Junkyard Playground

Where did you play when you were a kid?

I’ve been staying with my son, daughter-in-law and their two daughters for about a week now. They live in a community that is primarily military families, and right in the center of the neighborhood is a big playground.

It sits on a cushy bark chip surface and has things you’d see in any other suburban playground. And it’s a great place for the kids to get together and play while the parents chat and get to know each other.

suburban playground

But it has its limits.

While it is a fun place to met up with other children and have social interaction, and play time, it isn’t a place to get an education. What I mean by that is, these types of playgrounds do not give children the opportunity to experiment, explore, to try things out and practice critical thinking and problem solving.

When I was young we had a swing set in our back yard, which we rarely used. Instead we were doing things like digging in the dirt, making things from discarded cans and nails and rope or whatever we could get our hands on.

There was a hill right next to our farm called Star Hill. It got its name from the pine trees that were planted in the shape of a big star. It was a steep hill and became our favorite sledding hill once the snow hit. Except my parents didn’t buy us sleds, so we had to get creative.

My brother Steve figured out if we took the trunk off an old car we had and tied a rope to it, all of us could fly down that hill together narrowly missing trees on the way. Which we did. Talk about un-safe! But we had a blast and figured out how to conquer that hill.

When my boys were young they much preferred exploring around our farm and especially liked the rickety tree fort that had old wood and rusty nails showing. The first thing they wanted was a hammer, some rope and a pulley. I could see their wheels were turning and the big plans they had for that fort.

But today a lot, if not most, kids are shielded from those kinds of experiences.

“You’re going to get hurt”, “It’s not safe”, “You can’t use a hammer!” “Here, let me show you how to do it”.

I hear those words over and over from young parents today.

Don’t get me wrong I am NOT blaming the parents. In our society, you can get thrown in jail for letting your 10 year old walk three blocks to a playground. So I completely understand the need to watch over them. I think we even started calling today’s parents “Hover Parents” for doing this. Kind of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t sort of thing.

I’m proud of my kids for allowing their children to get dirty and figure out things on their own. When we were carving pumpkins, my son reminded me that it was okay for his 6 year old to use the little serrated knife that came in the kit and try her best to carve out her design.

In today's world we forget to let kids experiment on their own

And it was fun to see them play in the mud yesterday finding a board that they’d decided was a boat to play with.

playing in the mud is the perfect playground

When I spoke with my daughter-in-law about this, she told me about a fairly new concept for us here in the United States.

Junkyard playgrounds. Have you heard of them?

They sprung up in Europe after the war because children where playing in bombed out buildings, and liking it. Major cities all over the world have slowly been adapting this type of free play space for children and creating Wild Playgrounds and Adventure Playgrounds. Children are allowed to play with hammers and paint and climb on things, without adult interference.

I think it is a wonderful idea, and I’m glad to see it’s starting to catch on.

What do you think? Would you want your children or grandchildren to play in this type of environment? Do you think it’s essential? Or is it too dangerous?

Reader Comments

  1. Mary D.

    I’ve never heard of Junkyard playgrounds but I’m all for anything that allows kids to be kids!
    I had way too much freedom as a child as many kids in the 60’s did and I often wonder how I made it to adulthood without being kidnapped or killed in a freak, unsupervised accident. Because of this, I probably hovered over my kids when they were very young and had to really work at giving them more freedom as they got older. I went fishing at Hart Lake alone at 6 or 7 years old (and I don’t know how to swim,) but struggled to let mine go at 12 with friends! You can be sure they had swimming lessons before going, though!
    On a side note, I didn’t know you lived by Star Hill. Were you to the north or south or up on the hill? There is a large farm for sale up on the hill with lots of acreage that my husband would love to drag me to, but I am content in a subdivision. A farm when the kids were small would have been nice, though.

    • Loretta Sayers
      Loretta Sayers

      We had so much freedom too Mary. We didn’t even wear seat belts! I protected my kids, but I also gave them freedom. I think having the farm was good for them. Each generation gets more and more protective (with good reason), which is why these types of playgrounds are popping up. They are completely fenced and there are adults who make sure kids are safe, but the kids get to explore and do things without an adult saying “Be careful” or “Let me show you how to…”.

      Yes, we grew up very close to the old Star Hill. I understand there’s a new one now. We were between Star Hill and town. Was a fun place to grow up for sure.

      Thanks as always, Mary.

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