Adventure Playgrounds Adventure Playgrounds
Issue 012

Adventure Playgrounds

by Morgan Clendaniel

August 16, 2008
There's an unusual park in Berkeley, California. Looking at it, "playground" probably wouldn't be your first thought. "Junkyard" is more like it, or "war zone." And, well, that would be accurate.Berkeley's Adventure Playground is one of a handful of playgrounds in the United States based on a concept that grew in popularity after World War II. During the Nazi occupation of Denmark, the landscape architect C. Th. Sørensen created a new playground with whatever junk was available. It turned out, that's exactly what kids like. "The simplicity of the concept is still startling," writes Susan Solomon. "This idea-that kids are more interested in playing with what they find lying around than with what we think they should be playing-is the bedrock idea of all new play areas. Kids, whose lives are becoming increasingly structured by school, sports, music lessons, need time to do anything they want, and if it's not given to them, they will just take it."Berkeley's Adventure Playground opened in 1979, and while a few others cropped up around the same time on the West Coast, it is now one of the few remaining in the country. There is no equipment, as such, in the park. Instead, kids are confronted with boards, spare tires, telephone poles, and lots and lots of mud.It's important, when thinking about the Adventure Playground, to discard the notions you have of what a playground ought to be. It's this same imaginative surrender that allows children to build the playgrounds of their dreams. If they want a fort, they can put one together; if they want to splash in the mud puddle, no one is going to tell them not to. The freedom is liberating. It's also demanding: Skills like initiative and risk-taking are often unused, especially on a normal playground.Naturally, some parents scratch their heads at the sound of this. But it's not a frightening forest of tetanus-bearing nails. When kids enter the park, each child must pick up "dangerous" objects, like pointy boards with nails in them, before they can have access to the park and its tools. As a result, the injury rate is something that would be bragged about at a union job site. Over a two-day period this summer, 700 children came through the Adventure Playground. The injury total was two fingers hit by hammers."There are no hidden risks here," says Donald. By forcing kids to assess the possibility of risk, they play more safely while also learning how to take care of themselves. There are also trained "play workers" on site, supervising. But they supervise lightly, Donald says. "You kill their creativity by hovering too close. There is a fine line between what's being creative and what's being dangerous."Now, almost 30 years after its inception, ideas from the adventure playground are taking hold around the country. Loose parts, play workers, and the use of natural elements like mud and sand are all factoring into the next generation of parks. And while the wild parameters of the adventure playgrounds may never catch on-"No one wants a junkyard in their backyard," says Donald-the Adventure Playground has paved the way for a whole new range of playgrounds.SEE ALSO:Fall Down, Go BoomMORGAN CLENDANIEL rummages through the wasteland of contemporary playgrounds and finds some promising-and dangerous-innovations.Alternative Playgrounds:-Adventure Playgrounds-Nature Playgrounds-Loose Parts Playgrounds
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Adventure Playgrounds