Category Archives: playgrounds

That playground that looks like a wooden castle…

That playground that looks like a wooden castle… where did it go?

Just figured out the name of the company that built a number of playgrounds in the eastern Massachusetts area that look like castles… Leathers & Associates

Many of them have been dismantled, but it’s interesting that Littleton MA is saving and renovating theirs. I am not quite sure how it’s possible, as you can read about the many hazards that are reported on at the link at the Lincoln MA site below, but hey, the company still exists, so obviously they have figured out how to make similar designs work that DO meet these much improved safety requirements.

Leathers & Associates

Castle in the Trees in Littleton, MA

Field of Dreams in Salem NH

Hannah Williams playground in Wayland MA (now dismantled and replaced with something else)

Strat’s Place Playground next to the Hartwell School in Lincoln MA (now dismantled)

safety audit

Our kids played at three of these when they were little and they liked them, but sure, I especially saw how there were lots of opportunities for bonking heads or “head entrapment” I think the audit describes. Great designs though so glad to see that the company is still around.

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Filed under history, local, playgrounds


“One of the most basic underpinnings of the craft
of the playworker is to understand that the play of
children within the boundaries of a play setting must
remain unadulterated by external agendas. This
means that playworkers do not try to educate, train,
tame, or therapeutically treat children in their time and space for play.
They do not coach sports or teach art, drama, or dance, or even circus
skills. They do not do “activities.”

A good playworker will have resources as readily available as a first
aid kit so that if and when children come and ask for face painting or a
deck of cards these materials or their approximations can be furnished
to them. What a playworker does not do is schedule events and say,
“This afternoon we will be face painting and playing canasta. Then
you will do 30 minutes of ‘keep-fit’ and then have a healthy snack.”
This contaminates the play frame and corrupts the freely chosen,
personally directed, and intrinsically motivated playing that children
must experience.”

The Playwork Primer


A playworker is apparently what they call a staffer of an “adventure playground”.

This is somewhat similar to the role of staff at a Sudbury School (of course minus a LARGE role Sudbury staff have in running the school) but a bit too “ready”. I would never expect a Sudbury staffer to have items available as quick “as a first-aid kit”. Really? That feels way way too artificial, personally.

And I guess when I read thru items in the Primer some of it feels condescending ultimately because if you imagine interacting in this way with a teenager or adult rather than a younger kid, it becomes obviously condescending. So guess what… it probably is for the younger kids too.

See also:
The Art of Doing Nothing
Activities (at blog)
What it means to be staff at a Sudbury School

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Filed under playgrounds, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School

Dumbing down playgrounds

I knew it was only a matter of time for this playground in Lincoln! The one in like it in Littleton (Castle in the Trees) is on the block too. And shhh…. there’s one in Salem, NH too….

If you read the recent evaluation of the Castle in the Trees, it talks about there being wood posts larger than 2″x2″ that are too high, and that’s a problem because they are “platforms”. In other words, kids could climb on them.

Maybe the safety experts haven’t seen my little kids playing on the new “dumbed-down” playgrounds of today. They climb ON TOP of pretty much every surface meant to be climbed through. So I am sure those are also surfaces that are being used as platforms that are way too high. Should these new playgrounds be closed too? Some also have low-areas where kids who are tall enough could seriously whack their heads.

Oh well. It’s too bad. Not that I think these particular “old-school” playgrounds were amazing. They are pretty good in some ways, but from a playability standpoint, not the best I’ve seen either. And there are of course some things that are not the safest things ever. But neither is climbing a tree 30 feet up, skiing, bike riding, riding in cars, etc. I let my kids do those things too.

The problem is that I can almost guarantee that what replaces them will be B-O-R-I-N-G. But here’s hoping. I’ve seen some good “new’ playgrounds too.

A separate problem almost all of the playgrounds I’ve been to in the suburban Boston area have is that they are in the middle of nowhere — at a stand-alone park or next to an elementary school not easily accessible to anyone without a car. Sometimes I visit such playgrounds (including the ones in Lincoln, Littleton, and Salem NH) and they are COMPLETELY deserted except for my arriving family. So you know how much fun that is? Approximately zero.

