For years, parents and cities have worked to make playgrounds safer – removing the tetherball, teeter-totter and merry-go-round. Kids now spend more time in structured play or sitting in front of screens than past generations, but the City of Calgary is trying to change that.

The City is piloting a free, mobile adventure playground in five city parks this summer: North Glenmore Park, Canyon Meadows, Canmore Park, Riley Park and Forest Lawn. The playground will rotate on a weekly basis, starting June 24 and running until October 1.

The playgrounds contain a variety of materials and loose parts such as boards, tires, tape and cardboard that children are free to use to build, demolish, assemble and change as they desire.

“It’s bringing back the days when we grew up – when we got kicked out of the house and told: ‘Don’t come home until the streetlights come on,’” said City of Calgary Recreation Manager, Heather Cowie.

Cowie says these adventure playgrounds differ from traditional playgrounds because they encourage kids to think creatively.

“They bring out a sense of adventure. They bring out, not only that physical piece, but creative piece and imaginative piece and that sense of balancing their own risk – like: ‘is it ok if I put a piece of wood between two tires and can I navigate that?’ The kids decide that for themselves, which is exactly what we want our kids to do,” said Cowie.

The concept met with early success; on June 24 – the first day the new playground was offered – there were families waiting when staff arrived to set up. Dozens more turned up throughout the day to play.

Beth Moses brought her son and let him explore the adventure playground. She says this kind of play is important. "Kids have been so sheltered,” she said. “We're not allowed to get them dirty and they're not allowed to get scrapes and they're so kind of soft sometimes - so picking up a real hammer and a real screwdriver and banging things together is a real life skill.”

The adventure playgrounds are the City’s response to a 2015 ParticipACTION report card on the Physical Activity of Children and Youth in Canada. Canada’s grade was a D-.

“One of the things [the study] said that we can do to fix that is have kids go outside and have them play,” said Cowie. “Kids move about 30% more when they’re outside and we need kids to be kids and we need to look at them as competent.”

Cowie says the City is keen to hear what Calgarians think of this new initiative and, depending on the feedback, may consider establishing a permanent adventure playground.

For more information and to see the weekly schedule for the adventure playgrounds, click here.