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.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Arguments for Natural Playgrounds

Adam Bienenstock, Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds, Canada has articulated the case for natural playgrounds in a recent article in the Canadian Child Care Federation's Interaction magazine. He reminds us that the evidence is clear about the long term benefits for children from exposure to natural play environments - and natural play advocates are moving from the fringe into the mainstream.

In Australia, the Early Years Learning Framework, soon to be implemented across early childhood education and care settings, includes a focus on supporting children's connection to the natural world.

Since the Kidsafe Playground Conference - The Nature of Play (held in Perth in April)- many organisations have begun to re-think their playground ideas and find ways to enhance children's outside play environments with natural elements.

Read what he says at -

Friday, May 14, 2010

Treating children with respect and dignity

Quotes from Jim Greenman
Jim Greenman is one of my favourites. He wrote about quality early childhood environments for many years and his messages are still so very relevant. I just came across some quotes from Jim that are worth sharing.

Institutions allow little privacy, justified by the lack of space and the need for order and security to protect the members from themselves and each other. There is a very small personal zone, the area surrounding an individual that the individual can claim ("get outta my face"). There is often no way to own time or space, except perhaps during punishment. The child care equivalent: limited, secluded, or cozy areas.

There is in many areas a growing unfortunate simplistic tendency to confuse supervision with surveillance; the children must be under the observation of adults every second - thus large open spaces and no seclusion. This replaces the more sophisticated concept that supervision also includes a safe, planned "yes" environment, shared expectations, socialized children, and adults who are aware about what is happening without needing to become omniscient wardens.

Dignity and Respect
Institutions rarely leave much room (literally) for dignity and respect. Simple kindness is not enough to over-come the loss of individuality, privacy, and responsibility. Total institutions are not places where life is to be lived in all of its joy and drama. Joy and drama are too unwieldy. It is easier to turn day-to-day life into mostly pageant - ritual doings and observations. Drama has fire, the hint of chaos, sensuality, and intense moments of concentration and the intricate mini plays of social life. It is engagement with life. Thomas Merton commented once that civilization was heading toward lives of low definition with little to decide, an apt description of institutional living.

Total institutions arise not because of evil or ignorance, but out of legitimate concerns for order, smooth standard operations, and the well being of the inhabitants as a group. They become mindless as they lose sight of the individual and the real goals, the end goals, as they concentrate on the means. Order takes precedence over mental health in asylums, education in schools, rehabilitation in prisons, and childhood in those child care centres that fit the description.

Childhood depends on some precious formula of freedom and mess. Until institutionalized through child care, children in the most structured homes could usually break through the concrete web of good intentions and find the cracks, alive with possibilities for movement, exploration, and discovery-in the room, under the bed, in the back yard, on the stoop, alone or with friends. These were times when adult sanctions were weakened, allowing exploration of forbidden words with delicious hard consonant syllables and intriguing substances. These were times when space opened up rather than contained; and jumps, shouts, and giggles pierced the air. More centres can have the same feel by being alert to the dehumanizing tendencies that are ever-present.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Nature of Play Conference

We thought we'd share some photos from our recent conference...

The weather and the venue for the Sundowner created a fantastic backdrop....
The Minister for Community Services, the Hon. Robyn McSweeney, opened the conference. The Minister grew up and spent many years in a small rural town in WA's South West. She shared
some of her childhood memories - often involving playing in nature.
Marie Taylor warmly welcomed us all to her 'country' ...
And our unflappable MC, Tim Long, made us look very professional and kept everyone laughing. Two of our keynote speakers - our very own Berndt Kaiser from here in WA and Helle Nebelong who managed to get here from Copenhagen ahead of the 'volcano' disruption - share a laugh ...
We remembered to keep 'play' always at the top of our Agenda...
Our Panel Discussion...
As we said our thanks and goodbyes - can't believe we're still laughing...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Nature Play: Why Sticks & Stones Rock!

Nature Play: Why Sticks & Stones Rock!
While our Playground Conference - focusing on nature-based play - was underway Danielle Marshall at KaBOOM! was interviewing Bethe Balmeras aka the Grass Stain Guru. Bethe talks about some of the current research highlighting the benefits of nature-based play for children.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Natural Play Spaces in the Media

I was very pleased to see on USA Today a story about the increasing trend towards natural play spaces -

The article highlights some of the conflicting views of playground equipment manufacturers and natural play space advocates.

It should not have to be an either/or argument. In most circumstances, using a combination of manufactured equipment within a well-designed landscape can provide optimum benefits - that can also ensure children's safety remains paramount.

