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Photo courtesy of the SCV Adventure Play Foundation.

Recently, The Proclaimer sat down with Jeremiah Dockray, co-founder and co-director of the SCV Adventure Play Foundation to discuss how the foundation was started, his philosophy about play, what an adventure playground looks like and plans for the foundation’s future. 

When asked about how SCV Adventure Play was started, Dockray explained that he got the idea when he got into a car crash on the way to work in 2013.  

“While my car was in the shop, I was getting to work using public transportation, and I used the time to read,” Dockray said. “I started reading some newspapers from World War II that talked about adventure playgrounds as reflections of anarchist philosophy, which was an exciting idea to me.”

Having grown tired of working in the reality television industry, Dockray was already looking for a new, more fulfilling direction to take his career. Reading about this new perspective on playgrounds inspired Dockray and his wife Erica Larsen-Dockray, a professional animator and adjunct professor at the California Institute of the Arts, to think about someday opening up their own adventure play foundation. Dockray started learning as much as he could about adventure playgrounds, even taking an online course from Pop-up Adventure Play, a nonprofit that advocates for adventure playgrounds.

By January of 2014, Dockray and Larsen-Dockray purchased a property near their home in Val Verde, hoping to eventually turn it into their own adventure playground.  The property, formerly a park, had been left untouched for years, but was “full of potential,” Dockray said. With the help of Pop-up Adventure Play, the Dockrays were able to host their first pop-up event at their new property just one month later.

Dockray explained that everything at an adventure playground is focused on giving the kids total control over how they want to play.  “A normal playground is only focused on physical play, and after twenty minutes a lot of kids get bored of just climbing and running around,” Dockray said. 

In comparison, an adventure playground focuses on cultivating many different types of play in one space, such as exploratory and make-believe play.  Children to have more control and experience different varieties of play by giving them more materials to work with and minimizing intervention by parents and other supervisors. The playgrounds include materials referred to as  “loose parts,” such as cardboard boxes, fabric, rope, plastic containers, chalk and tires, all of which children are free to use however they want.  

“They’re able to play in ways that they wouldn’t be able to normally,” Dockray said. “We recently had a girl make a detailed scale model of her grandmother’s house, right down to the curtains in the windows.  She wouldn’t have been able to do that without a space like an adventure playground.”

“Children need gardeners, not carpenters,” he said.

Dockray highlighted another important element of adventure playgrounds: children are supervised, but intervention into how the kids are behaving is kept to a minimum.  At SCV Adventure Play Foundation events, both parents and playworkers — adults trained in how to facilitate adventure playgrounds — are there to supervise.

“For example, we have a rope swing that kids tend to fight over, and parents often want to step in to try and solve the problem, but our job as playworkers is to ask the parent to step back and let the kids try to solve that problem themselves,” Dockray said.  According to Dockray, letting children solve their own small conflicts helps them gain problem-solving and conflict resolution skills, which they wouldn’t have developed if an adult stepped into the situation.

Playworkers and parents are also present to make sure that the children stay safe, since this environment allows them access to items they could potentially hurt themselves with. Still, Dockray has observed children being more cautious than most adults think they are.  

“When we explain to a kid that they can get hurt [at an adventure playground] if they misuse something, they become much more cautious,” Dockray said.

Since its inception in 2014, the SCV Adventure Play Foundation has held pop-up events at locations across Los Angeles County, including museums, schools and libraries.  They have also expanded their events at their Val Verde property, which they have since named Eureka Villa. Recently, they were certified as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, retroactive to 2017.

Moving forward, Dockray and Larsen-Dockray are hoping to expand their foundation even further. They are currently working on developing their Eureka Villa property and finding more partners that they can work with.  

“We want to have partnerships with more schools, community centers, homeowners’ associations and even hospitals, so we can bring adventure play wherever kids need it,” Dockray said.

Information about monetary and item donations to the SCV Adventure Play Foundation can be found on their website, as well as information about upcoming events and how to get more involved in the adventure playground movement.

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A Val Verde couple is using playground programs to teach SCV about the power of play
Article Name
A Val Verde couple is using playground programs to teach SCV about the power of play
Jeremiah Dockray and Erica Larsen-Dockray co-founded the SCV Adventure Play Foundation to let children explore creativity through adventure playgrounds.
Publisher Name
The Santa Clarita Valley Proclaimer
Brianna Bricker

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