Adventure Playgrounds

Adventure playgrounds are curated wild spaces dedicated to child culture, offering a wide variety of natural materials, upcycled loose parts and tools, supported by staff trained in playwork.

This model was established in the 1930s in Europe, and was introduced to Canada in the 1960s. As the trend toward programmed activities for children took hold in the 1980s however, adventure playgrounds were replaced by standardized playground equipment.

Earth Day Canada is part of a movement to re-establish outdoor, self-directed play opportunities for children and youth in parks and public green spaces across Canada. Our ParkPLAY POP-UP Adventure Play program is informed by the history of adventure playgrounds, including:

Skrammellegeplasden – in Emdrup, Denmark

Cited as the birthplace of “playwork”, this playground built in 1943 was inspired by Danish architect C.Th.Sorensen who envisioned a ‘sort of junk playground in which children could create and shape, and make dreams and imagination a reality’ using loose parts – tools, bricks, wood, mud, etc.

Harbourfront and Bathurst Street Adventure Playgrounds – Toronto

From 1974 until the mid-1980s the Harbourfront Adventure Playground was a place for kids to build and play freely with loose parts. Shortly after, Bill Rock, a professor of landscape design from the University of Toronto, pitched the concept of a “Junk Playground” to be created at the bottom of Bathurst Street.

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Other Adventure Playgrounds around the world

Adventure Playground – Berkeley California

This permanent adventure playground is located at Berkeley Marina and opened in 1979 based on Sorensen’s vision to give children the resources to build their own play structures. It is often cited as one of the best playgrounds in the world.

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The Land, Wales

Located near Wrexham in north Wales, this playground may look more like a junkyard with a brook running through it and is a space that is full of stuff manipulated and built by children for children. Claire Griffiths, the playground manager explains, “I loved giving children a space where they could just be children, where they could try and fail without being judged or assessed”.

Kilburn Grange Adventure Park

Located in the borough of Camden in London, England, this playground was designed with the help of children as a space where they can spend creative play time. It promotes both natural and adventure playscapes and encourages social interaction between children including those with special needs.

Hanegi Park, Japan

This first Adventure Playground in Japan opened in 1979. A well-known sign here states, “Play Freely At Your Own Risk!” Since this time, about 13 other adventure parks have sprung up around Hanegi in Tokyo.

Play:ground NYC

Built for children by children, play:groundNYC is a non-profit organization advocating for young people’s rights by providing playworker-run environments that encourage risk-taking, experimentation and freedom through self-directed play.

Wild About Canada Adventure Playgrounds

Check out the Wild About Canada Adventure Playgrounds (WACAP) Poster Series on the history of Adventure Playgrounds in Canada.