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New York ‘junk’ inspires kids to play

A new project in the heart of New York City is demonstrating that the mainly European tradition of adventure playgrounds, currently facing big challenges in the UK and elsewhere, as austerity bites, have enduring popularity wherever there are towns, cities and people with the vision to make space for them.

Believing that “New York children need more access to trash, detritus, and junk as tools for play”, this May the local non-profit organisation that opened a 50,000 square-foot junk playground on Governors Island last summer, returns for a second year of free weekend play and a summer camp. Last year, says the charity, nearly 3,000 children enjoyed using discarded materials with hand tools to build, destroy, and play with as they wished.

Play:groundNYC was founded on a simple principle: ‘children need space to explore without being told “be careful” and “watch out” ‘. Unusually for the US, the playground is staffed by playworkers, adults trained in the art of facilitating play by mostly staying out of the way. The playworkers ensure that hazards have been removed from the environment, allowing children to feel safe to take risks in their play.

Free weekends for the public run from May 6 through October, with open hours from 11:00am to 3:00pm.  Summer camp at play:groundNYC is a space of free expression with opportunities for kids to navigate the complexities of shared space and relationships. This year play:groundNYC will offer 10 week-long sessions of summer camp as well as drop in days.

Pop-up inspiration

Inspired by the Pop-Up Adventure Play model, which has been proving so popular in the US the project was founded by a team of individuals passionate about children’s rights. Play:groundNYC’s all-volunteer board has recently hired a director to help expand their reach and increase long term sustainability. Rebecca Faulkner, the new Executive Director, grew up playing on adventure playgrounds around London, “Junk playgrounds can offer a new generation of New York City youth the opportunity to try, succeed, and sometimes fail, on their own terms – and have a whole lot of fun while they’re doing it. Now more than ever, we need to encourage our children to rise to life’s challenges; take risks and test their limits.”

Roger Hart, a member of play:groundNYC’s advisory board and Director of the Children’s Environments Research Group at the CUNY Graduate Center, asserts that “The cornucopia of loose parts that children at play:groundNYC can put together without adult direction offer a setting for exercising resourcefulness, inventiveness, creativity and social cooperation that has largely disappeared for children in this era of highly restricted free play outdoors and commercial toys and digital equipment that, while called ‘interactive,’ typically come with their own highly programmed set of affordances.”

Adrian Voce

Photos: play:groundNYC

Author: Adrian Voce

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