Adventure Playground, a space for all children to explore and learn through free play.
By: Araceli Mohseni, NxtGov Member
In early March of this year, NxtGov partnered with the Sacramento Adventure Playground, a free after-school youth development program for ages six to fifteen. Adventure Playground is unique in its conception and mission: to promote the imagination, creativity and education of children. The very first Adventure Playground was founded in Copenhagen, and was originally known as a junk playground, where urban children were able to build their own spaces and structures using real tools, raw materials, and cooperation. Much like its predecessor, Sacramento’s own Adventure Playground allows children the freedom to play indoors and outdoors with raw materials like tires, cardboard, planks and paint.
On a gloomy Saturday in early March, NxtGov volunteers gathered around Director Steve Claude for orientation before Adventure Playground’s operating hours. It had just rained and the skies were dark and dreary. As I stepped into Sacramento’s Adventure Playground, I was aware of the raw materials on the premises. Tires, wood, cardboard, buckets, fish tanks, couches and giant blocks seemed to be all around making the space feel cluttered. And yet, as the orientation progressed, Steve clearly defined the different stations of the playground. There was the crafting station where children would be encouraged to build their own robots with raw and recycled materials, and hot glue guns! The pet station was adjacent to the crafting station, and upon closer inspection, it hosted a variety of animals including fish and madagascar roaches. The children would be allowed to “pet” the roaches after earning enough currency by picking up pieces of trash. The bank was meant to teach children the power of currency and delayed gratification; the more you saved your currency, the more you could “afford” to buy select items or time with the popular madagascar roaches. There was also a clay station and a kaleidoscope crafting station. There were giant building blocks and recycled couches that had found a happy home at Adventure Playground. During the orientation, Steve mentioned that we were to supervise and assist the children interested working at the different stations. Yet, Steve was quick to point out that were also meant to encourage kids to play freely and if they choose to build a robot, they were absolutely allowed to use the hot glue guns.
As a new mother to a one-year old, I was a little on the edge. Were we to allow children to roam free, to play with raw materials that could be potentially dangerous? Yes! And I quickly understood why. After our volunteer session, I reflected on what I saw, happy children engaged in play with each other and with their surroundings. It had rained the day before and the children took full advantage of the mud pits outdoors. I saw children running, jumping off the building blocks and enjoying the slides. Children built their robots and crafted clay creations while others were fully invested in petting the roaches. Our natural tendency to explore, create and learn from play are innate to us, and children covet this style of discovery and education. It was difficult for me to reckon with a model of play so different from what I grew up in. Growing up in an immigrant family, my parents worked multiple jobs to make ends meet, which limited their free time. They did not have time to supervise my sister and I, and they were constantly worried about our safety. We lived in a cramped two-bedroom apartment on the worst part of town, where dumpsters overflowed, cars screeched through the streets on multiple occasions colliding with the brick wall at the end of the cul-de-sac, and where drugs were sold, purchased and consumed. Because of these circumstances, my parents prohibited us from playing outdoors. We were meant to walk directly home, shut the door behind us, and under no circumstances were we to open it. This meant endless weekday evenings indoors. What I would have given to have had an Adventure Playground in my neighborhood! To run, jump and explore the outdoors alongside other children.
As a new mother to a little one, I am happy to know there is a place like Adventure Playground where supervision is secondary to exploration so that my little one can grow up unafraid and emboldened by the power of play. Currently, about 1,000 adventure playgrounds exist in Europe, largely in Denmark, Switzerland, France, German, the Netherlands and England. Japan has a number of Adventure playgrounds as well. This European model of an after school program encourages play as a way to develop the imagination, creativity and education of children. It provides the space for children to learn and grow and relies on volunteers like the members of NxtGov to provide adult supervision and help with cleanup and set-up. Perhaps more importantly, it provides children of all income levels with the open space they need to roam indoors and outdoors in a safe and engaging environment.
DISCLAIMER: This is an unofficial organization that is not connected to any one government entity.