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What is an adventure playground?

An adventure playground is a youth-led play area for kids that offers plenty of open-ended, imaginative, free-play options. Some may call adventure playgrounds a junkyard for youth, but really that’s just to say that kids retain ownership over how the space is built, altered and enhanced. Usually adventure-style playgrounds are filled with materials kids will find appealing to build with, destroy or create an area with – for example, wood, hammers, old tires, rope and so on. In most cases, adventure playgrounds are staffed by adults and parents are often invited to interact with their kids in an adventure space.

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The history of adventure playgrounds

According to play:groundNYC, adventure playgrounds have existed for over sixty years, and were first coined by C. T. Sørenson, a civically-minded Danish landscape architect. In his 1931 book, Park Planning for Town and Country, Sørenson proposed the creation of “waste material playgrounds in suitable large areas where children would be able to play with old cars, boxes, and timber,” and the first known adventure playground was unveiled in Emdrupvej, Denmark, in the mid-1940s as a place where young people could play freely without inciting the German occupying forces. play:groundNYC points out on their website that the success of the Empdrup playground resulted in many other waste material playgrounds throughout Denmark, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, and even in the United States. Additionally, although not as popular in the USA, now several of these types of play areas have popped up around the country.

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Materials at the playground

A key element of all adventure playgrounds are fun materials. play:groundNYC calls their materials, “loose parts,” noting that loose parts are key to the success of an adventure playground because these are materials that can be altered, moved and used for any number of imaginative projects kids might enjoy. Playgrounds like play:groundNYC are always looking for new loose parts to add to the fun, such as kitchen pots and pans, wood, tools, gardening gear and much more. If you’re in the area you can donate your used “loose parts” to play:groundNYC.

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A space to explore

play:groundNYC notes that, “In the tightly managed urban environment, young people rarely have access to a space that is entirely their own in which they are free to self-organize or independently fabricate based on their imaginations.” This is entirely true, and unfortunate, which is why spaces like play:groundNYC are so amazing. play:groundNYC gives all kids a chance to explore what they can accomplish with basic materials and a good dose of imagination. Play options at play:groundNYC include loose objects, building structures and independent activities that help youth develop decision-making power while enhancing teamwork in an environment that is safe for exploration, experimentation and contemplation.

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A local interactive experience

play:groundNYC invites the public, including kids, adults, schools and other organizations, to interact and learn at their playground. Diverse ages and ideas are helpful when growing a successful adventure playground, so to this end, the playground offers a family adventure play area for kids ages 3+ and a junk play area for kids ages 6-13.

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Visit play:groundNYC

play:groundNYC is open to the public on weekends between May 28th and Sept 25th from 11am to 4pm and there’s no cost to visit, however, the playground is happy to take donations onsite and through their website to help defray the costs of operating the playground and allow the park to grow in scope. Your family can get directions to the playground at the play:groundNYC website.

RELATED | “The Land” is a documentary about the nature of play, risk and hazard on an adventure playground

+ play:groundNYC

All Images via play:groundNYC