Sunday, March 23, 2014

It's been too long...

It's been a very long time since I've posted anything here - life has been very busy and it's had to take a back seat to other priorities.  

But this morning I have been writing my part of a conference paper that I am presenting at the 2014 IPA Conference with my fellow colleagues at Nature Play Solutions, Wendy Seymour and Emma Lawrence and, now in a good writing rhythm, have decided to re-visit my long neglected Nature of Play blog.

The theme of our conference paper is about the benefits (and challenges!) of working within a multidisciplinary team.

This has presented a great opportunity to reflect on what we each bring to the team; how we approach our goal to see children - of all ages - have access to quality play experiences; and how our approach and range of services has evolved over time.

When Emma, an OT and her husband Chris established Nature Play Solutions, their vision was to provide children with great outdoor play experiences - through the development of nature-based playspaces. 

Since then, the team has grown to include people with backgrounds in community development, landscape architecture, horticulture, playwork and teaching; as well as a comprehensive construction team that includes landscapers, carpenters and stonemasons.

The range of services we provide now includes playspace design and construction; outdoor play and playspace consultancy and professional development; and an array of creative, free play experiences, both as one off incursions, or as permanent features, as in the case of loose parts play and mud play.

As we've noted in our presentation paper - we don't always agree on the exact route to take towards our shared goal, but our shared respect for the value of the expertise each team member brings helps to work through these differences.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

International Play Association Conference - Cardiff, UK

Have recently returned from the UK where I attended this fantastic conference presented by the IPA and Play Wales.
I met lots of wonderful people from all over the globe who were all working towards improving play opportunities for children.
Too much bubbling around in my head at the moment, but check out the website for more information about the conference themes, speakers and the presentations -

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Free Play at school

I am very excited to share a fantastic example of a local Perth school embracing the concepts of nature-based playground design and children's free play.
Completed in time for the first day of school, the pre-primary playground now has a great green grass slope to roll down with large deciduous tree to provide shade, steppers in between some grassy landscape plantings and giant limestone boulders to climb over.

The plans for the new natural play space on the edge of the quadrangle and the large tree log at the edge of the grassed sports field are even more exciting. This work will be undertaken by parent volunteers over the next few weekends.
But inspired by a recent documentary screened on the ABC - The Lost Adventures of Childhood - rather than wait, the school has added loads of great loose parts to stimulate children's imaginative play in the meantime. The kids quickly embraced the concept and the pieces of fabric, cushions and dress ups have been really well used.
I asked the principal about the impact of these changes to the school play areas. His response was clear and strong - "immediate and huge." The kids have made each other laugh with their crazy dress ups, they have collaborated to create interesting and regularly re-designed cubbies and other creations. I can't wait to see the new space when it's completed and see how the children's play continues to evolve.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Battling the floods in the name of play

What an exciting few days - and what a great bunch of people we've met along the way - and despite the rain and flooded roads - we've even visited a few playgrounds!
We are here to talk with local governments, children's services, parents and kids about playgrounds - what they think about their local playgrounds, the specific problems of providing playgrounds in the harsh climates of the Pilbara and the Kimberley; and also to share our knowledge and expertise about playgrounds, safety, the latest research and current trends.
So far we have met with parks and infrastructure teams at the Shire of Roebourne, Shire of Port Hedland and Shire of Ashburton; parents in Karratha, Roebourne and South Hedland. We held forums in Karratha, face to face meetings in Roebourne and set up a table at the South Hedland Shopping Centre.
Not surprisingly, in such hot environments, lack of good shade is most parents' greatest concern. The Shire of Port Hedland has made good progress towards providing fixed shade to many of its playgrounds; and the Shire of Roebourne has just commenced a massive program to install fixed shade over all their playgrounds. We were also impressed that many of the Shire of Port Hedland's playgrounds had self-cleaning toilets, a great help to parents with young children.
Driving from Karratha to Port Hedland on Wednesday was a great challenge because of the flooded roads, but we still managed to stop off in Roebourne and met some very passionate people at Yaandina Child Care Centre and Roebourne's Best Start service.
Today's drive to Newman was a lot dryer thank goodness, so will be able to go ahead with planned activities.
If the roads stay clear we will drive to Tom Price - the last stop on this trip - on Monday; then fly back to Perth on Thursday.
We'll have a few weeks to re-group, then head up to the Kimberleys.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

North West Playground Research Project 2010-11

The Kidsafe WA Playground Advisory Service team has begun working on an exciting new research project. With the assistance of the Department of Health, Kidsafe WA’s Playground Advisory Service will be investigating outdoor play provision in regional and remote locations in the State’s north west.

