When did climbing trees become dangerous? And pocket knives weapons?

There was a time, not so long ago, when I was young and had hours to play. Back then I knew all the kids in my neighborhood, and most of their yards didn’t have privacy fences. In the summer, we spent hours exploring every nook and cranny of our wide open space. An empty lot provided dirt for digging and an open space for kickball. Bumpy sidewalks and alleys were our bike paths. Trees were for climbing and sticks were for whittling. Creativity abounded—my friend and I once tried to build a raft from branches and birch bark—ala Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. If someone did have a swing set or other play equipment, it was probably rusty and hardly got used, unless we could find some other purpose for it because as our moms said, we had to “make our own fun.”

Those same moms could rarely see where we were playing, hiding, or exploring, but we were always within hearing distance when they would lean out the doorway and holler our names to come in for supper and a bath (only people with brand new houses had showers).

In today’s structured, scheduled, sometimes overprotected culture of parenting, some adults are starting to feel nostalgic for the days when kids roamed freely and had hours of unsupervised time to be imaginative and they want to find a way to bridge the gap between the two places.

Three years ago an adventure playground called the Land opened in North Wales in the UK, and children are flocking to it. So different is this place with its ragtag collection of broken chairs, piled tires, dirty mattresses, loose hammers and tin-drum fire pits, that to support such an idea seems like an act of defiance.

As the boundaries of what parents determine is a “safe” zone continue to shrink, do we cut off our children from valuable opportunities to learn how to interact in the world around them?

Do you think the adventure playground will ever have a place in the US? Maybe it’s too soon to tell, but pioneers in this new way of thinking hope so.

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