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Monday 18 July 2016

Berkeley's Adventure Playground

Here in Berkeley we're lucky to have one of the most amazing playgrounds you'll ever see right on the waterfront. This playground is definitely not your run of the mill suburban playground. You won't find mass produced play equipment with rubber on the ground to soften falls. You won't find swings or a sand box.    

But what you will find, just like other playgrounds, is a lot of children having fun. And oh what fun!

The Adventure Playground at Berkeley Marina has been a favorite destination with Bay Area families since its inception in 1979. The concept of the Adventure Playground is very different from your average playground. Here the play equipment, made from scrap wood, tires, ropes, nets, old boats, pianos, and other recycled materials, is ever evolving. And it's definitely unique. Much of the playground has been, in part, designed, made or decorated by the children who visit themselves. 

Children who visit the playground are encouraged to get creative with various tools and materials. Hammers, nails, saws, paint and brushes, and a lot of scrap wood are available for budding builders to work with. Kids can make their own creations to add to existing structures, decorate the structures with paint, or create their own masterpieces to take home. When we visited a little while back Ava and Lola both made small wooden creations that they chose to take home.

Due to the nature of the Adventure Playground, it is recommended for children ages seven and up. Younger children are welcome in the playground as long as they are accompanied by a parent at all times. Once Ava and Lola were finished making their wood and nail creations they set off to explore the playground - in different directions, of course! Ava was keen to explore on her own for much of our time at the playground. She loved the fact that this was a place where her independence was encouraged. Sometimes it nice to have a break from little sisters! Since Ava was off exploring by herself (occasionally finding us to show off things she had found) she doesn't appear in as many of my photos as Lola and Mathilde. But trust me, she was having just as much fun as you'll see her little sisters having.

Lola and Mathilde were excited to find so many things to climb on. The ramshackle houses were their favorites, especially the ones with slides. Now, I know what you're thinking, these houses look like they're about to fall down, but they're surprisingly strong. They also look rather splintery, but the girls managed to go the whole day playing on these without getting a single splinter. I guess it just goes to show that when you let kids have a little independence to play on something that may seem a little precarious, they're pretty good at being careful. Of course, I was nearby Lola and Mathilde at all times, but I really feel that had I been "hovering" over them, they wouldn't have had the same confidence and would've been more likely to hurt themselves. I guess that probably sounds a little counter intuitive, but I really feel like my girls are more confident in their own abilities when I take a step back, even if it's just a little one.

As well as the many "houses" the girls found other fun things to climb on, like stacks of tires, ropes, lots of netting, and an old boat kitted out with slides.

While there aren't any regular swing sets in the playground there are a few fun tire swings. Mathilde spent quite some time swinging away like a little birdie in a cage, while Lola found a more traditional tire swing.

Speaking of tires, one of Ava's favorite things in the playground involved rolling down a small hill inside of large tires. This looked like so much fun, and although Lola was a little scared to join in, she was happy to help Ava roll the tires back to the top of the hill after each turn. I think Kim had a little fun with this one too. Check out how he's "pushing" Ava down the hill below!

Ava's other favorite "ride" in the playground was the zipline. The zipline is a little high at points so it's out of bounds for children under six. The playground guidelines recommend that parents don't help smaller kids out with the zipline. Basically, if they can't reach it on their own, they're too small to have a turn. That may sound a little harsh, but I like the idea of fostering confidence in children by having them work out what they can and can't do on their own. Lola didn't mind that she was too small to go on the zipline. She wouldn't have gone on it even if she was big enough!

While Ava zipped across the playground, Lola and Mathilde played music on pan lids, woks, buckets and random metal items.

The girls teamed up to play on the ropes and netting together. Both Ava and Lola enjoyed having time apart in the playground, but sometimes it's more fun to play together.

Lola was pretty excited when she found a punching bag hanging from one of the structures. Perfect for practicing her karate!

I really like that everything in the playground has been decorated by visitors. A lot of the messages painted on structures and signs were obviously personal to whoever wrote them and made no sense to us, but there were also a lot of "very Berkeley" political messages too. Hey, it's not Berkeley without a little bit of a protest, right? Ha! Oh, and I just love that there's a kid perched on the roof of a structure, just painting away in one of the photos below!

We stayed at the Adventure Playground until closing. Even though we'd been there for hours, the girls were not ready to leave - especially Mathilde who did her best to run away and climb up high in the hope that I would just let her stay! Ok, Ava did the same!

The Adventure Playground is an amazing place to spend a few hours playing, climbing, building and painting. Here are a few tips you'll need to know to make your time there as easy as possible...

  • Opening hours vary throughout the year. Over Summer the Adventure Playground is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm, and Saturdays and Sundays from 11am to 5pm. During the school year the playground is only open on weekends. (Check the webpage listed below for special closures).
  • The Adventure Playground is closed on rainy days - not that we get many of those!
  • Entry is free for families or groups with five or fewer children, however bookings must be made in advance (and a fee paid) for larger groups,
  • All parents must sign a waiver upon entering the playground.
  • Drop ins are available for children aged seven and over. A parent will need to sign the waiver and pay a $10 fee. Children can then stay on their own for up to three hours.
  • Sturdy, enclosed shoes must be worn. No flip flops, backless crocs or sandals.
  • The paint used in the playground is washable however some colors may stain certain fabrics. It's best to wear clothes that can get dirty. 
  • There are no bathrooms located inside the playground. Bathrooms can be found just outside the playground at neighboring Shorebird Park.
  • Bring snacks or eat before arriving as there is nowhere to purchase food near the Adventure Playground. 

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