The Adventure Playground has three overlapping concepts:

Advantages of adventure playgrounds

Suggest ed further reading


Suggested Contacts

What do people think when they hear "Adventure Playground"? Innovation, improvisation, experimentation, creativity and imagination may be some thoughts; others may be dirty, unsafe and chaotic.

The concept of Adventure Play is not easily understood by people unattached to the field. Mays wrote the following for Liverpool Council of Social Services almost two years after the Rathbone Street Playground was formed (1957):

"The Adventure Playground exists merely on the lunatic fringe of orthodox recreation resisted even by some educationalists, administrators and social workers who are appalled by the inevitable confusion, mess and dirt which they entail. All this is due to the wide-cleavage between youth and age, childhood and maturity in our culture. Children like disorder or find some invisible order therein. Most adults hate it. Children do not in the lastmind being dirty - most adults abhor it".

This comment still holds true today. Visitors to Adventure Playgrounds observe the mess not seeing what the children are experiencing.

Not being one for re-inventing the wheel, the following concise description by Paul Bonel and Jennie Lindon in 'Good Practice in Playwork' is a good summary:

The Adventure Playground grew out of a movement dedicated to children's freedom of expression in an outdoor environment (see above) and the children's involvement in using tools and materials to adapt and construct on the outdoor space remains an important feature. Building camps, cooking on open fires, digging gardens, tending animals and generally playing with, and in, the outdoor space are all typical activities. The adventure playground is now also associated with play equipment, known as play structures, built from timber such as telegraph poles, joists and planking along with cable, tyres, nets and ropes. Because of the size and technical competence involved, these structures require adults to take the lead in their design and construction. However, children and young people can also be involved wherever it is appropriate.

Some features have changed over the years and are still developing in response to changing needs, legislation and increased understanding but always at the heart of them is the idea that children need a chance to explore, to test, to create and to build and rebuild their world, freely and in their own way.

Tony Chilton writing about Play in Newcastle upon Tyne in the 80s comments about Adventure Playgrounds that:

"Their primary function is to help to create an atmosphere which is child centred; where there are no meaningless limitations or restrictions, apart from precautions necessary against injury; where guidance and help is given when asked for or needed. The relationship between the playworker and individual children is of great importance: they must know when to help a child and when to withdraw so that the child can work through a problem with or without assistance and this develop confidence through co-operation and self-help."

These comments do not mean that life on the adventure playground is totally unstructured. Playground life is structured very largely by the children themselves; the adults working alongside to get them involved in as many ways as possible. The playworkers enable the child to continue to explore a particular; interest, idea, project or development by providing advice, guidance, materials etc. Thus, the child is encouraged to live, work and play in a free, friendly and self-disciplined way.

The Adventure Playground has three overlapping concepts:

- Adventure Play - a mode of activity.

- Adventure Environment - a type of physical setting.

- Play Leadership - a form of relationship and an organisational role.

Adventure playgrounds have a more important role in the lives of children than just being a distraction from more dangerous, or socially unacceptable activities. The staff of one playground, in planning their activities, said: "the direction we are heading is one where the playground is an integral part of the community and is recognised as a place where children can continue informal learning in the evenings after school. Not only craft and education skills, but social skills such as honesty, caring for others and trust which will stand them in good stead in the community outside the confines of the playground"

Advantages of adventure playgrounds include the tremendous diversity of available activities, the flexibility created by all the "loose parts" in the environment, the sense of competence and responsibility instilled in children through being able to build and shape their own environment, and the skills that are learned in the process of building structures. Not surprisingly, research has shown that children engage in a far greater variety of activities on adventure playgrounds and that this type of playground is much more popular with children than are either traditional or contemporary designs (e.g. Hayward, Rothenbert & Beasley, 1974).

The playground is a place where children can discover themselves, where they can test themselves against the environment with other children and with the adult workers. Youngsters are doing this all the time wherever they are living: they are becoming themselves, developing the kind of person they are and will be. During life all our experiences add to, build on, confirm, deny or modify our previous experience. The playground is offering experiences as a contribution to the child's growth.

Arguably Adventure Playgrounds have greater area developmental benefits for children than other play provisions. If one takes that well used acronym S.P.I.C.E. (the Social, Physical, Intellectual, Creative and Emotional aspects of being) and put this into a scoring chart in relation to other provision then it can be argued that Adventure Playgrounds would score higher. e.g. on a 1-5 scale.

