students to stretch their imaginations as they stretch their legs.

“We have a playground improvement committee,” says Robertson. “We’re hoping to bring in more imaginative play structures.”

Learning the ‘pointe’ of ballet

Sadie House (8), learns how to act like a ferocious beast, which is tough to do when you’re so cute. Photo by Anita Grace.

Professional dancers offered local children a close-up examination of how ballet performances are created.

Ballet Jörgen’s family-friendly ‘Ballet 101’ workshops were held in Kitchissippi on Friday, March 14, one at Carlingwood and the other at the Rosemount library branch. Seven other libraries in Ottawa also offered the workshops during march Break.

Jennifer Johnston, the Rosemount librarian who hosted the event, said Ottawa’s libraries always provide extra programming for children during March Break. This year’s theme was “magic,” and the ballet workshops offered a glimpse into the magic of dance.

Four members of the Toronto-based company demonstrated how dancers use their bodies to convey emotions and tell stories. They showed how costumes and masks transform and enhance movements, how music contributes to the narrative, and how couples work together in lifting and balancing. They even passed around a pair of pointe shoes so children could feel how hard the toe tips are.

The hands-on workshop also allowed the roomful of children and adults to try some of ballet’s foot and arm positions, and even act like magical beasts by holding their hands like claws

“[These workshops] allow children to get a really intimate knowledge of some of the structure of ballet,” Johnston said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to see dance at this level.”

Westboro’s Annie Bérubé brought her children Jasmine, 7 and Noah, 4 to the performance at Rosemount Library. She said it was a “wonderful presentation of the storytelling aspect of ballet” and noted that Jasmine was spellbound throughout.

As part of the workshop, the dancers acted out a few short scenes from their upcoming performance of Romeo & Juliet. Through discussion and demonstration, they showed how they wordlessly convey Shakespeare’s emotion-packed narrative.

Heather Lumsden-Ruegg, a 24 year-old dancer from Newmarket, said these workshops are a great way to make ballet accessible to children. “Kids get a chance to really see dance up close.”

Ballet Jörgen offers approximately 200 similar workshops each year across Canada, bringing dance to small communities and remote parts of Canada which most dance companies never visit.

“Kids get to learn about ballet and ask questions they might not have thought of before,” Lumsden-Ruegg said. For the dancers, these workshops afford opportunities to connect with audiences in a unique way.

Ballet Jörgen will be performing Romeo & Juliet on March 29 at 7:30 pm at Centrepointe Theatre.

Putting play to work: Kitchissippi kids inform national toy ratings

Isabel Wettlaufer-Wang, 8, enjoyed testing the ‘Nerf Rebelle: Heartbreaker Bow’ this summer. Photo by Christine Wettlaufer.

Each year, the Canadian Toy Testing Council (CTTC) tests approximately 400 games, playsets, dolls, and other toys to find the best new releases of the year. On November 5, they released their annual list of the top kid-tested toys and books, along with the 2014 Toy Report.

Toy evaluations are based on the experience of children at play, children like Westboro’s Maléa Edwards, 6.

“Testing toys makes me think more about the toy, what I’m doing, how I’m playing with it, and why I like it,” Maléa says.

With only one toy-testing season under her belt, she is already developing the critical thinking and analytical skills that the CTTC fosters with their mission of ‘learning through play’.

Champlain Park’s Shelbi K.S., 14, has been testing toys since she was a baby. Along with her three siblings, she is part of the Council’s longest standing testing family (19 years!) and one of six testing families in Kitchissippi.

“It’s always a good experience,” she says. “I get to try new toys and we do more things as a family, like games and crafts.”

The CTTC distributes toys to approximately 200 families in the National Capital Region who have kids ranging from zero to 16. The volunteer-run charity also makes sure that each toy is tested by kids in the target age group.

Shelbi says that she is now mostly testing books and games, although she still gets a few of her favorites – arts and crafts projects.

Hampton Park’s Alexandra Bean, 4, tested 12 toys this summer, most of which were playsets and dolls. Her favourite toy was Colour-a-Cape Princess, a craft project that had her colouring a satin-trimmed fabric cape, which has now become her top dress-up accessory.

Alexandra and her six-year-old brother Thomas loved the anticipation of receiving new toys to test and discovered new kinds of play they had not tried before.

Westboro’s Isabel Wettlaufer-Wang, 8, said she enjoyed the process because “it is fun work. It makes me feel good to be playing for a reason.”

Member families pay an annual fee of $35 and are guaranteed to test at least three toys during the May-August testing period. Most get more – Isabel tested 16 toys and 10 books this summer.

Toy testers have toys for a period of six to eight weeks, which Isabel says is “just the right period” for enjoying a toy before getting bored of it.

At the end of the testing period, testing families return the toy to the CTTC along with a completed questionnaire that covers areas of assembly, design, function, play value, durability and safety.

Maléa enjoyed working with her mother to complete the evaluations. Like many testers, she takes pride in her volunteer role and responsibilities and takes her job seriously.

Isabel understands that her evaluations make their way to toy manufacturers.

“It’s nice to give our feedback on what we like and don’t like,” says her mom, Christine Wettlaufer. “We’re smarter shoppers now,” she adds, saying that through testing they have gained a better understanding of which toys have staying power and which ones just end up on the shelf.

The list of award winners, the complete 2014 Toy Report, as well as information about becoming a toy testing family, is available online at