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1. A Note on Language and Definition


2. The Context and Background of the first Adventure Playground


3. The emergence of British Adventure Play

  1. A Note on Language and Definition        

4. How Adventure Play developed in Britain

  The very first adventure playground in Emdrup, Copenhagen Denmark, was called "Skrammellegepladsen". The Danish word "Skrammel" means junk, reusable rubbish etc and "Legepladsen" means playground. It is noteworthy that the term "Skrammel" has a positive connotation in Danish, whereas the term 'junk' has a more negative value in the English language. Over the years, Emdrup has also used the term "building" playground. 

John Bertelsen, the very first playleader of Emdrup, also coined the phrase "skrammologi" or "junkology" to refer to the philosophy and theory of junk play,

The very first adventure playgrounds in Britain were called "junk playgrounds" or "waste material playground". In 1953, Lady Allen of Hurtwood and Sir George Peppler met over lunch to discuss and agree a new term for the junk playgrounds. Lady Allen felt that the junk playgrounds were worthy of a better name and arrived at the term "adventure playgrounds".

In late 1953 the National Playing Fields Association (NPFA) sent out a letter with the following definitions:

“1. Creative or Junk Playgrounds – Chiefly bombed sites where bricks, timber and various materials have given the children a creative outlet for building walls and forts and generally exercising their imagination.
2. Natural Adventure Playgrounds – Either a rough undulating site, probably an overgrown quarry or a site that has not been cleared and leveled but which is left with its natural features – the children playing games over fallen tree trunks and up and down miniature hills and hollows.”

The above definition did not meet with general approval and so the NPFA requested submissions of further possible definitions. In March 1954, the Clydesdale Road Playground submitted their definition to the NPFA quarterly meeting:

“It was agreed that the term ‘adventure playground’ should describe a ground where tools and materials only are used, as distinguished from a ground provided with imaginative and natural features which should have a distinctive title.”

In June 1954, Mary Nicholson (in ‘Notes on Adventure Playgrounds’, an NPFA mimeograph in 1954) wrote the following definition:

“An adventure playground is one where most of the site can be used by the children for games of their own invention; where a variety of tools and materials are provided, and where the children can rely on the backing of a capable and friendly adult…”

After the term "adventure playgrounds" had entered into common usage, Lady Allen was asked to define it for The Oxford English Dictionary in no more than seven words. She originally defined the adventure playground as:

"a creative playground with tools and waste material."

Then Lady Allen amended the definition for A Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary as:

"a playground where children are provided with miscellaneous equipment, often waste material, from which they may contrive their own amusement."

However, there remained stark differences of opinion regarding both the name and definition of junk/adventure play. In a letter to Joe Benjamin (1959), John Bertelsen wrote:

“The junk playground should be characterized by signs of wear and tear. It should be a safety valve to children whose town existence otherwise keeps them nice and well-ordered. I think by calling these playgrounds by other names something very important is excluded - the margin that keeps room for destruction and junk play.”

More modern definitions of adventure play reveal a widening disparity between the original definitions of adventure play (that included the emphasis on junk or building materials}) and the more current views of adventure play:

"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."

Chilton, T. (1988)

“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.”

Bonel, P. and Lindon, J. (1996) 

“An adventure playground can be described as a space dedicated solely to children’s play, where skilled playworkers enable and facilitate the ownership, development and design of that space – physically, socially and culturally – by the children playing there.

The indoor and outdoor area is enclosed by a boundary which signals that the space within is dedicated to children’s play and that activities such as digging, making fires or building and demolishing dens – activities not normally condoned in other spaces where children play – are provided for and encouraged.”

Conway, M. (2009)

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5. From then to now