Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
June 21, 2012
Kids, great news in the DIY toy business: no need to be a Super Home-Depot Daddy to handle nails and hammer on scrap wood. You can do it! All you need to be is a child. Got that? And that you are. If you’ve never been to Berkeley’s Adventure Playground, it’s high time your parents knew about it. This one-of-a-kind playground-slash-outdoor-facility encourages kids to design and build their own play equipment. Want to add a nail here? Check. Want to saw off this part? Check. Dying to build a custom toy? Check. The best part is the freedom of play: there is no minimum age when kids show up accompanied by an adult and when they want to do it themselves, they just need to be 7 years and older. Honestly, it doesn’t get any more Free Range Kids in the wood construction business.
My girls are huge fans of the Adventure Playground. The first time we stumbled upon it was three years ago after a long day in the Berkeley hills. We parked at the Berkeley Marina, noticed a chaotic Mad Max-type fenced-in place with kids running around inside. My girls wanted to go in right then and now but the place was closing up so we planned another trip. It was my oldest’s 7th birthday party – a dozen kids from age 5 to 8 showed up and had a blast constructing or destroying things with their parents. Since then, I’ve taken my girls twice and each time, they regret they can’t stay longer.
Last time was a month ago. After I signed them in, both my girls ran away and disappeared from sight to climb the various tire and lumber structures, swoosh down the zip line or bounce on the wooden seesaw. While her 8-year old sister was doing the zipline non-stop, my 6-year old decided she wanted to build something with her hands and took me along to the tool counter.
To build something and get free tools on loan at the Adventure Playground, a child needs to “trade” a few items with the volunteers. The “trade” serves a purpose: make sure all construction supplies come back to the tool shop if unused. These can be old nails laying around, pieces of wood with nails and the such. We gathered a few of those on the ground, found a piece of wood my little girl liked and asked for a tool. But which tool? You can choose from hammer, saw or water paint and paintbrush – clamp upon request. Hard choice!
Since there was a big splinter sticking out of the wood, we settled for the hand saw and I clamped the wooden piece to a table. My 6-year old wasn’t getting on with the saw so she asked me to expedite that part so she could start using the big fantasy tool: the hammer. We traded the saw for the hammer and my little one beamed. Here she was with 3 long nails in one hand and a hammer in the other. Let the fun begin!
She pounded hard on the nails, almost crushed her fingers several times and split more than one piece of wood but each time I wanted to help, she pushed me aside. She wanted to do this herself. I respected her can-do attitude and agreed to step in only when requested – for me, that requires a lot of self-control. A formal help request came soon enough when my young DIYer opted to grab another piece of wood and asked me to finish off that nail job. With a wooden cube here and shiny beads there, she made a wooden bridge with pivoting landing strip that worked as a doll eating tray too. She traded the saw for a paintbrush and the last part of the toy design began, with lots of red color splashed all over.
At that point, my 8-year old dropped in and claimed she too wanted to build a toy. Hey kid, that’s what we’re here for! I helped her find a few nails on the ground and she went directly for the hammer and nails. Apparently she had her eye on two wooden boards and before I knew it, had it all figured out. Well, one of them had an angle and that made the hammering tricky but she did it without my help. She just asked me to give a few last hard knocks at the end to secure the two pieces of wood.
All done! As we were about to leave, I returned the tools, looked around and realized that both my girls had disappeared – yet again. It took me a half hour to find the young one in a fort and the other swinging wildly between two towers. Oh Adventure Playground, what spells do you cast on the young at heart?