Remember being a kid and discovering the endless possibilities and play options of a simple cardboard box? Sometimes it was a race car, a rocket ship, a castle, or a hidden fort. The City of Calgary is bringing the joy of discovering, building, and playing with minimal supervision by introducing the Mobile Adventure Playground pilot program. Even though this is new to the city, Adventure Playgrounds have been around since 1943. The first one opened in Denmark, followed by one in England.
What is an Adventure Playground? It is devoid of all the typical playground equipment to which we have become accustomed. There are no swings, no slides, and at first glance it looks like someone has cleaned out their garage and dumped it in a public space. When we got to the City of Calgary Adventure Playground we found tires of various sizes, cardboard boxes, PVC pipes, plywood, boards, paint, brushes, mallets, nails, pliers, duct tape, rope, wire, and foam tubes. At first, you could see a moment of hesitation for every parent and child that discovered this environment. But once the kids were told they are allowed to touch and use whatever they wanted and have a free-for-all, it was awe-inspiring how fast the sparks of inspiration went off. Some kids were painting, some building, some making music, some coming up with games, but all of the kids were completely engaged.
Typically, when I take the boys to a traditional playground, once the novelty of the various equipment wears off, they get bored and want to go explore and change scenes. Max usually lasts anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour playing at a standard community playground. Not so here. We got to the mobile Adventure Playground right when it opened at 10am, and it wasn’t until 2:45pm that I finally had to drag the boys home. All the while they were begging to stay there, asking if they could sleep there, never looking for something to do, constantly professing their love for the playground. I can’t tell you what a huge contrast that is to their regular playground reactions. During the course of those many hours, Felix and Max built an obstacle course, made towers, built a volcano out of tires, played on a rope swing that a bigger kid made, played drums on buckets, painted on cardboard and wood, drew with chalk on tires, crawled in and out of cardboard boxes, played baseball with pool noodles, made flags out of PVC pipes and cardboard…the list keeps going and going. It was amazing to stand back and watch how they utilized the materials and the pure joy in seeing their ideas come to fruition.
In the growing (and sometimes suffocating) trend of constant supervised structured play, it is so refreshing to take off those restrictions and watch how much both boys learned from unstructured, minimally supervised opportunities. Both Felix and Max were talking for hours after we left about what they built and how they did it by balancing this or securing that. They talked about making sturdy foundations for their obstacle course before adding more height, or which adhesive (tape, rope, nails) products worked best for what, or how they would improve their structures next time.
If you are in Calgary, I encourage you to take your kids to one of the mobile Adventure Playgrounds. Dress them in clothes that they can get dirty in and watch their imaginations take flight. The Adventure Playgrounds run from June 24th to October 1st in various parks in the city. For the full schedule and times click here. CTV Calgary captured the Adventure Playground fun in action, including Max’s bucket swing. Check out the video here.