Adventure Playground
August 18, 2007 3:53 PM   Subscribe

The antidote to the controlled, indoor world of modern kids might be Adventure Playgrounds. Messy, chaotic, but counter-intuitively, safer than traditional playgrounds, there are only two in the US: Listen to Berkeley's Adventure Playground on NPR, or check out some flickr shots. In Europe, where they originated from the rubble of WWII, and in Japan where they are also popular, the importance of play that involves risks is better understood. There are hundreds of Adventure Playgrounds outside of North America.
posted by serazin (38 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
And a little more history.
posted by serazin at 3:55 PM on August 18, 2007

When I was a kid, we had an adventure playground. It was called "the neighborhood."
posted by MarshallPoe at 4:05 PM on August 18, 2007

Yeah, ditto. AND GET OFF MY LAWN
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:08 PM on August 18, 2007

Well MarshallPoe, that's kind of what the 2nd link starts by saying.
posted by serazin at 4:08 PM on August 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

The City Museum, St. Louis. (on flickr)
posted by honest knave at 4:11 PM on August 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

There's more than two in the US. Your first link lists three specifically (with links) and mentions a few others.

I remember going to the Irvine Adventure Park one year with my summer day camp group. While most kids were rolling around in the mud pit or trying to cross the rope bridge, I was trying to build myself a shed with some old plywood and a bunch of half-bent nails I had pulled out of other bits of old plywood.

I built myself a damn fine shed, if I say so myself.
posted by Katemonkey at 4:24 PM on August 18, 2007

Sorry, I got confused with various conflicting references (some said that there also Adventure Playgrounds in Texas, but I believe they've closed now).

But yes, now that you say it, as far as I could find there are the three in California, Berkeley's being the most 'adventurous' and no others in the US. Although clearly there's a continuum of wild-controlled in parks and children's museums.
posted by serazin at 4:30 PM on August 18, 2007

Yep, this was the fields around my neighborhood, the old burned down country club with the half flooded pool, the monkey house at the old zoo that closed 30 years before....

and, the corner junkyard where the commune was trying to get started...

posted by HuronBob at 4:38 PM on August 18, 2007

I would spend summers in Mesquite, TX and build treehouses and whatnot in the forest behind my dad's house. It's all subdivisions now.
posted by delmoi at 4:42 PM on August 18, 2007

This was what the playground was like behind my old elementary school. Tires, wood, posts, an old felled tree. It was excellent. Last time I was around there and took a look the place had been utterly bowdlerized, as it were.
posted by ursus_comiter at 4:50 PM on August 18, 2007

Burnout bullies with BB guns, bottle rockets and bmx bikes inbound!
posted by well_balanced at 4:55 PM on August 18, 2007

When I was a kid, we had an adventure playground. It was called "the neighborhood."

I had an adventure playground, too, the one serazin linked to in Berkeley which was pretty different from my neighborhood and one of the very coolest places for a kid to spend an afternoon in the bay area (and anywhere).
posted by ORthey at 5:04 PM on August 18, 2007

(not trying to say there isn't fun to be had on your own, because I did plenty of that too... but it's an amazing, well-run place that is unique and it boggles my mind that it still exists).
posted by ORthey at 5:05 PM on August 18, 2007

"Adventure Playground" sounds more like "Adult Venture" to me. It's the adults' idea of how kids should have fun. Out of fear for what strangers might do to them, parents have inadvertently locked their children up inside. Now they want their children to "have fun" under controlled conditions and under their supervision.

When I was a kid, the only real fun to be had was under UNcontrolled conditions as far away from the 'rents as possible. If I was playing Monopoly with my sisters on a rainy day, that wasn't having fun. That was 'behaving.' Having fun was running out in the rain and jumping in the puddles. Without galoshes. Without a hat. Without an umbrella. And you knew you were gonna die of bronchitis cuz mom would remind you as you rushed out the door but you didn't care. Thunder and lightning were exciting! My sisters thought thunder and lightning were scary. Y'know why? They listened to my mom.
posted by ZachsMind at 5:30 PM on August 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

I guess it depends on where you grow up. We also ran all over the hither and yon, mostly on abandoned property behind our place that had houses hidden inside overgrown blackberry bushes. Worth every scratch! Once we moved onto the farm, well, shenanigans all over.

