If you are looking for an amazing day trip for the family, you have got to go to Berkeley, California to visit the Adventure Playground. While we are surrounded by cookie cutter playgrounds: slides, swings, monkey bars, climbing walls, bark, the Berkeley Adventure Playground is a reminder of what a playground would look like if kids designed them. And at Berkeley Adventure Playground, the kids really do take part in creating the playground.
My husband and I recently took our 6 year old son for his birthday date to the Adventure Playground. We had read about it in the Travel section of the Sacramento Bee and knew that he would love it. It was an hour and 45 minute drive, but well worth it.
The play structures are made of old pieces of plywood, hammered together in a way that seems totally random and seems to lack all structural integrity. There are tunnels to nowhere. These tunnels are all shapes and sizes. While at most typical suburbia parks, parents can easily chase their child through the structure, at this playground, there are holes and tunnels and rooms, that only children can squeeze into.
Everything looks weathered. This may be because the playground is located on the marina. The wind and salt water may be the culprits of this weathering, but probably not. More likely, it is the constant painting and hammering that is taking place.
You enter the playground into a work area. Kids are painting, sawing, hammering, pulling nails, and creating with their parents. A ramshackle booth is set up with a young man behind a weathered countertop. If you ask him for supplies, he will tell you you need to go on a scavenger hunt first to earn your tools. The child has to find nails, or pieces of trash, or wood splinters, or even better, a Mr. Dangerous (a piece of wood with a nail sticking out). You may be saying to yourself, “What are these things doing on the playground?” Yes. It is true. This playground is dangerous. And this is amazing. In a culture that protects our children from everything, there is something completely refreshing about entering a play area that is dangerous. It is as though we are saying to our kids, “I trust you.”
After scavenging for junk, the man at the counter exchanges the junk for tools. One tool at a time. Then the child and parent are off to create. Some parents hover. Some parents are more excited about the creation than the kid. Some parents have no idea what they are doing. But everyone is creating. The nails are cheap. The wood breaks often because it too is old and probably recycled. The paint runs out. By the end of the day there was only brown left but the kids didn’t seem to mind and they just kept painting.
Some of these creations went home with the children, some were hung in trees, some were nailed to play structures and added as another component to the already random structure.
The children climb and play, and many stand in line for the zip line that ends in a pile of dirt. The kids are actually dragged along this pile of dirt long enough that their faces are dirty, their clothes are dirty and they are smiling so big.
As I wandered around with my 6 year old, I was stunned and awestruck by so much that was going on. This is a place of intense imagination. But what struck me the most was the young man behind the weathered counter passing out tools and paint. As children asked him for supplies and told him their ideas, he just kept saying, “Go for it.” How often do kids get to hear those three words? How often do we hear their ideas, and just accept them and support them?
It was probably a child who said, let’s take all this junk and turn it into a playground. And fortunately some adult in Berkeley, California was brave enough to hear that idea and say, “Go for it.” And magically old plywood, old surfboards, old fire hoses, and old tires were turned into a playground reminiscent of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys.
Before the rain comes, take a trip to the Berkeley Adventure Playground. Did I mention it is totally free? Seriously, go for it.
A “Climbing wall”
Wood used for building
Inside a play structure: old tires and fire hoses used for climbing and children’s graffiti on the walls
A play structure: How do I get inside?
Wooden creations hanging in a tree
Fire hoses used as balancing ropes and bridges
Not your typical slide structure. Not your typical playground.