Many people are familiar with the term “playground” but the presence of the word “adventure” in front might result in some confusion. Essentially, an adventure playground is a more unstructured, interactive version of a regular playground. The purpose is to help promote creativity and to encourage children to use their imagination.
The concept of adventure playgrounds dates back to the 1940’s. One of the first to be built was the Emdrup Junk Playground, in Denmark opened in 1943, during World War II. The architect, Dan Fink imagined ‘A junk playground in which children could create and shape, dream and imagine a reality.” Adventure playgrounds incorporate natural elements such as hills, trees and plants, piles of junk, and loose parts to build play forts. Fink wanted to give children living in the city the same opportunities for play as in country.
In England, Landscape Architect, Lady Allen of Hurtwood began to set up playgrounds in bombed out sections of post-war London. The playgrounds allowed children of all abilities to play in them. Today, the London Adventure Playground Association describes these play areas as ‘a place where children are free to do many things that they cannot easily do elsewhere in our crowded urban society… The atmosphere is permissive and free, and this is especially attractive to children whose lives are otherwise much limited and restricted by lack of space and opportunity.’
Warsaw saw the same ‘exuberant reappearance of children in public urban spaces after the wartime experience of confinement or evacuation’ as depicted by Ben Shahn’s gouache painting ‘Liberation’ of three girls swinging around a pole, in 1945. Indeed, the appropriation of
urban spaces by children in the years after the war would disrupt and reconfigure the shattered landscapes of Europe (O’Connor, Kinchin, pg 163, 2012)
In Canada, we have very few Adventure Playgrounds. In fact, in North America, there are only 11 adventure playgrounds with three being located in Canada. Unfortunately, these low numbers coupled with the declining rate of active play means children of the future may lose out on the benefits of unstructured play and Adventure Playgrounds.
Given this knowledge, the best thing you can do as a parent for your child is to encourage outdoor play as much as possible. Take advantage of play structures in your community and encourage your child to be creative and imaginative. Psychiatrist Shimi Kang, author of The Dolphin Parent, says parents need to become a bit less risk-averse when it comes to children’s play saying, ‘The more we protect our children, the more we’re putting them at risk of danger.’