But plenty of kids grown up in city areas where outside means dirty needles and unsafe, busy roads. Or they grow up in well manicured suburbs with nary an abandoned house or forest to be had. I can see where these parks would be fun for them, a way to get out and go beserk for a bit.
posted by Salmonberry at 5:45 PM on August 18, 2007

Oh, and just let me add, even with all or running around, going to that City Museum with it's "enchanted caves" and the like would have THRILLED us. It looks very cool!
posted by Salmonberry at 5:48 PM on August 18, 2007

Zachsmind, you're talking as if this is some new idea but the Berkeley adventure playground opened in 1979 - probably before the majority of metafilter members were born, and well before the onset of modern helicopter parenting. In fact I remember reading about it in OWL magazine or something similar 20+ years ago when I was a kid, and thinking it was pretty cool.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 5:57 PM on August 18, 2007

loved the pictures of the boys slopping in mud, or the girl on the zipline, the painted cheetah on the metal wall, the nails, the dirt and sculpted rocks, the wild shack city... as a teacher and a mom it is always good to revisit and reexamine my ideas of safety, play and freedom.
posted by psmom at 6:31 PM on August 18, 2007

i love how everyone starts sounding all crotchety and bemoaning how kids just don't have it the way we used to, like in this thread. it's comforting to see something that may be an antidote to what's discussed in the thread i linked to.

but still, not nearly as cool as back when i was a kid and the ravine near our house was vietnam and rocks were hand grenades. the only supervision we had was mom bellowing dinner, though you were so far away you had to pay attention to the pitch to know if it was yours.

man, i remember....
posted by andywolf at 6:43 PM on August 18, 2007

"...opened in 1979 - probably before the majority of metafilter members were born"

In 1979 we were having light sabre battles with broomsticks and tree branches and pretty much anything we could find that might poke an eye out. We were jumping off house roofs and causing our parents to pass out from fear that we might break a leg. IT WAS GREAT! In fact, sometimes we DID break a leg, or otherwise require a trip to the Emergency Room. IT WAS GREAT! One kid got run over by a school bus one morning cuz he was being too rambunctious. THAT WAS AWESOME!

Today's kids are coddled. When I was young, the Overprotectiveness of Mothers was the enemy of our fun. They meant well, but childhood is no fun when smothered in sunblock, or tied up in three layers of coats and hats until you can't bend your elbows or knees, or stapled to pillows and bubblewrap. The newer generations, post 1979, have let the mothers win. It sickens me.

I don't care if it's Berkeley or Brooklyn. If parents are cooking it up, it's sheltered. A parent is never gonna convince their kids to eat worms or swim in raw sewage or try a 360 on the swings or hang upside down from a third story window or try those things the TV says don't try at home. Sometimes growing up means taking a few risks and guess what - if you fail at a risk, it means you don't grow up. That's why they got the Darwin Awards. The ones who survive childhood uncoddled and free as a loogie - they're made of stronger stuff.

Whenever parents think they're protecting their children, they're actually making it worse. Bill Cosby's routine called "Playground" explains this far better than I can, but I can't find the transcript online. You'll just have to find his old LP called "Wonderfulness." Cos knew what side was up.
posted by ZachsMind at 7:04 PM on August 18, 2007

When I was in Boy Scouts, we went a Camporee once (weekend campout with multiple troops) and for some reason our troop's campsite was right next to a BIG PILE OF TRASH.

This Camporee featured a competition to see who could build the coolest gateway to their campsite we ransacked the dump and found old doors and all kinds of nails, planks, and useful trash, and turned our campsite into CAMP VIETNAM complete with snipers wielding squirt guns.

We lost the competition due to not using enough rope and knots. Suckers.
posted by mkb at 7:17 PM on August 18, 2007

I didn't last half an hour in the Boy Scouts. That's gotta be the ultimate in adult coddling and supervised 'fun.' Yuck.
posted by ZachsMind at 7:31 PM on August 18, 2007

You had a different experience in the 'Scouts than I did, Zachs. For me, it was like Lord of the Flies with pocket-knives and uniforms. The only 'supervision' was a couple of fathers who used to come along because it gave them an opportunity to drink beer, tell lies, and eat beans out of the can without their wives bitching at them.

As long as nobody got stabbed, they pretty much stayed out of things. (And if somebody did get stabbed ... well, isn't that what that First Aid merit badge is for?) We didn't get very many merit badges, but it was a singularly educational experience.

I always thought that a big part of the scouting concept was a leadership hierarchy that didn't involve 'adult supervision.' I suppose that probably hasn't withstood lawsuits and helicopter parenting, though.

At any rate, the playgrounds look cool, but I can't help being a little sad that they're now probably the only places that a lot of kids have where they can go and ... do actual kid stuff.

