On Sunday July 10, Tipperary Park in New Westminster will be ringing with the laughter of children playing in a playground. But hold on… there isn’t a playground in Tipperary Park! That’s where the kids come in — they’ll build their own playground from spare parts!
With the help of a Neighbourhood Small Grant from the Vancouver Foundation, Alice Cavanagh and Kevin McConnell (and a host of other volunteers behind the scenes especially Brad Cavanagh and Mona Boucher) are bringing a one-day pop-up adventure playground to New Westminster. Adventure playgrounds give children free reign to create things to play with: tents, forts, race tracks, anything they can imagine. They build these things themselves using “spare parts” that have been donated by members of the community. Lumber, plywood, PVC piping, old tarps, and tires have all been donated for creative use by the children.
The concept of an adventure playground is best illustrated by The Land, a permanent adventure playground in Wales. Its sign sums it up: “The Land. A Space Full of Possibilities.” In The Land, children are allowed to build and do anything they like with as little adult supervision as possible. By giving this freedom to build — and fail — children build self-confidence and courage. In The Land, children are almost never stopped from doing what they’re doing, and often build precarious structures out of shipping pallets. They start fires. They roll tires into a creek. They make friends, sing songs, dance, and play. And this “risky behaviour” has led to an occasional scraped knee in two years of operation.
If you’re a parent, you’re probably thinking this is all a little crazy. But most parents grew up playing in neighbourhoods where they were given the opportunities to test their limits. Our playgrounds had “dangerous” ziplines, we roamed in empty lots and threw rocks at wasps’ nests. We learned about risky behaviour and, most importantly, we learned self-confidence and courage. We were occasionally hurt, but the benefits far outweighed the risks.
Children these days don’t have those opportunities. Playground equipment seen to be as “dangerous” is being removed. Jungle gyms are a thing of the past. Ziplines are few and far between. The sense of danger, testing limits, and natural consequences are happening to our children less and less and, in some sense, this does not help them prepare for adulthood.
It’s our goal to help rekindle a little bit of the sense of danger in kids and help their imagination and self-confidence. We’ll have tires, wood, cardboard boxes, burlap sacks, tarps, and other assorted spare parts for children to build with. We won’t have any fires, but we will have tools for the kids to use. There will be adult supervision but it will be largely hands-off; we’ll help them if they need help sawing some wood or screwing things together, but the point of an adventure playground is to let the kids do it themselves, and let them fail if they do fail, and let them succeed if they do succeed!
We’re still looking for donations of spare parts, so if you have PVC pipe, rope, plywood, nails, screws, and various handheld tools to donate, please get in touch! And if you want to be a volunteer, we’d be more than happy to have you!
We’re excited to see what the children are going to build, take apart, and rebuild at our Spare Parts Adventure Playground! Come join us at Tipperary Park in New Westminster on July 10!
- Spare Parts Adventure Facebook Page
- The Overprotected Kid, The Atlantic, April 2014
- Is this the perfect playground, full of junk? The Guardian, May 2014
- A new kind of playground urged for Toronto’s kids, CBC News, June 2016