I recently visited Evergreen Adventure Playground to deliver a conference workshop on den-building.
Evergreen is an amazing, fully-inclusive and properly adventurous Adventure Playground. It was the first AP I visited, back when I was looking for a site for my MA fieldwork, and it spoilt me for a long time after. Having talked about my findings there for so long, it was great to be able to go back to the beginning and speak directly with playworkers on site.
We often think about den-building in quite formal terms, calling up images like those I showed from the Eden Project’s visit to Paradise Park. People think of wig-wams with purpose-bought poles and canvas, or elaborately constructed cardboard cities. That’s great, but at Evergreen there is already a thriving children’s culture of den-building in which children of all ages and abilities scavenge materials across the site and build places of their own in its forgotten shady corners.
In the workshop I shared some images of these dens, asking the playworkers there to challenge their expectations of children’s building and to see the signs all around them of children’s dens. Then I sent them outside to scrounge materials and build their own, either in groups or alone.
Here are some of their finished works:
The emphasis was on this one to be fully inclusive, and to provide protection from the drizzling rain. This group got so excited that they refused to come back in when the session was over, but instead grabbed more cups of coffee, biscuits and bits of string before heading back out, gigging.
They also did a great job in repurposing furniture and creating makeshift poles to construct a clubhouse that, given the slope of the terrain, was easier to see out of than into.
This remarkably civilized hideout for one was almost completely invisible from the main path, but had a clear view to the sky. The builder said that she liked that she could watch the clouds from the chair, and pull the cover over in case of rain.
This last one was built by Wendy Jeeves, the lead on the Tree House project I mentioned earlier. Hers was perhaps the most elaborate, with both solid and curtain walls, a Minnie Mouse sentinal and, best of all:
A hammock, for optimum comfort.
It was so wonderful to run a workshop with practice as well as theory, and to give playworkers the chance to understand the processes and priorities of den-building first-hand, rather than just through images and observations. There’s no better way to get a feel for this than to do it yourself. There’s no other way to really understand the power of play to transform a table into a wall, a punctured sheet into a skylight, or a scrap of playground into a home that’s exactly right for you.