But I suppose it's better than those wretched "certified safe" padded-plastic things that everyone seems to be installing.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:08 PM on August 18, 2007

Right now, somewhere in Berkeley, theres a personal injury lawyer accidentally stumbling across this FPP and thinking to himself "Children?!? Playing with scrap wood and nails?!? Jesus Christ, this is a fucking goldmine."
posted by Avenger at 8:14 PM on August 18, 2007

We had a massive wooded area with a lake to play in when I was a kid. It's a golf course and a strip mall now.
posted by 2sheets at 8:31 PM on August 18, 2007

ZachsMind: Today's kids are also FAT. But you're right, even the healthy upper-middle-class ones are coddled, protected, helmeted, coached, safety-seated and watched at all times ... except in their bedrooms, masturbating on their webcams for pedophiles in Belgium or wherever, in exchange for Amazon Wish List prizes.

But hell yeah, in '79 I was also having vicious light-sabre battles, building dangerous structures in trees and dangerous motocross ramps out of rusty-nail warped plywood, shooting dangerous model rockets, fishing in dangerous creeks, racing dangerous 50cc motorbikes with my friends, playing tackle football in the street and forming secret societies in the pine woods just beyond our neighborhood. It never killed anybody I knew. (That was later, when we started driving.)

"Last Child In The Woods" is an interesting book my wife brought home from work. (NRDC Link.) Not the best-written book in the world, but an interesting look at the sad lame lives of today's American child in "both" Americas: The poor/working class kids are fat and sad and watch teevee inside, and the upper classes aren't allowed even a moment of free play in a natural environment.
posted by kenlayne at 8:56 PM on August 18, 2007

"...The only 'supervision' was a couple of fathers..."

Ah! See, now that's the difference! The Boy Scout troupe I was dragged to at the age of nine was run by mothers and not fathers. We met in someone's nice, safe living room, and we sat indian style* on the floor and behaved while they told us what to expect from the next few months. They had it all planned out on spreadsheets and they had charts and graphs and they gave us papers that reiterated what they'd just spent all this time saying, and they all kept commenting on how cute we all looked in our outfits.

With 20/20 hindsight I can now compare the mothers' enthusiasm and their scheduled control-freak behavior as something akin to people overjoyed with Scientology. At nine years old, all I knew was these Other Mothers were trying to take my summer away from me.

I didn't hear a thing on their planned curriculum for the summer that interested me, and was on my eighth can of soda that day by then, so I couldn't sit still any longer. The ladies excused themselves for a moment and went into a huddle on the other side of the room, because they were discussing some discrepancy one of them found in the curriculum. What exactly I never figured out and could not have cared less at the moment. Seemed like a mutiny was beginning amongst the mothers, and since none of them were my Mom, I took that opportunity to inch my way to the door and bail. I don't know if the other guys left after me: I didn't look back.

A Boy Scout troupe run by dads would be cool cuz dads never really grow up. You'll get the badges about how to start fires and how to shoot guns and how to make splints (cuz someone'll need one before long) before you get to macrame badge or the pottery badge or the helping old ladies across the street badge. With den mothers, it'll be the opposite.

As for the badges about making different kinds of knots, you'll probably get to those about the same time regardless of the supervision's gender. I wonder what that says about adults?

* That's what we called it back then! Don't hit me. Nowadays you say "cross-legged" or maybe "yoga-style" but back then we said indian style and for the life of me I don't know if it meant Indian indian or Native American indian. We didn't think that much about it back then.
posted by ZachsMind at 9:00 PM on August 18, 2007

Cool post. I won't bore you with how great my childhood was, just know that I had an older brother and there was a tree house involved. I took my daughter to the park tonight, it's one of those certified safe padded-plastic things mentioned above. But she makes her own fun. She climbs on the outside of the tunnels, hangs upside down from the monkey bars, and climbs up poles that are only mean for support. ZachsMind I don't know if you have any kids of your own, but from what I see at the park, kids make their own fun. You can pad the playground all you want, but the kids will find a way to make it just dangerous enough to get a thrill.
posted by Sailormom at 9:10 PM on August 18, 2007

In the first Up Series film, Seven Up!, they bring the children to an Adventure Playground. When my wife and I watched the documentary we were a bit confused by that particular scene because it looked like they brought the kids to the ruins of a bombed-out building to play in. Which I guess they did, cool!
posted by evilelf at 9:34 PM on August 18, 2007

Avenger, I assure you no one gets on an adventure playground in the US without parents signing a release and an assumption of risk form. It's the American way. Let's pin the responsibility for injury on someone and let's sue the fun and risk right out of childhood.

