Berkeley’s Adventure Playground

POSTED: October 20, 2010

 

Zip line for 6 years and older at the Adventure Playground

Get some more lumber and hold the C-clamp tight, will ya? If Mad Max was a kiddie movie, Berkeley’s Adventure Playground would be the neighborhood junkyard  where kids with post-punk hairstyle pop up with hammers, clamps and nails to fix up your homemade bike and paint it red cuz red’s the only available color today. Then eventually kids would bring back the tools so they can pound on the exposed strings of a gutted piano or take a wild ride on the zip line above the sand. At 5pm, they’d either nail their creation to a climbing structure or destroy it before leaving. Or not.

This is a typical day at the Adventure Playground – minus the hairstyle, your choice. If you don’t believe me, swing by the Berkeley Marina any Saturday or Sunday from 11am to 5pm.

 

Drinking samurais at the Albany Bulb

 

Run by the City of Berkeley, this unique playground is a total knock-out and an absolute must for creative families. Your kids will love to design their own play equipment and you’ll get to enjoy the crunchy artsy Berkeley vibe a mile down from the Albany Bulb.

Every city needs an Adventure Playground, a place where kids can have fun in an unsafe environment and learn to take calculated risks. Yes, unsafe and that’s the groovy kicker. With nails lying around, recycled lumber, rubber tire swings, tons of splinter opportunities, saws handed out to the below-10-years-old crowd and metal scrap fashioned in Burning Man sculptures, the Adventure Playground is the anti-Pump it Up party place.

The climbing gym/slide at Adventure Playground
Actually, SFGate’s The Poop called it a death trap and that made me laugh. What world do we live in that kids can’t build forts without wearing heavy duty gloves, protective eye-wear and padded aprons? What’s wrong with kids being kids?

Dang, where I grew up in New Caledonia, my brothers and I built forts all the time. We climbed in trees with or without knot ropes. We chopped mimosa branches and used knives to sharpen arrows and make bows. We jumped across the stinky creek down from our house and sometimes ended up with scrapes (or a broken arm for my oldest brother). We roamed the local mangrove barefeet in the mud to fish crabs fed on sewage waters downstream from the local hospital (mom was wise and set them aside so we wouldn’t eat them for dinner).

I built a tree house with my Australian girlfriend Georgina up in a mango tree in front of her house. Just a square board squeezed between two branches, really. One day one of the branches fell and us with it. What a scare! But nothing broken, just a quick band-aid fix.

Living in the Bay Area is not like living in the tropics because the weather’s quite cooler. Hence my hiking and general outdoors obsession, I guess. It allows me to get my girls out, something I couldn’t live without. As for safety, I try to push my girls to do stuff that protective parents might disapprove of but which I think, prepares them to kickass in the outside world. Sort of Free Range Kids style. Hence the Adventure Playground birthday party.

I heard about it from my friend Deborah who organized her son’s 8-year-old’s birthday party there last year. I patiently waited a year and then organized my girl’s 7-year old’s birthday party here. According to the website, the playground is designed for ages 7 and above though younger kids are welcome closely watched by parents. So for her 7 autumns, my young trooper invited a mix of boy and girl friends and the party was on. Yes, girls like to tinker too!

 

A little parent help for the young’uns

After the kids arrived, a staff member from the Adventure Playground gave them a little prep speech about what they could and could not do, how to use the basic tools (hammer, saw, C-clamp), and small challenges to earn their tools. After 5 minutes, we unleashed the kids. First, they were like “what do we do?” It’s tough to decide on what to do when you can do anything. Some ran to the zip line. Others explored the 1-acre playground and poked around.

An hour later, every child was engaged in his or her creative project and almost all left with a completed boat, plane or car. A bird house was nailed on a fort. Parents helped, others just watched. It was really cool to see how far the imagination of kids stretched. How some insisted on using big nails for small projects while others painted their sculpture and themselves too. Nobody was hurt. The “conventional” playground next door is a great place to eat cake and keep running around after the Adventure Playground is closed.

Unleash your little free spirits!

Practical details:
Berkeley Marina (off I-80)
Open Saturday and Sunday 11am – 5pm. Closed if raining.
Closed-toe shoes and clothes that can get dirty
Free for 4 children or less accompanied by a responsible adult
Kids 7 years and older can be dropped off for $10 for up to 3 hours (don’t forget to sign the waiver)
All other details are here.

6 Responses to “Berkeley’s Adventure Playground”

  1. October 20, 2010 at 2:51 pm, Debi said:

    Okay, this is WAY too cool. Seriously, I SO wish we had something like this is L.A. But you know too many people would deem it "unsafe" for it to fly. A girl can dream, though. :)

    Reply

  2. October 20, 2010 at 3:04 pm, frogmom.com said:

    @Debi – Actually there are two Adventure Playgrounds in Southern California but from I understand, not as complete as the one in Berkeley. Here is a link to Adventure Playgrounds around the world: http://adventureplaygrounds.hampshire.edu/links.html

    Reply

  3. October 21, 2010 at 12:41 am, RKB said:

    My only regret is that we weren’t around to use it when my kids were the right age. I was the kind of kid who cobbled together a carbon arc with the carbon rod from inside a battery, pieces of fire-wood, the coal hammer, re-used nails, and the dog’s water-bowl filled with salt water as a variable resistance… I’d have loved my kids to have that kind of opportunity.

    (Maybe it’s I who would have enjoyed that playground.)

    Reply

  4. October 21, 2010 at 8:07 pm, TamarR said:

    Brings back memories – when my son, who is now 19-1/2, was about 6 we went to a birthday party at Adventure Playland. My first thought was, "A litigator’s playground." The kids had a great time, no one was injured – not even a splinter, as I recall. I, too, grew up out in the woods, with no parental supervision, playing around a pond, building tree forts, rope swings. No one drowned or broke bones. The worst that happened was some terrible poison ivy episodes.

    Reply

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    Reply

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