Sure, New York City is made up of islands, but Governors Island is an island, island – no subway, no bridges, no trams – only accessible by canoes and parachutes.
It could be. For the mostly six to twelve-year olds engaged in “self-directed” play at The Yard, the tire and lumber-strewn adventure playground tucked into the northeast corner of the inviting greenspace, anything is possible across the water.
Run by play:groundNYC, an organization on a mission to “transform the city through play,” The Yard is the only adventure playground and camp site in New York City with “this type of junkyard” set-up, said executive director, Zoe Fortin.
For city children accustomed to highly structured play days and local camp activities, the freedom to plan how they spend their days has proven quite popular, starting with the excitement of a boat ride from the southern tip of Manhattan, and the permission to literally choose how to spend their days on the island.
“There is no program, kids have control of their time, material, decisions, space,” said Fortin. “They can build, they can destroy, they can collaborate, they can not collaborate.”
Experiment With Tools
The children who visit The Yard on weekends or daily during the summer are monitored by a team of playworkers – staff trained to facilitate play – who make sure play is safe so children can take risks. They experiment with tools such as nails and hammers (real hammers!) as they build structures; climb ladders or explore hidden nooks of the playground. For those who gravitate toward more traditional play, items such as arts and craft, or water-play, are available. Others still, can decide to just sit on a log, stare out at the ocean and daydream as long as they choose.
Fortin added that they believe children have bigger capabilities than most places give them credit for.
“They’ll play if you let them, we don’t need to schedule a day of play,” she said, citing that the benefits of self-directed play “is really letting kids take their own risks and discovering where their limits are.”
“It’s almost like giving a backyard to kids who may not have one in the city,” she said.
Because Governors Island is now open year-round, The Yard opens early this year on April 2, every weekend from 12 to 4 p.m., and is free on a first-come, first-served basis.
Summer Camp runs for 11 weeks from June to September, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, with a tiered payment system and some scholarships available. Playworkers will pick up the children in Lower Manhattan, take the 10-minute ferry ride over to The Yard, then return with them at the end of each day. Children can register for one week or several weeks, according to each family’s preference. There is also an option for after-care sessions up to 5 p.m. during the summer months.
Also, for the first time this year, there is a Spring Recess Camp from April 18 to 25 that, similar to the summer schedule, is from 8:30 a.m. through 3 p.m. daily.
While The Yard is designed for first to six graders, play:groundNYC is willing to consider younger or older children as they believe children develop at their own pace.
Fortin said there are other neighborhood pop-up programs available throughout the year, in partnership with local organizations, in an effort to have the city “reimagine play” and re-think what public spaces are supposed to look like, especially post pandemic.
The Yard has been on Governors Island for six years, and Fortin welcomes families who have not explored this form of self-directed play within the city boundaries, to possibly see this as a new option for their child as the warmer months approach.
“If we can provide a place to maybe prompt people to think differently about the city and play and what a child really needs – and joy – that’s kind of enough for us,” Fortin said. “Just one kid at a time.”
To register or learn more about The Yard, visit: play-ground.nyc/the-yard
Questions can also be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org
“It’s almost like giving a backyard to kids who may not have one in the city.” The Yard Executive Director Zoe Fortin