No more fucking dodgeball. No mre jungle gyms. Don't you know kids get hurt doing that.
posted by Xurando at 9:35 PM on August 18, 2007

"I assure you no one gets on an adventure playground in the US without parents signing a release and an assumption of risk form. It's the American way."

My kids visit the AP in Berkeley somewhat regularly. I've never been asked to sign anything.

Before being turned loose in the play area, children are given age-appropriate information about safety and from what I've seen they all take it to heart. Visitors are asked to help keep the place safe (by collecting loose or protruding nails) and for the most part they just do.

It seems safer than letting kids play on an urban or suburban sidewalk with row after row of driveways.

"No more fucking dodgeball."

Fuck dodgeball. That's just an excuse for children with burly throwing arms and dickhead attitudes to hit other kids in the face. Dodgeball is for assholes.
posted by majick at 10:27 PM on August 18, 2007

I'm going to say that kid playgrounds went into the shitter in the late 1970s. Before that, all playground equipment was pure metal -- all kinds of bizarre contraptions like 20-foot multiplatform rockets and 15-foot high slides. Around 1978, they tore that down at my favorite playgrounds in Austin and installed those rough-sawn wood-metal monstrosities, where you climb over the wrong part and instantly get a 2-inch splinter in your hand. I hated that equipment. Then I guess it was the 1980s where the plastic crap took off, and that's what I see on the playgrounds these days.

Screw you all, urban parks planners, architects, and lawyers who have collectively invented the National Electric Code of playgrounds, so to speak.
posted by rolypolyman at 10:28 PM on August 18, 2007

The adventure playground in Berkeley is amazing. I expected to see warnings and liability notices all over the place, and instead saw big and little kids using saws and hammers, with zero hovering adults.
posted by zippy at 11:01 PM on August 18, 2007

I guess all those kids who grew up having fun on that playground or in Scouts are just gonna have to spend the rest of their lives wishing they were as cool as you, Zachsmind. I hope they can deal with that.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 11:17 PM on August 18, 2007

It's interesting that a lot of folks reacted to this post with "When I was a kid, we got to whack bees' nests with spiked bats and it was GREAT, not like this shitty adventure playground now".

It's interesting because, as a parent, I think I'm unusually supportive of unsupervised, wild, unconventional play. Many of the parents around me (in the Bay Area) are exteremely afraid of any harm coming to their child. And there are almost no kids just playing wild in the streets (as I did when I was a kid) or running through the woods or local junkyards (as some of you did) . At least not middle-class or rich kids.

Although I do take my kids on hikes in the woods, hoping they will get time to run wild, and I do allow them to get filthy and climb under neighbors houses and so forth, I am sad to report that there are few opportunities for unsupervised fun in my/this world. Maybe they will increase as my kids get older (they're only 4 & 5), but for now, I'm really grateful to have the Berkeley Adventure Playground nearby where they can hammer, saw, climb, get filthy, etc.

In other words, I agree that wild, dangerous, adventurous play is awesome. Adventure Playgrounds can be awesome too though!
posted by serazin at 11:52 PM on August 18, 2007

My 13-year-old girl just back from a two-week stint at a cam far way from the urbs. Though lots of nice counelors etc, for the first time she experienced No TV; NO cell phones; NO IPods, sleeping in tents, on bunks, up early, hikes, swiming daily, songs, etc...while this is not exactly what the post is about I note that this is eye to eye contact and an avoidance of parents as supervisors and drivers and eye to eye with other kids rather than texting etc...she loved it.
posted by Postroad at 4:13 AM on August 19, 2007

You had a different experience in the 'Scouts than I did, Zachs. For me, it was like Lord of the Flies with pocket-knives and uniforms. The only 'supervision' was a couple of fathers who used to come along because it gave them an opportunity to drink beer, tell lies, and eat beans out of the can without their wives bitching at them.

Hahahahaha! I just went on my son's first scout campout with him. We dug gemstones out of limestone mountains and hunted scorpions.

I did scouts in Utah. We hiked into primitive areas 15 miles into the back county. At night you could hear boulders crashing down the talis slopes.
posted by craniac at 10:35 AM on August 19, 2007

Before being turned loose in the play area, children are given age-appropriate information about safety and from what I've seen they all take it to heart. Visitors are asked to help keep the place safe (by collecting loose or protruding nails) and for the most part they just do.

If you treat people like they're capable of acting responsibly and safely, they'll act responsibly and safely. If you hover over them 24/7 convincing them that if you let them out of your sight for one instant, they'll kill themselves... well...
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 5:35 AM on August 20, 2007

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