An adventure playground is like a junkyard for youth. The youth have ownership over how the space is built, altered and enhanced. It is filled with materials (usually removed from the waste stream) over which the children have complete control - to build, destroy, enhance. An adventure playground is staffed by trained playworkers.
A playworker is the staff on the playground. Their role is like that of a lifeguard - they are sitting back but constantly aware of their surroundings and all of the activities happening within the playground. They enter into the play when their presence is either requested or required. They manage the space by conducting constant assessment of hazards in the space.
Loose parts are key to the success of an adventure playground - they are items that can be moved altered and used for whatever intentions the users might define.
The Yard is located on Governors Island. We are just around the corner from the Brooklyn ferry terminal between St. Cornelius Church and the water. See our Contact page for a map. The Governors Island ferry schedule can be found here. Once you're on the island, we are a 0.3 mile walk from the Brooklyn ferry and a 0.5 mile walk from the Manhattan Ferry.
Yes! But we are happy to accept donations on-site and through our website to help defray the costs of operating the playground.
We have space for all ages - a family adventure play area for recommended ages 3+ and the junk play area for recommended ages 6-13. The junk play area will be staffed by playworkers, but the mud kitchen area will be under parents supervision at all time.
You cannot enter the adventure playground area without closed toe shoes. Closed toe shoes are not required for the family adventure play area. Parents/guardians are required to fill out a waiver form in order for their children to enter either part of the playground. Save time by printing it and filling it out before your visit. You are welcome to bring a passport picture to be added on our season pass card for children so you only have to sign the waiver the first time you visit
The family adventure play area is flexible and will be determined on a case by case basis. The junk play area is limited by our resources to hire playworkers. Currently we can accommodate roughly 30 kids on the site on a first come first served basis with no time limits. If we are able to raise more funds, we can hire more playworkers and accommodate more players on the site.
Adventure playgrounds have an endless appetite for materials that the children can work with. Check out our wish lists here. There are many other useful things that we might have missed so please let us know if you have anything to donate. You can use the contact form on this website to get in touch. We really appreciate your support!
Yes please! We are always looking for help in all sorts of ways. From writing grants, to collecting materials and tools, we can use help in many ways. Please fill out our volunteer form and we’ll find the adventure for you.
All ferries going to and from Governors Island, as well as the grounds of the island itself, are accessible to those in wheelchairs. Wheelchair-accessible portable toilets are located throughout the grounds of Governors Island. The Yard welcomes all children of different abilities and we are learning how we can improve access and inclusion on our playground. We encourage families to speak with playworkers on site who will be happy to help facilitate a welcoming environment.
The most important aspect of a junk or adventure playground is the philosophy of self-directed play and self-directed childrearing that drives the playground. This philosophy can be taken anywhere and does not necessarily require a playground at all (indeed thousands if not millions of years children were raised with many of these premises before adventure playgrounds were ever started!) The main premise is in trusting children to make the right decisions and to have the capacity to choose what is best for them.However, it can be hard for adults to know when to step in and when to step back. The easiest way to decide is to distinguish between risks and hazards. Risks are choices made with intention to challenge one's self. Usually risks are made incrementally, where the individual continuously pushes their boundaries just one step further than their comfort zone in order to learn something new about their own body or the world around them or how the two interact. Hazards are risks one is taking that they are unaware of. We want children (and adults) to take risks but to avoid hazards. And so, a lot of what an adult can do is to get to know a child's boundaries by observing and communicating and taking visual cues from the child and periodically checking in to make sure they are still taking healthy risks and not falling into hazards.With that said, in today's world, it can be difficult for children to find a place to practice their healthy risk taking. Most activities are adult led and all risk taking opportunities have intentionally been removed from environments where children typically reside. And so, there seems to be a place for junk or adventure playgrounds as a place specifically designed to respect children's space, time, and decision-making. These types of playgrounds are typically and very intentionally stocked with actual junk. Children implicitly understand that "junk" means that something has no value to an adult, and therefore, it immediately enables children to have ownership over the material. Something that has value to an adult may not be allowed to be cut in half or painted or burned or left out in the rain for a week. Children have been taught to ask permission of valuable objects, but they recognize that they can have complete control over junk. And so, we stock these playgrounds with junk.
The other most important component of adventure playgrounds are playworkers, the trained adult staff who work on adventure playgrounds. These staff act as lifeguards, respecting children's play and not involving themselves unless they observe a child entering a hazardous environment. Playworkers only enter children's play when they are invited in by the children and otherwise respect children to make their own choices without bias. There can be as much value in a child choosing to build as to destroy an object, to play on their own using their imagination or in collaborating with others.
And so to start an adventure playground, we recommend first just making such opportunities available to children. This allows you to get the word out about the value of such play for children into your community to find like-minded individuals to help with the project, allows you to start practicing playwork, and gives children these important opportunities. Holding one-off events in local parks or community centers often times is the best way to start (remember to check local regulations and to get a permit if necessary!) We recommend contacting Pop-Up Adventure Play (https://popupadventureplaygrounds.wordpress.com/) to start. They were the organization we initially contacted and they gave us some of the most useful advice and put us in touch with a global network of people involved in self-directed play.
Once you have a group of like-minded individuals who are willing to volunteer a LOT of their time to this project, we recommend looking at a funding model. Adventure playgrounds require playworkers which, to be sustainable, means paying them a salary. And it is our belief that everyone should be paid a fair living wage, which means coming up with a decent ongoing salary. It is at this time that we suggest contacting other adventure playgrounds around the world. There are as many funding models as there are playgrounds. If you can, try to also visit some adventure playgrounds, since each one is so wonderfully distinct in their approach to play (especially from country to country!)
Once you have started working out a funding model, we suggest looking for land. This will be very different depending on whether you are in an urban area or a rural area and from country to country. It is important to consider the pros and cons of looking for private land versus public land but to recognize that either could and do work. If you have created a decent network of people involved and have been running regular Pop-Up Playgrounds, hopefully people in your community will start hearing about your project. Make sure you let them know you're looking for land for a permanent space.
And once you have secured land, you need to get insurance (which is actually a lot easier than most people think!), find some junk and resources to replenish your junk (and places to discard junk that has been used to the point of no longer being fun to play with), and to train your playworkers (talk to Pop-Up Adventure Play about that and be sure to read the Playworker Primer, http://theinternationale.com/papers/PlayworkPrimer_2010.pdf).
And lastly, in many countries, there are other adventure playgrounds and self-directed play organizations that have been established for years. Reach out to them to find out if an association of playgrounds already exists. If so, join it, and if not, consider starting a network with those organizations. There is great strength in organizing together, communicating on a regular basis, and sharing resources, just as we are doing right now!
We have glossed over a lot and would be happy to do our best to answer individual questions and help point you in the right direction. With a bit of work and determination, you CAN start a wonderful project in your community and help make a positive impact in the lives of many children (and adults!) Good luck!