Boston Sand Gardens

Written Spring 1998 by: Olivia Rogers, Lydia Sheppard, Sarah Burch

The Boston Sand Gardens was the first supervised playground for children. It was built in 1885 by the Boston Women’s Club. The playground provided sand piles for the children to play in while under supervision of a volunteer during the day. The concept was introduced to the Women’s Club by Dr. Marie E. Zakrzewska from Berlin, Germany. The idea of the sand gardens came from the need for a "safe" and value enriching place for the children of Boston. The need for the gardens was immense due to the high population of immigrant children who during the days of summer cared for themselves, while their parents were working in factories and other various jobs. The first sand garden was built in the yard of the Children’s Mission on Permenter Street in the North End of Boston. It became a huge success and many other similar sites were developed in Boston and around the United States (Oliva, 39).

The Boston Sand Gardens were significant in the history of the country and the history of recreation/leisure services because it was the first attempt to provide formalized recreation to children. The attempt was a success it brought many kids off the streets and into a place where they could be supervised and have "wholesome authority" (Dickason, 88). The Boston Sand Gardens has brought new concepts to the forefront of our country’s leisure opportunities. Not only did the Sand Gardens bring about playgrounds, it brought a new focus on how we should provide such leisure services for the children. The basic idea of providing a place for leisure to take place has created the concept of recreation/leisure services. Today, there are so many different places, jobs, and people that place all of their significance on leisure and recreation. And through the steps of one group of people many lives have been changed through recreation (Hartosoe, 47).

Neighborhood playgrounds are many times the first leisure experience in one’s life. This experience shapes the ideas and goals of leisure that one may center their life upon in the future. In many Park Districts the playgrounds are where they begin to meet kids; begin to understand them in order to "help" them in becoming better people.

The foundations of the Boston Sand Gardens provide an everyday reminder of recreation and leisure to many people throughout the United States. Many people do not realize everyday as they pass a neighborhood playground or a school yard playground, that it is there because of an idea, that was implemented in 1885. The Boston Sand Gardens influence on leisure today is amazing. If it had not been for Dr. Marie E. Zakrzewska in 1885, the idea of supervised and "safe" playgrounds may not exist. No matter who a person is from the President to Joe Smith down the block, everyone has an experience with a playground in some form or another. Therefore, the importance of the Boston Sand Gardens is amazing even 113 years later. The idea of one person and the implementation of a women’s group bring children and adults happiness (Dickason, 83-88).

Due to the Boston Sand Gardens many people have jobs through recreation and children have places to "play". The job opportunities in recreation were created because of the Boston Sand Gardens. The many playgrounds indoors and out have a need for programming and for someone to do that programming. At the success of the sand gardens people recognized the need for recreation and for people to implement it within the communities. This need creates many of the current careers and jobs that are a part of recreation/leisure services (Hartsoe, 48).

Today, playgrounds are a necessity for all school yards and neighborhood parks. Playing on playgrounds is not only a ways for the children to occupy their leisure time but it also aides in their physical development. The first playground has also been the basis for many other advancements and new implements of playground recreation. A simple sand pile has now become a massive jungle gym with swings, slides, sawhorses, and merry-go-rounds. A simple playground is now amusement parks, water parks, and even places for adults to play. The idea of the Boston Sand Garden has been transformed and expanded into the many choices for our current leisure opportunities. 

The Boston Sand Gardens was the beginning of the biggest industry in the entire world. It has created an opportunity for many children and adults to spend their time doing something useful and meaningful. The children that originally benefited from the sand gardens did not realize what they were being ‘guinea pigs’ for, but in reality they were being ‘guinea pigs’ for the entire recreation industry. Overall the ideas of one person not only provided them with a safe and healthy environment but also gave the entire recreation field a model for playground recreation. 


Dickason, J.G., (1983). The origin of the playground: The role of Boston’s women’s clubs 1885-1890. Leisure Sciences, 6 (1), 83-98.

Hartsoe, Charles E. (1985). From playgrounds to public policy. Parks and Recreation, 20 (8), 46-49,68. 

Oliva, L. (1985). Boston sand garden kicks off the playground movement. Parks and Recreation, 20 (8), 36-39.

Source: Boston Sand Gardens


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