Recent studies have shown that playing out of doors is crucial for children who are developing motor, problem-solving and observation skills, in addition to developing an understanding and relationship with nature (a.k.a. "eco-literacy"). Kids need more time to play -- but not necessarily in today's trend for organized, scheduled activities, as kids need to have moments of unstructured time to explore that helps develop their creativity and self-confidence.
To counter this glut of over-scheduled activities that don't require much thinking on the child's part, there's been some fascinating developments: one is the tinkering movement, facilitated by easy-to-use DIY components like the Raspberry Pi. Another striking example of this emerging "free play" movement is an adventure playground in Plas Madoc in Wales, UK, where kids are allowed to run free, take risks, build things, and do what kids do best: play.
Seen over at The Guardian and looking a bit more like a trashed up place than a playground, The Land (as this adventure playground is called), was started in 2012 by local resident, parent and playground manager, Claire Griffiths. Kids have access to tools, materials and can start fires, of course under supervision of adult "playworkers" who are there to give help and guidance if needed. The point is to use what is at hand to give kids a chance to play, says Griffiths:
I didn't have a "vision" of it because that takes it away from the kids, but I wanted it to be in a constant state of change using stuff that's scrounged or donated and of no monetary value. Kids are attracted to the novel and new. In the past, they could disappear all day in search of it. They could find adventure, test their limits. We don't let kids do that any more. I wanted to compensate for the lack of wild play and 'adult-free' experiences. I wanted something kids could make up and break up and rediscover every visit.
American filmmaker Erin Davis, who spent a month filming footage for an upcoming documentary on The Land, titled "Play Free," offers a trailer that shows some of the kids at play at this unique space.
The Land seems like a far-out departure from the confined, predictable space of the swing-set. Yet, The Land is not something new; in fact, there are other adventure playgrounds operating in other parts of the UK and USA, and even these have a historical link to the first skrammellegepladsen (Danish for "junk playground") that popped up in Copenhagen back in 1943.
The over-protective parent in you may balk at letting your kids run free in such an environment, yet good parenting is walking a fine balance between being protective and nurturing your child's independence. In the end, it's an interesting concept that may have difficulty taking root in the litigious North American climate, but there are already signs of change. These unconventional adventure playgrounds show that free play for kids can take many different forms, even using junk, and may not have to cost a lot either. More over at The Guardian.