What are adventure playgrounds?

Adventure playgrounds are a unique form of play provision where children can enjoy their experience through engaging in the full possibilities of their play. They are places where children can play in ways that they often can’t elsewhere and provide the play opportunities that adults used to take for granted when they were children.

Whether it’s creating camps, dens and other self-made constructions, growing plants and vegetables, making fires and cooking on them, or simply making and meeting friends, in adventure playgrounds children learn for themselves how to deal with challenges and risks. They build the resilience they need to cope with life’s challenges. And perhaps most importantly, adventure playgrounds are places where children can just be children. They can choose how, with what, with who and for how long they play.

These unique playgrounds are popular with children because they are interesting and exciting spaces, full of possibilities. They are popular with parents and childcare professionals because we see them as challenging but safe places to play.

At InspiredPlay, we don’t believe that all playgrounds should be uniform. No, we believe it’s time to bring the adventure back into play.

Where did the adventure go?

In recent generations, increasing amounts of fear have grown around children’s well-being, shifting standards heavily towards almost impossible standards of safety. One unfortunate side effect of this trend has been the with the cookie cutter playgrounds, designed to minimize harm, rather than maximize enjoyment.

Over the last few years, however, we have welcomed new research supporting the importance of play for early childhood development, along with criticism that current risk concerns may be overstated. And so begs the questions:
– Is playground design as we know it fostering creativity, independence, and problem-solving?
– What does risk really mean and when is it okay?
– What can alternatives to current play spaces look like?
– And how can their benefits extend to everyone?

Architects, researchers, childhood development specialists, and parents have their own answers to these questions and with them, we are able to outline a new vision for the future of play.

Are adventure playgrounds the future of play?

Our thoughts? If we use anxiety as a standard, we would essentially be guaranteed to produce boring and dull playgrounds. If we work to a standard of excitement and challenge however – things start to look different.

Adventure playgrounds are emerging as an alternative to the ‘safe’ play choices we currently see so commonly. Think loose tires, blocks of wood, rope and tools, where children are free to build and destroy their surroundings as they choose.

Now, we know what you’re thinking…

Are adventure playgrounds really safe?

Here’s the thing: the concept is almost always implemented with play workers, who are trained to analyze the quality of risk. They ask the question: Is this something the child will learn from or is this something that will hurt them? And in fact, studies have shown they rarely have to intervene because children are making the same determinations themselves!

The truth of it is that knowing that they’re in a high-risk environment makes kids pay more attention, whereas overly protective environments may have the opposite effect. When all of the risk has been removed and children are very aware of that, they are actually more likely to do things which are dangerous – that the environments simply weren’t designed to accommodate.

As long as you have properly trained staff who are constantly assessing risk, it is actually incredibly easy to insure adventure playgrounds too.

Where are adventure playgrounds being used?

Adventure playgrounds are already being heavily implemented in Australia, Canada, and the UK. Is it working? According to evidence, yes. An architect-led study of 16 playgrounds in London with information from 18,000 people, found that adventure playgrounds had 53% more visitors than America’s cookie cutter ones, and children were up to 18% more physically active. With a variety of surfaces, including combinations of sand, grass, water, and paved ground, these playgrounds were also cheaper and safer. The features were uniquely designed and arranged so that kids could crawl through faux caves, climb boulders, hop on and off trails of wooden pads, swing wildly, or play organized sports.

What’s wrong with ‘normal’ playgrounds?

We believe that a lot of grown-ups have gotten confused about what playgrounds are really for, living under this illusion that it’s really possible to create playgrounds where no injuries ever happen. In reality, it’s good for children to have that challenge and uncertainty and risk – it’s all about striking a good balance.

Of course, all risks aren’t the same. Some should be addressed directly and others should be avoided entirely – but trying to build a playground with the goal of removing uncertainty altogether is not only pointless, it’s also counterproductive, and removes the potential for teaching kids skills they’ll need to navigate the real world.

As children grow, they become better risk managers, and we believe that journey is best made in steps by allowing children to have some freedom and control over how to figure out what’s the best way to deal with tricky or uncertain situations.

How can we support the implementation of more adventure playgrounds?

All play providers need to step up and examine their own risk-benefit criteria, then plan their playgrounds using clear data on what children want and need to grow. Need support? We can help! Contact us today and let’s go on an adventure together.