Establishing an Adventure Playground in Sacramento, California

What if children in a low-income area of Sacramento had access to a safe place to build and create their ideas and visions - free of charge!

Photo of Kathryn
1 1

Written by

Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

Once upon a time, children were able to roam about and play with friends in their neighborhood. This free play helped kids build a sense of self, develop their own interests, and be part of a community. Sadly, today’s kids have more limits and are unable to explore and learn how they learn best – by playing. Kids in low-income areas have the least access to free play. That's why we are creating an Adventure Playground in south Sacramento so kids can roam, play and create the things they imagine. This idea began when I travelled to England to study children's parks. While there I was introduced to the concept of Adventure Playgrounds. At these playgrounds children are given tools and allowed to build and create things of their own choosing. If they want to dig holes all day, they can. If they want to develop a talent show, they can. This type of play was very inspiring to me. I saw the sense of self and the sense of community it developed in the children who played there. When I returned to the States I continued studying play and learned how limited it has become since I was a child. I became determined to bring an adventure playground to my community. We have received a lot of support from volunteers and like-minded organizations. We now only need funding to make it happen! We strongly believe that establishing this Playground will help create ‘happily ever afters’ for children in our community, and hope we will have your support to make this dream come true.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • California

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • California

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]


Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Research shows that kids spend 50% less time at play than in the 1970s. This impacts their wellbeing as evidenced by increases in childhood obesity, diabetes, and depression. Kids in low income areas, like south Sacramento, are hit worst. One south Sacramento neighborhood in particular has suffered a lot of disinvestment – including the closure of the neighborhood elementary school. We aim to create an Adventure Playground in the former school site to address these problems. The Playground will let kids play, build and create their own things and spaces. Research shows these nontraditional playgrounds help kids build self-esteem and other useful skills that prepare them to grow into competent adults. Residents by the Playground also indicated there is a need for play and after-school programs for school-aged youth. These needs can be met by the Adventure Playground.

It is in playing, and only in playing, that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self. – D.W. Winnicott, pediatrician

The Adventure Playground is a free after-school youth development program where urban youth can, with raw materials, create projects and play spaces that reflect their own ideas and vision. Essentially ‘makers’ laboratories, Adventure Playgrounds put real tools – paints, clay, hammers, nails, saws, gardening supplies, and such – into the hands of youth so they can create and destroy their own things and spaces with facilitation rather than direction from adults. Research shows that youth are inspired to be more imaginative, creative, collaborative and thoughtful in these nontraditional environments than they are in more structured playgrounds; and the range of play and activities offered in these playgrounds help children express themselves while building useful skills that prepare them to grow into competent adults.

Unfortunately, research also shows that play in general, and creative play in particular, is declining for youth. Today, children spend 50 percent less time at play than they did in the 1970s, which has led to significant increases in childhood illnesses (some would claim epidemics), such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and depression. In addition to national and international research showing that youth need access to creative play, neighbors in the Maple area indicated there is need for play. In door-to-door surveys, the priorities identified by neighbors included after-school programs, education and art programs for school-aged youth, and employment opportunities. These needs can be met, at least in part, by the Adventure Playground.

Beginning August 23, 2016, the Playground will be open 16-20 hours a week during non-school times (i.e. after school, weekends and holidays). Participation in the Playground will be free of charge. While the intent is for the Playground to be used primarily by youth in the neighborhood, all area youth will be able to register for the program. In addition, the Playground will also hold regular ‘community days’ to allow youth and families from a larger geographic area to participate.

We are currently building momentum for the Adventure Playground by holding monthly ‘Pop-Up Adventure Play Days’ to give families in the neighborhood an idea of the activities we plan to offer there. They have been very successful. Attendees built structures from cardboard (one enterprising 8 year old constructed a helicopter!), painted murals on walls, dug mud holes, and created a string den, to name a few activities. All left asking when they could come back to play and create!

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Childcare
  • Child and Family Services
  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Education

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Start-Up (a pilot that has just started operating)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

The Sacramento Adventure Playground creates impact by giving kids a place they can call their own; a place where they can make messes, be noisy, act silly and do things they want to do. Children attending our Pop-Up Adventure Play Days have spent hours digging holes, making mud, building forts, assembling Viking boats, and painting walls. They arrive neat and clean with their families, and leave a bit dirty with projects they have built by themselves or with the new friends they have made while playing. They are energized to spend time outside, doing things they aren't allowed to do at home or at school. This type of play allows kids to explore their interests which strengthens their identity, their purpose and connection to the community.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Fairytale Town has provided meaningful programs for children and families in our region since 1959. We serve a diverse audience of more than 250,000 visitors a year. Because of our history and reputation, we are in a unique position to look at innovative ways to reach into our community. In 2016 we are initiating an Adventure Playground. The Playground will allow us to interact with a narrower audience of 250 youth annually in a deeper way. It will serve as place where youth can develop their creative ideas and actually have the tools to carry them into fruition. We are excited about interacting with youth to identify their interests and assist them in crafting products or experiences ranging from structures and sculptures to written compositions and talent shows. We think these experiences will help build confidence in youth and in doing so will strengthen our community.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $50k - $100k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Fairytale Town earns the majority of its revenue through admission fees, concession and retail sales and fee-for-service programs. In addition, we have an annual fund development plan that identifies strategic partners for new initiatives. In these ways we are able to maintain our operation and provide new programs to new audiences.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

The Adventure Playground is new and innovative. There are no such playgrounds in the Sacramento region, and only a few in the United States. There are also very few youth programs that allow children to create their own ideas and visions. Most youth oriented programs are adult-led and have focus on academic achievement or enrichment. While we believe the activities we offer at the Playground will ultimately help students in school as well as life, its purpose is to support youth’s creative play so they can explore their interests. This will foster their growth and development.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

There is a growing movement to allow children to engage in more playful activities. The United Nations has declared that 'children have the right to play' in their Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the American Academy of Pediatrics has reinforced the importance of play to healthy child development, stating that 'play is the very definition of childhood.' We are proud to contribute to this movement. To promote play and healthy child development in our city, we produce an annual adult education program, the Sacramento Play Summit; and formed a volunteer corps, Sacramento Play Coalition

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Email
View more

Attachments (2)

Adventure Playground. Factsheet--2.pdf

A Fact Sheet on the Sacramento Adventure Playground


An Article on Play and it's Importance

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Michael Auerbach

Agreed - playful spaces are invaluable for personality growth. Great project, but curious to hear more about innovation elements.