One acre of the enormous Central Park in Huntington Beach, Ca is dedicated to adventurous play. Though it is relatively tiny my daughter and her friend Chris were busy for the whole day. Going back and forth between the ‘mud’ area—a rafting pond, rope bridge and low-tech water slide, and the ‘building’ area—5 tree forts, a wood pile and tire area, seemed to be the recipe for a perfect summer day. The Adventure Playground has been open during summers for 30 years and has the casual, homemade atmosphere from the 1970’s that is nearly impossible to find anymore. Donated wood is welcome so I brought a trunk load of construction scrap. When we arrived the kids ran off to the rafting pond and the manager, Mark, got a wheelbarrow to unload the wood.
“My muscles bent nails!”
The Building area has a few communal rules that seem to keep everyone safe and busy. After short orientation kids get a hand stamp so they can check out a hammer or saw and get three nails. My favorite rule was the system of earning more nails. Two bent nails or four pieces of trash earn one straight nail. This really works to keep the place clean and safe. Edie and Chris loved just hammering (rule: hammer nails, not wood) or, after a big group of kids left, deconstructing their fort to harvest the bent nails. The big kids fort (8 years old and up) became a mini-society as they hashed out the rules of private space or shared materials. For the littlest kids wielding a hammer and making loud noises with it were a thrill.
The simple joys of splashing, balancing, pushing and getting wet and dirty abound in the rafting pond. No guard rails or safety belts here! And, like the building area, has few rules. This place was a great, one day get way for us! You can find out about the history of adventure playgrounds at Lia Sutton’s website. Also check out the Berkley, Ca. Adventure Playground, which is the only other one in the US.