Kids need a space to call their own, and it’s even better when it comes with heaps of treasures disguised as junk and tools with which to build anything they please. Let’s support the movement away from traditional stationary playgrounds toward free play.
A group of parents in New York City wants to create an adventure playground where children can engage in free play, made even better with the presence of loose recycled materials and tools with which to construct whatever they please. Known as ‘play:ground,’ this space will be on Governor’s Island and it will be free for all children to play, as long as the group can raise sufficient funds to build and staff it by this summer.
“Today’s young people experience a tightly managed urban landscape, with rare access to spaces belonging entirely to them. Where are children actually free to self-organize, play all day by themselves, or independently create from their imaginations?”
‘Adventure playgrounds,’ as they’re called, are slowly becoming more popular as adults realize the importance of allowing children to push their limits of experimentation and imagination through play. The Land in North Wales and the Anarchy Zone in Ithaca, NY, are two examples of highly successful adventure playgrounds where children have free rein of fascinating play spaces that look more like junk heaps than playgrounds. Trained ‘playworkers’ are present to intervene when necessary.
Free play has tremendous benefits for children. It helps them to build confidence and self-esteem, regulate their emotions, develop decision-making power and problem-solving, and enhances teamwork skills. It gives young people permission to take control. The long-term benefits are very real too. Access to free play helps children to overcome phobias and separation anxiety and encourages them to become more confident adults eventually.
The NYC group has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $25,000 by the end of March. Funds will be used to hire a playworker, whose presence as a facilitator and ‘lifeguard’ of sorts is crucial, and to buy supplies, such as wood, fabrics, cardboard, hay bales, tires, dirt (things that might otherwise end up as trash), and tools, such as nails, hand drills, saws, screws, tape, glue, paint, chalk, dirt and water (for mud of course!).
It is a wonderful project that will enable thousands of children to move their play away from the uninspiring stationary swing sets and slides of traditional playgrounds to a free play space full of endless possibilities. The group has already hosted several successful play events in NYC parks, on Governors Island, and at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, all of which have demonstrated strong support for a permanent location. You can learn more about play:ground and donate to the campaign online.