“Close your eyes and imagine the place you loved to play as a child.”
So began our workshop on the Amazing Benefits of Child-Directed Play hosted by Pop-Up Adventure Play at the Gates + Associates offices.
As each participant briefly shared their memory of a “special place”, and naturally, some common threads emerged. First, we were all located outside and engaging with nature. Second, we were manipulating our environment and had developed a “story” around our play. Our play spaces were messy and perhaps maybe even a little dangerous by today’s standards. Play environments have evolved greatly over the decades from the galvanized structures located in a sea of asphalt to the multi-color play structures designed to provide a variety of play events in a safe environment. Fears of litigation driven by the safety-obsessed, over-protective caretakers with over-scheduled children, is actually creating a world where free play is discouraged.
“Adults are often amazed at children’s ability to re-imagine the world around them, to question and invent, to transform the familiar into the extraordinary. Fears, budgets and pressures from above can sometimes conspire to remove those opportunities from children’s lives – but together, we can change that. This workshop will include stories from around the world, to show how by supplying materials and permission we can support children in their own rich, exploratory play at school, home and for the rest of their lives.“
– Suzanna Law, Pop-Up Adventure Play
As our play environments have gotten safer, a couple of unintended consequences have come about. Our children are no longer learning incrementally about the risks that align with their skill sets. Play areas can become so safe they can cross over to un-challenging, thus encouraging children to use a structure in an unanticipated and potentially dangerous way (such as climbing to the top of the shade element over the play structure for an additional vantage point).
Everything about an Adventure Playground screams: Danger: Proceed with Caution and the children follow suit.
The second trend is that our play environments are no longer associated with the natural environment. This lack of interaction with nature may lead to behavioral issues associated with “Nature Deficit Disorder” written about by Richard Louv.
There is a groundswell beginning to look at revisiting this trend with Pop-Up Adventure Playgrounds. Pop-Up Adventure Play provides an opportunity for children to engage in open-ended play where they are allowed to self-organize in a flexible space. Locally, there is a well-developed Pop-Up Adventure Playground in Berkeley that has been in continual use for over 40 years, and a newer Pop-Up Adventure Playground on Governors Island, playground NYC, just made it to the “Best of New York Fun and Nightlife 2017”
Pop-Up Adventure Playground is messy and may be uncomfortable for some communities. Pop-Up Adventure Playground Activities during community events may provide an opportunity to vet the willingness of the community to expand this type of critical creative play environment, where children are taught to use tools to manipulate their environment.
A Pop-Up Adventure Playground Event encourages children to build their play environment, reusing found materials and loose parts: cardboard boxes, rope remnants, left over plastic pipe, scrapped materials from remodeling projects, twigs, leaves, etc. Here are some images of our hosted event in the Gates + Associates Parking lot. No surprise, the playing was not limited to just children.
Parents, we all know that moment when the child likes the box the toy came in more than the toy itself… They were a hit at the Pop Up Adventure Playground too.
In the meantime, how can we begin to transform conventional play areas?
a. Allow Space, Time and Permission: Make a Place of “Yes”
b. Create a sense of journey – a path to move through the space
c. Provide loose parts – one day a pirate ship, another day a fire truck
d. Provide kid-sized semi-private spaces where a child can hang out while still being supervised
e. Provide landscape materials near play environment where fallen leaves or sticks can be incorporated as “loose parts” in play area.
The following week I found myself in an impromptu discussion about the opportunity to create an adventure play area with a park for a site in my community. Another one of my colleagues who had participated in the workshop was talking with a community college about free play spaces on their campus. It seems we are ready to take this concept forward.
I must admit, I am still challenged by the use of fire in a play environment; although I am now letting my grandson blow out the candles on the dining table!
Author : Linda Gates
Photographer : Kelley Lotosky and Some Images provided by Pop Up Adventure Play