Adventure Playgrounds, Playful Cities, Capable Kids

Just Play Project Ithaca

Last night, Laura, a few of our summer staff and I, had a chance to hear Lenore Skenazy, Peter Gray, and Rusty Kieler speak in Ithaca NY about creating a playful city. About passing legislation around letting kids play more freely, designing for play, and giving kids back their childhood in today's litigious society. It was inspiring, heart breaking, and energizing. In our ever more divided and stressful world we need spaces for play now more than ever. Learn more about the work in Ithaca and the history of adventure playgrounds below.

We ran into one of our long time campers at the event!

We ran into one of our long time campers at the event!


Let Grow - A new project collaboration between Lenore Skenazy, Peter Gray, Dan ShuchmanJon Haidt, and Tracy Tomasso dedicated to challenging the idea that kids today are somehow more physically, emotionally and psychologically fragile than any generation before them. They help the culture see for itself how capable kids can be once we stop overprotecting them.

Just Play Project

Just Play Project -  Founded in 2017, The Just Play Project is evolving into a national model of how the support of child-directed play can be a catalyst for community development. They are redesigning Ithaca NY to be a capable kid community. 

Imagine a world that was built just for kids. What would it be like? How would it be different from a world built by and for adults? 

For starters, we’re confident it would be a whole lot more fun. 

While adults love rules and guidelines, children love to explore and create. When an adult would say something can’t be done, a child would say it’s a good idea to at least try. Children, in that regard, are much more resilient than most adults are, especially when it comes to failure.

But it’s hard for parents and adults to watch their child fail. It’s hard to watch them take risks that make you feel uncomfortable or nervous. This is exactly why, in a world made by adults, children’s playgrounds were invented. The equipment placed on the playground has been picked out to strategically manage these risks, to allow children to move but in a way that feels organized and safe. In other words, in a way that makes sense in an adult world.

In 1931 a Danish landscape architect by the name of Sorensen noticed the irony of these playgrounds; although they were built “for” kids, the truth is that it was really only the adults who built them that wanted their children to play there. Children, on the other hand, were much more interested in playing anywhere but these parent-approved spaces.

This thought in mind, Sorenson imagined a different kind of playground, one where “children could create and shape, dream and imagine a reality.” Fondly named a “junk playground,” Sorenson believed that this type of unruly space would give children living in the city the same experience that children who grew up in rural areas received. 

Like this, the Adventure Playground initiative was born.

It took twelve years for Sorenson’s idea to take shape, the first adventure playground opening during World War II in Denmark. A groundbreaking idea that was met with great enthusiasm (by the children who played there), the adventure playground drew a lot of attention. Among those drawn to its unique structure was a woman by the name of Lady Allen of Hurtwood. Visiting Denmark from her native England, she was impressed by the concept, dedicating herself to bringing the movement back home to the UK. 

Our adventure playground at Stomping Ground in action.

It was Lady Allen who helped this movement take hold, decisively renaming the “junk playgrounds” with the much more enticing “adventure playgrounds” as they are known today. The concept of adventure playgrounds spread across Europe, with Switzerland, the Netherlands, France, and Germany being their most active supporters.

Today, there are over 1,000 adventure playgrounds across Europe.

The United States is slowly catching on, with more and more of these unique, children-oriented play spaces popping up around the country. And, as more and more American children find themselves in an entirely urban, adult setting, the timing of it couldn’t be better.

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Jack Schott