While most trends seem to move towards safer and more well-protected activities for children, this might be the wrong approach when it comes to playgrounds.
At least, that’s what a recent video from Vox’s By Design series, which explores the concept of “adventure parks,” argues.
"They can play with any dangerous tool, they can take really dangerous risks and overcome them, and this builds up a tremendous sense of self-confidence in themselves," Marjory Allen, landscape architect and the person most responsible for popularizing the adventure park concept, said in an archival interview.
In 1945, Allen met with fellow architect Carl Theodor Sorensen to discuss a concept that Sorensen was calling "junk playgrounds". Sorensen noticed that the children of his native Denmark were not playing in playgrounds during the Nazi occupation of the country, opting instead to hang around construction and abandoned buildings.
Catering to this, Sorensen filled an abandoned lot with tools and building supplies which the children were encouraged to use, even to build their own play structures.
Receiving support from both children, who loved the freedom of the parks, and parents, who saw it as an opportunity for their child to learn new skills, these junk playgrounds became exceedingly popular.
Allen brought the concept to the US, where it received similar success, based around the premise of controlled risk. While the concept of children using tools and building materials might seem more dangerous, studies have shown that children who feel understimulated by “safe” playgrounds are more likely to create the risk themselves, leading to more injuries, according to the video.
Still, lawsuit-fearing designers have chosen to generally go the route of the overly-safe play structures we’re more familiar with today, which Allen once called an “administrator’s heaven, and a child’s hell.”
The adventure parks are slowly making a comeback, however. In London, where riskier playgrounds remain popular, children have been shown to be 18% more active, and reports showed cheaper maintenance and, yes, even fewer injuries.
So, should children’s playgrounds be a little more risky? For more evidence, watch the full video below.