Showing Maddie around Glamis Adventure Playground for the first time.
We scrambled and climbed and prowled and balanced our way in and on and under and over the structure.
It reminds me of a psychedelic desiccated insect exoskeleton.
It reminds me of an Escher styled platform game with no rules or sequences, no carrotty golden coin prizes.
Maddie sees the potential , not just the gobsmacking architecture and extreme building ethic at work in the grey blockiness of the surroundings.
Maddie watches the children and imagines what children could do here.
Maddie is new in the the country. She has organised and expedition for herself stepping out of her comfort zone and travelling halfway the world and a world away from her experience of childhood play. She has worked with children in difficult life circumstances, read about Adventure Playgrounds and has come to work a month at Glamis. She is a strong quiet, observer. She will see and hear and feel a lot here.
So we fumble the difficult route up to the deck of the accessible ‘tree house’. We pause and watch and are still for a while, both of us taking in what is playing out in front of us. I have seen it many times before. But I am constantly overawed by the miracles of it. She. She is seeing this for the very first time in the whole of her impressive life. She is an extraordinary young woman… She absorbs this place. Takes it on board. Assimilates it.
Then the question comes.’Do all Adventure Playgrounds look like this?’
How to answer this without bursting the bubble of her moment?
‘Some playgrounds are designed by the play equipment industry. They are adult built. They are not like traditional Adventure Playgrounds because they are not created by the children. The atmosphere here, while it is an adult, Playwork controlled environment, is in a constant paradox. Trying to hand as much of the control as possible to the children. It is a constant work. The children play with fire and axes and sledgehammers and madly risky structures, but the Playworkers make this ok by supporting the process sand not dictating the product. As an adult you feel that this is not your space, it is the children’s.
There are other ‘traditional’ looking Adventure Playgrounds where the Playworkers are utterly dictatorial and the children are not given anything approaching the autonomy that they experience here.
The Adventure Playground I ran had nothing. We had no structure, one swing, sand and water and lots and lots of loose parts. The children were primarily children with disabilities and their peers. But it had the same feeling of a child controlled space, because the team had in their minds the playing of the children , above every other agenda. To the casual eye it looked like chaos. To the eye that could read play, the play literate eye, the subtle talent of the staff was clear to read.
No. Not all Adventure Playgrounds look like this. But this is how every good Adventure Playground feels.’
Here I become conflicted. Some Adventure Playgrounds are amazing at this. Some are crap. But I am seeing / hearing snippets of this spirit in many different settings. Much as I love and respect my fellow Playworkers when they are really doing their work, I am more and more convinced that children can have tastes of this liberty in many different snippets of their experience. I am more than ever convinced that a little of the wonder of Glamis can be made available to children, who will never have the curious privilege of living in the hostile conditions of Shadwelll and playing in this place.
There simply cannot be an Adventure Playground on every corner. It costs tooooooo much. It is also an adult construct. Given the chance, children should be playing beneath the radar of adult constructs and adult eyes.
This is not a viable option for most children in the UK. We need another way to taste that freedom.
I am convinced that a play literacy campaign is what is needed, adults need to know the importance of play and how to incorporate it as the norm into the lives of the children around them. Glamis is a great thing and I long for someone to do an impact study on it. And how can we spread this wise impact to as many children as possible?
Play literacy, I think, has to be taken seriously.
Thanks to Maddie for her inspiration.