Since coming into the world of early childhood education and play, two of the concepts I’ve found most intriguing are loose parts and outdoor play. Calgary’s super cool Mobile Adventure Playground initiative marries these two ideas with some awesome implications.
As parents living in the modern world, when we think of parks and playgrounds, we (sadly) often think of permanent well-groomed areas covered in sprawling plastic structures meant to be played on (and not with!)
This mobile adventure playground challenges that concept. Instead of permanent fixed play structures, children (and adults) have access to a variety of parts (that would otherwise be lying in a landfill somewhere) and can use their imaginations, gross motor muscles, and cognitive skills (much of which can draw on science, engineering and math) to do with them whatever they’d like.
In my talk with one of the play facilatators, I discovered that thirty years ago, adventure parks and playgrounds could be found in Calgary and currently thrive in the UK, Denmark and other areas of Europe. Thanks to a grant from the Lawson Foundation, Calgary’s mobile adventure playground is one of three in Canada and grew out of a 2015 study on outdoor and play engagement and 2016 pilot period, when 2000+ people came out to play.
The mobile adventure playground is relatively easy to set up. Some of the items featured in this one were: tires, plastic crates, pieces of wood and cardboard, pipes, pieces of old play structures, kitchen items like bowls and colanders, scraps of fabric, logs, buckets, paper tubes, cable spindles and a wheelbarrow.
Like many great things, it’s not so much about product as it is about process. Initially, the children stood around not really knowing what to do but once they started exploring and imagining, their play really got going.
In my time there, I observed children create slides and fishing boats, obstacle courses and clubhouses, bunkers and moving vehicles.
It was so interesting to watch how the children worked together and the evolution of their slide
There are so many great aspects of this playground:
- it is mobile and will be set up in different locations throughout the summer (for a schedule, click here)
- it is free to access
- it reuses everyday materials in novel ways
- there’s no one way or right way to set up the materials
- the same materials result in different types of play depending on who is using them
- the (big) size of many of the objects required children to work together to move them, fostering cooperative play
- children that don’t know each other will probably interact, either by playing together or asking permission to use/share materials, helping to develop negotiating skills
- socioemotional development: not only will children take pride in their play and creations, but they will also learn how to navigate more challenging emotions like loss (when someone might repurpose items they are no longer actively playing with as experienced by H and her friends); struggle and frustration (physically, cognitively and even emotionally) as children try to bring their visions to life; and conflict when children may want to use the same materials or have different visions for what/how things should be done
- the playground is set up outdoors allowing families to benefit from exposure to nature
- the playground utilizes green spaces, temporarily transforming existing (neighbourhood) sites
One of the children’s favourite features was this tarp on a hill that could be used as a side. They experimented with different ways to slide down (solo, in pairs, on bums, knees, tummies and standing)
This park is a break from the norm and would be a welcome change to summer play, especially in the case of children who:
- are very active and appreciate gross motor play
- love imaginative play
- enjoy using stem (science, technology, engineering, math) principles to bring their play into reality
- are bored of traditional park experiences
For more information on Calgary’s mobile adventure playground or to view the schedule/locations for the rest of the season, click here. If you’ve ever been exposed to an adventure park/playground, please comment with your experiences and location.