After coming across an old article on the concept of adventure playgrounds in 2013, Jeremiah Dockray and Erica Larsen-Dockray established a vision for their nonprofit organization known as the Santa Clarita Valley Adventure Play Foundation, which organizes pop-up adventure playgrounds across Southern California.
“Adventure playgrounds have their roots back in the 40s in Europe,” Larsen-Dockray explained. “It really was based off of kids wanting to play in rubble from bombed out houses from World War II instead of playgrounds. It sort of sparked this whole philosophy of what kids really need to play, based off of allowing them to have permission to make a mess, build and rebuild, and sort of have a space to themselves with materials to work with.”
Once a permanent location in Val Verde is established, SCV Adventure Play will be the seventh permanent adventure playground in the United States, according to Larsen-Dockray.
Adventure playgrounds involve providing children with unrestricted play in the form of “loose parts,” or repurposed building materials children can use to create and build with. These playgrounds are traditionally supervised by “playworkers” on the sidelines to ensure safety while also being careful to avoid interfering with play.
“When an adult is around, kids play [differently],” Larsen-Dockray said. “So playworkers are really there to give kids as much freedom and space to play as they want and to take risks, and also be there to help them, support them and make sure that they’re safe.”
SCV Adventure Play Foundation has focused its mission on the importance of unrestricted play. As stated on their website, “Physical and mental space for self-directed play is an essential piece of a healthy and happy life, as well as access to nature, a supportive community, and a measure of the benefits of risk.”
“Allowing kids to feel like they have the strength, the willingness and the autonomy to be themselves and to explore their ideas, and to not have an adult first tell them what to do and how to think about things, or to insert themselves into their play, is so important,” Larsen-Dockray said.
SCV Adventure Play does more than just pop-up playgrounds, as it has expanded their operations to online platforms during the pandemic.
The Dockrays are currently working with multiple adventure playgrounds across the country, from Houston to New York, to start a playworker certification program. They have also been offering support groups for parents during COVID-19, organizing virtual adventure play sessions, providing loose parts kits to people in Val Verde, and working on piloting an adventure playground in Minecraft where kids can join the online server and play.
“We’ve really just been trying to figure out how to keep supporting play, onscreen and offscreen. Just being there for people,” Larsen said.
SCV Adventure Play is organizing a virtual fundraising event known as “Spring Thing Fling,” on March 20. The event will take place over Zoom from 2-5 p.m.
“We’re creating a Zoom meeting with lots of breakout rooms, and in each breakout room is a different activity, performance or demo that are all spring or nature themed,” Larsen-Dockray explained. “We have everything from live music, art activities, cooking, and a remote controlled hike with a playworker in Phoenix, Ariz. We have another room where kids get to choose their own adventure, and that’s with a playworker in San Diego. [Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation] is going to do a trivia game room. We also have a friend who’s a zoologist who’s going to be doing ‘A Day in the Life of a Zoologist,’ where kids get to go around a zoo. It should be a lot of fun.”
Tickets are free, but go from $5 to $25 if guests want to donate to the foundation. Room presenters include Sarah Melnick for music, Ravin Brazfield and Jazzy Archila for digital drawing, Liesl Pimentel for hiking, Shawnee Badger for cooking, a performance by April Mae and The June Bugs Quartet, and “Spring Time in Magic Land” with Megan Dickerson.
Members of the community can also support SCV Adventure Play by becoming a sponsor, making one-time donations, donating loose parts and other materials and more. Information can be found on their website under “Help Us Grow.”
“Play can be so therapeutic, not just for kids but for everybody, to just sort of tap in to the here-and-now, and feel that spark of life,” Larsen-Dockray said. “It’s so good for your mental health to just play, to turn loose a little bit and allow yourself to just have fun.”