Grant’s recent guest post on risk, equipment and adventure playgrounds focused on the question of “standards” – both the European Standards and what we, as playworkers, should be holding as our own. It’s a great opening to a discussion of our own feelings on risk and power within the play/work field – why we make the choices and compromises we do, how we fight and respond to the machinations of Big Business playground equipment merchants among other adult agendas (what we might call the forces of “boringification”).
I wanted to counter it though, by highlighting an older piece of writing by Penny Wilson. She’s also considering why so many adventure playgrounds look the same – but she’s not talking about the industrially built fixed equipment trend. She’s pointing at giant wooden structures, poles and slides – the big, physically demanding and dramatic structures which were primarily built by adult male playworkers from the ’70s on and and signal to many, even now, that “This Is An Adventure Playground”.
“I remember Chelsea Adventure Playground as being a place designed by women, with no budget, for kids to play inclusively. It had no structures for most of the time I worked there, but it was certainly an Adventure Playground. I recall another senior worker saying that he didn’t go in for all the infantilist stuff that we did on our site… from his perspective then the stuff that we did was Childish? Did he mean that? Did he really? I think that he was more concerned by our lack of thrusting towers and poles.”
You should definitely go read the whole thing here (originally printed in a 2008 PATH newsletter). It stuck with me particularly during the early days of Pop-Up Adventure Play, when we were discussing whether something that existed for only a day could warrant the term. We finally decided ‘yes’, because each offers a dedicated space totally devoted to children’s play, stocked with lots of junk and staffed by playworkers and playwork-trained volunteers. Add in lots of conversations about risk, and plenty of community support and, well – isn’t that a kind of Adventure Playground?
What do you think? What makes an Adventure Playground, and how much does each one say about the adults who hold the keys?