The Current

Adult playgrounds 'reignite' childhood joy, but is that a good thing?

A new indoor playground designed for adults has opened in Toronto, part of a trend gaining popularity worldwide. Despite being good fun, some experts say they can help adults deal with stress and emotional issues. Others say it's time we all just grew up a little. We hear both sides of the argument.

Ball pits, bouncing castles, and walls of Velcro — all designed for grown-ups

Tom Chin and Joyce Lam, both 60, re-lived their childhood fun at the adult playground — and learned some lessons along the way. (Julie Crysler/CBC)

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Originally published April 8, 2019.

When Joyce Lam sank into a huge pit of plastic balls, her voice turned from playful to fearful in a matter of seconds.

"If you're a little bit scared and you do it and then you realize you can do it, it's amazing what it does to self-confidence," she said. "So I think that's what kids learn when they play."

Lam and her husband, Tom Chin, are embracing their inner child — scary moments and all — at HideSeek, an indoor playground in Toronto that's designed for adults.  

According to Lee Davis, HideSeek's co-founder, the space is meant to immerse visitors in childhood play.

"As an adult, we do forget to play sometimes," he said. "We want to remind people it's OK to jump in a shopping cart and have fun. That's what we're really trying to reignite."

Adult playgrounds like this are gaining popularity all over the world, allowing people to de-stress through nostalgia. But some experts say such infantilization will only exacerbate adults' stress levels.

The childhood fun doesn't begin and end with activities; nostalgic snacks are offered at HideSeek's adult playground. (Julie Crysler/CBC)

Simon Gottschalk, a sociologist at the University of Nevada, says this infantilization is damaging to adults' ability to handle life's bigger problems.

"We are facing such complex situations when we can barely manage our affairs at the national level," he said.

"On top of that we now have to also deal with the threat of imminent ecological collapse. So of course, what could be more tempting than to withdraw? … It's very addictive."

But Jane Clapp, a movement coach who helps people deal with trauma, pain and chronic illness through physical activity, says accessing childhood joy is the perfect way to alleviate "suffering and stress and mental health issues." 

"They have a break from what's weighing them down and I don't know how we survive if we don't get those breaks."

Clapp has her patients play with toys they may remember from their childhoods, like a small trampoline called a rebounder.

"I've had one psychotherapist from one of my certification programs who jumped on the rebounder for the first time and cried," Clapp said. "She's like, 'I can't believe how much I was missing this feeling of joy and play in my body.'"

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Written by Émilie Quesnel and produced by Julie Crysler.


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