I guess this is just a rant about a bigger issue… suburbia. The best playground I’ve been to with my kids (location: top-secret until another day when I decide to spill the beans) is in a dense neighborhoody part of a town that one could walk to. This same playground is actually “new school” but somehow manages to be pretty fun. It also helps a lot that it is usually PACKED with kids (due partly to it’s location, partly it’s awesomeness.)

OK so here’s my checklist I’d use to rate playgrounds:
– good playground
– good location (near other stuff, walkable)
– good sitting and shade for parents
– well attended
– play surface not made of toxic/smelly crumbled-up rubbery spongy pavement stuff
– some real and decently high good-ole swimgs a plus

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Filed under playgrounds, suburbia

Children’s Risky Play From an Evolutionary Perspective: The Anti-Phobic Effects of Thrilling Experiences

… Sandseter began observing and interviewing children on playgrounds in Norway. In 2011, she published her results in a paper called “Children’s Risky Play From an Evolutionary Perspective: The Anti-Phobic Effects of Thrilling Experiences.” Children, she concluded, have a sensory need to taste danger and excitement; this doesn’t mean that what they do has to actually be dangerous, only that they feel they are taking a great risk. That scares them, but then they overcome the fear. In the paper, Sandseter identifies six kinds of risky play:
(1) Exploring heights, or getting the “bird’s perspective,” as she calls it—“high enough to evoke the sensation of fear.”
(2) Handling dangerous tools—using sharp scissors or knives, or heavy hammers that at first seem unmanageable but that kids learn to master.
(3) Being near dangerous elements—playing near vast bodies of water, or near a fire, so kids are aware that there is danger nearby.
(4) Rough-and-tumble play—wrestling, play-fighting—so kids learn to negotiate aggression and cooperation.
(5) Speed—cycling or skiing at a pace that feels too fast.
(6) Exploring on one’s own.

This last one Sandseter describes as “the most important for the children.” She told me, “When they are left alone and can take full responsibility for their actions, and the consequences of their decisions, it’s a thrilling experience.”


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Filed under kids -- freedom and responsibility, outdoors, play, playgrounds

Sudbury Valley School vs playgrounds and recess

I think the problem I have with playgrounds, especially #6 below (with the huge blue blocks) is that even the good ones (and these are rare!) are contrived and are not going to hold interest for long — like a museum. I guess I would have to see if any had much staying power vs the more real / organic / wild / natural versions of (#1) adventure playground and (#2) the campus of Sudbury Valley School (SVS) but I would guess not.

And not only because the blue blocks are less useful than real tools or artifacts the kids create from actual found objects (as at SVS), but also importantly, because (especially at Sudbury Valley School) the kids are in charge of their own time COMPLETELY. It isn’t just a 1/2 hour recess… it is their whole day that they are free to do as they wish — playing (or working… call it as you wish) outdoors or indoors.

And also importantly, at Sudbury Valley School (and other Sudbury Schools) it is within a context of a self-governed community — real direct democracy as embodied in the SVS Lawbook and executed by the Judicial Committee, the School Meeting, and the various elected clerkships and committees. Real consent of the governed is powerful.

Whereas, at a “playground” at some arbitrary short point, the whistle will blow, or the parents will say “times up” after an hour or 2.

Also, outside of school hours… playgrounds are typically hit or miss.  Unless in a safe, dense area…. it is going to mean kids need to get their via parents/cars.  Vs at SVS, there is a rich environment of “everyone is here” available.  Cohousing neighborhoods offer that possibility as well, as long as people aren’t doing too much in the way of scheduled, adult run outside activities, pulling them away from the neighborhood.


1) Adventure Playgrounds
(as noted here:

2) Sudbury Valley School
(as noted here with links to fort building and other outdoor play:

3) Power tools for kids

4) Wilderness programs for kids

5) Fat Albert — cartoon at the junkyard

6) Imagination Playgrouds (sterile version of Adventure Playgrounds)
company that makes big blue blocks:

7) How Little League sports used to be (no parents… just kids)
Excerpt from Peter Gray

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Filed under outdoors, play, playgrounds, recess, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School