Scores for Each Type of Play Provision:

Social Physical Intellectual Creative Emotional Total

Adventure Playgrounds 5 5 5 5 5 25

Staffed Play Centres 5 4 4 5 2 22

After School Clubs 4 4 4 5 4 21

Equipped Play Area 2 4 1 1 1 9

Mobile Play 4 3 4 5 3 19

Holiday Playschemes 4 4 4 4 3 19

Because of the Adventure Playgrounds emphasis on open access, experimentation, non-directive play and being child-centred, it is self-evident that some elements must be better than other provisions e.g. emotional - children and more able to explore and express. This may appear a bit subjective but can be upheld by various research.

Adventure Playgrounds are still evolving and constantly changing. The reasons are various but though the physical and organisational structure has changed from the original model, the concepts, ethos and philosophy described above still remains.

Suggested further reading

Notes for Adventure Playworkers Bob Hughes (Childs Play) [1975] (Contact Play Education)

The Child's Right to Play Arvid Beng Tesson (I.P.A.) 1974 ISBN 0904166015

Play and Early Childhood Development Johnson, Christie&Yawkey U.S.A [1987] 0673182037

Key Issues in Play Anna Lubelska (Children's Play Council)

The Child in the City Colin Ward 1977 0140053220

Adventure Play for Children with Disabilities and Special Needs (Information Pack) H.A.P.A. 1994 Lets Play (H.A.P.A. Journal)


Grounds for Play Joe Benjamin 1974 0719908930

Adventure Playgrounds Mary Nicholson (NPFA) 1954

Adventure Playgrounds Information Kit 2 C.M.H.C. (Canada) 1980 0660507102

Adventure Playgrounds in Manchester Manchester Adv. Playground Assn.1974

Adventure Playgrounds & Children's Creativity I.P.A. 1975 0904166031

Adventure Playgrounds - An Introduction Harry Shier (N.P.F.A.) 1984 0946085012

Adventure Playgrounds J ack Lambert & Jenny Pearson 1974 0140461892

Good Practice in Playwork Paul Bonel and Jennie Lindon 1996 0748722270

Children's Play in Newcastle upon Tyne Tony Chilton (NCPRY/NPFA) 1988 094810520X

Suggested Contacts


Also known as NPFA established 1925 Purpose: The NPFA is a Royal Charter organisation which protects and develops environments for play and sport. The NPFA offers advice on safety and design of playgrounds as well as providing an independent playground inspection service. As part of its work on playground safety standards, the NPFA works closely with the Association of Play Industries. The Association delivers children's play services for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. These services include play safety, playwork education and training and information dissemination. Membership Details: Criteria: Anyone with an interest in playing fields or children's play provision. Members: Local Authorities, play and sport organisations, individuals, companies, schools. Address: 25 Ovington Square, London, SW3 1LQ Telephone: 020 - 7584 6445, Fax: 0 20-7 584 2402, e-mail:


Play Link, established in 1962, was set up to promote awareness and understanding of children's need for play and quality play environments as well as to assist communities in meeting that need. In particular, it promotes and supports the development and the maintenance of quality in adventure playgrounds. Playlink offers free advice and information and produces various publications and discussion papers, some of which are also free. Practical services for adventure playgrounds are provided. "Playlinks", a bulletin containing articles on issues in play, is published 3 times a year.
Sandra Melville The Co-op Centre, Unit 5 Upper, 11 Mowll Street, London SW9 6BG. Tel: 020-7820 3800, Fax: 020-7793 0426


Formerly known as HAPA (Handicapped Adventure Playground Associatio, a charity established in 1968, runs adventure playgrounds in London for children with disabilities and special needs and also provides a National Training & Information Service to promote all aspects of play and disability, especially integration. HAPA publishes a magazine, "Let's Play", three times a year and offers nationwide training on disability awareness and integration issues in the field of children's play.

Please contact Kidsactive, Pryor's Bank, Bishop's Park, London SW6 3LA Telephone: 020-7731 1435, Fax: 020-7731 4426, Minicom: 020-7384 2596

Play Education

Bob Hughes 13 Castelhiths, Ely, Cambs. CB7 4BU Telephone: 01353 661 294, e-mail