There is extensive international research about the impact that social infrastructure such as parks and playgrounds have on the health and wellbeing of children and communities. Quality nature-based playgrounds in particular have been shown to support children’s healthy development. However, playgrounds are often difficult to create and maintain in regional and remote WA towns, which can often lead to unsafe or unexciting playgrounds.

A Reference Group of professionals from the children and family, education, landscape and local government sectors has been established to ensure multi-disciplinary expertise.

This project aims to meet with families, children’s services, local government and Aboriginal groups to gather views and perspectives about playgrounds, explore perceptions of children’s play and the specific difficulties of playground provision faced by remote communities to identify –

  • The level of satisfaction with local playground and playspace provision
  • Perceptions of safety of local playgrounds
  • Perceptions of provision of risk and challenge in children’s playspaces
  • Difficulties or otherwise of planning and development of playgrounds in remote locations
  • Maintenance and sustainability issues and concerns.

Design and maintenance issues and concerns will be discussed with the Reference Group to develop low cost solutions to these areas of concern.

The project team is also keen to discuss the concept of ‘connecting to country’ with Aboriginal groups in relation to supporting children’s connection to nature in playground design. It is hoped this will assist education strategies for the implementation of the Early Years Learning Framework with its strong emphasis on connecting children to nature and supporting children’s sense of belonging.

A range of face-to-face consultation meetings, forums and focus groups are currently being scheduled for February and March 2011 and we would love to speak with as many people as we can.

KARRATHA – 14–15 February
ROEBOURNE – 16 February
PORT HEDLAND – 17 February
NEWMAN – 18–21 February
TOM PRICE – 22 February
PARABURDOO – 23 February

KUNUNURRA – 21–22 March
WYNDHAM – 22 March (AM)
HALLS CREEK – 23 March
DERBY – 24 March
BROOME – 25–28 March

To participate in this project, share your views, provide assistance or find out more contact Kerry (9340 8939) or Tracy (0428 875 503) or email

Friday, October 22, 2010

Playground challenge -v- safety

A recently released report that discusses outside play ...

One from Helen Little, Institute of Early Childhood, Macquarie University Sydney -

The report discusses the tensions between providing children with risk and challenge in their outside play environments - and - the aim of regulators to restrict children's exposure to hazards.

The report includes results from a survey of early childhood practitioners which found that while practitioners believed in the importance of providing 'risky' play opportunities, they felt constrained by the regulatory environment.
Helen included some discussion in relation to equipment height and fall zone requirments of the Australian Standards and the difficulties of providing a range of play options and ensuring adequate safe fall zones.

I would like to acknowledge that although providing risky play can appear to contradict the aims of the Standards, it is still possible. In fact, the Standards themselves acknowledge children's need for 'risky' play.

Slopes and mounds can provide height without the need for safety surfacing and also allow 'out of control' somersaults for example. Rocks and boulders can be used to retain the slope and become a climbing challenge. I would also like to point out that in most circumstances, fall zones can overlap, suggesting a possible misinterpretation of the Standards among early childhood professionals and possibly regulatory inspectors.

Another important point to make is that the Standards also provide clear design guidance about contouring and landscaping -

AS 2155-1982, 4.3 Landscaping – A flat featureless & treeless playground should be avoided. Wherever possible the natural landscape & suitable trees should be retained.
AS/NZS 4486.1:1997, Design of playground – Where a site is deficient in natural assets the design should provide contouring, grassing, planting with appropriate shrubs & trees, screening & variety of surfaces and changes of level.
These are important requirements that are often neglected.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Problem of Perception

A story from the Summer Edition of Play England's Play Today magazine...
A survey by the national charities Parentline Plus and Living Streets, as part of the national Walk to School Week campaign, found that a majority of parents fear their child being abducted or killed in a road accident over the more likely threat to their health from childhood inactivity leading to obesity. Results revealed that 30 per cent of parents feared the abduction or murder of their child while only five per cent expressed concern
over their child’s poor health later in life due to current levels of childhood inactivity.

These figures greatly contrast the statistics that show that the actual threat of a child being abducted or murdered by a stranger is one in one million, whereas a child’s
risk of severe health issues and mortality as a result of lack of physical exercise is one in three.

How sad that parents have been so convinced that "strangers" are lurking behind every shrub to abduct their kids that they have protected them to the point of jeopardising their future health from lack of exercise.