Urban adventure playgrounds — with adult monitors, but no hovering parents — are giving city children a chance to explore, writes Katherine Martinelli in The Atlantic.
The idea started in Europe after World War II, when children turned bomb sites into do-it-yourself playgrounds.
The primary components of an adventure playground are moveable parts (which can include items like boxes, pipes, paint, hammers, and even saws) and trained, paid grown-up “playworkers,” who oversee and facilitate the play without interfering. Children are free to build their own structures, tear them down, climb, graffiti, create. They are encouraged to take calculated risks in order to learn resilience, grit, and problem-solving skills.
Eve Mosher was frustrated by New York City’s rule-bound parks and playgrounds, writes Martinelli. Her children, ages 4 and 6, “were chastised for digging in the dirt or climbing trees.” She and fellow parent Alexander Khost created play:groundNYC.
“Using an organization called Pop Up Adventure Play as a model and source for playworker training, Mosher, Khost, and their six fellow board members started hosting pop-up adventure playgrounds around the city,” writes Martinelli. They’ll open a seasonal adventure playground on Governor’s Island for kids ages 6-13 in May.
In Europe, many adventure playgrounds are in lower-income neighborhoods, says Robin Meyers, a playground designer and board member. “They become a place where young people can go and have a space that’s safe and has adult supervision. The playworkers become almost like a big brother or big sister or social-worker-type role.”
In New York City, parents will have to take the ferry to Governors Island, making adventure play a “destination” event.
Will play monitors be able to keep parents from hovering? How wild and crazy can an American playground be these days?