The article's final comment by Linda Cain Ruth does highlight the importance of maintenance and that the importance of implementing a rigorous maintenance schedule cannot be overstated. Whether the playground consists of all natural elements, manufactured equipment or a combination of both, playground managers must ensure that playgrounds are inspected for hazards regularly and that any necessary repairs are carried out promptly.

Families can also play a part in this. If there is anything that looks hazardous at the playground, let the playground manager know as soon as possible.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Post-Conference Exhaustion

What an exciting and stressful week or so it's been...
The volano in Iceland created havoc for us - it meant our keynote speaker from the UK - Sue Gutteridge from PLAYLINK - could not get to Perth.
Our Sundowner at Kings Park on Sunday proved to be a fantastic way to start the formalities... although we were actually a long way from formal.
The weather for the sundowner was wonderful - the setting inspiring - the entertainment was fun - the talk about Naturescape was thought-provoking - all 'round terrific!!
Kicking off the conference, Marie Taylor welcomed us all to her country; the Minister for Community Services talked about her childhood and her children's, growing up playing in the outdoors and introduced What Kids Want: playgrounds and play spaces. The Department for Communities commissioned Filmbites Youth Film School to produce this short film in which some of our local primary school children express their views and perspectives about playgrounds and outside play. The film showed that our kids are able to articulate very clearly what they want in outdoor playspaces and it was good to have those views in our minds as we listened to conference presentations.
Some of the other highlights included...
Helle Nebelong dared us to think with a Scandanavian perspective.
David Smith shared more of his ideas about connecting children with nature.
Greg Grabasch talked about his work with Indigenous communities and their connection to country.
The restorative value of landscapes was discussed by Wendy Sarkissian.
Wendy also facilitated a workshop and spirited discussion in relation to reconciling the sometimes competing aspects of play opportunities for children and community safety in residential neighbourhoods.
Fiona Robbe, Catherine Lee and Gillian McAuliffe all presented great ideas in relation to providing nature based play opportunities.
Lianda Gibson gave us ideas for consulting with children.
Marie Martin challenged us to measure the quality of the outdoor playspaces we provide for children against our value frameworks.
Helle, Fiona and Gillian talked about the Nature Action Collaborative for Children and encouraged us to be awed by the wonder of nature.
Laurinda Jones, Jennine Primmer and Cheryl Greenfield showed us some wonderful examples of creative outdoor early childhood play environments.
But the highlight of the conference was certainly our wonderful WA icon - Bernhard Kaiser. Bernhard and his straight man, Terry Farrell, had the audience enthralled in between fits of laughter with their presentation. The hilarity of their presentation, however, did not detract from the extremely important things they had to say about the play needs of children of all ages. Bernhard & Terry certainly need to have more opportunities to share their knowledge and expertise.
Richard Louv's public lecture on Wednesday dovetailed nicely into the week's focus on outside play - so all in all it's been great.
Next week will be back to normal, but memories of the conference and all the interesting people I met will remain.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Counting down to our Playground Conference

After all our months of planning and organising, the start of our conference is almost upon us.
We have a full program - all our speakers and their presentations are locked in.
The program is running through the printing press as I type - I hope!
All the last pieces of the puzzle are falling into place and we are very excited about what is looking like a very exciting event for WA - with speakers coming from Denmark and the UK, New Zealand and across Australia and delegates from government, education, child care & early childhood, community development, parks, landscaping and planning sectors from nearly every state.
We are really looking forward to meeting everyone and making connections with the many different people and organisations involved with children's outdoor play.
Coinciding with our conference Richard Louv will be speaking at a free public event on Wednesday 21 April at the Perth Concert Hall.
We're still taking registrations - so if you are interested in participating - visit our website or contact us at

Monday, January 25, 2010

About the Kidsafe Playground Conference

Kidsafe WA’s Playground Advisory Service is presenting the Kidsafe Playground Conference: The Nature of Play at the Subiaco Arts Centre, Perth WA, 19-20 April 2010.

This event will bring together national and international play and playground experts with delegates from the fields of child and community development, public space and urban design, landscape and playground industries and government. It will be an opportunity to highlight the importance of play in children's lives, learning and development and how well-designed and maintained playgrounds and public open spaces can contribute to the heath, wellbeing and vibrancy of our communities.

Ideas to provide children with opportunities for free-play within play spaces that support engagement and connection with nature will be a key focus of the conference. Recent and current research in this field suggests that providing a good balance of loose items and fixed play structures within a natural setting helps promotes children’s cognitive, social and emotional learning as well as their physical development, health and wellbeing.

The pros and cons of providing “challenging” playgrounds will also be discussed. This area has important implications for children’s long-term health and wellbeing and presentations will provide public playground providers with practical strategies to create and manage “risk” and “challenge” in playgrounds while ensuring children’s safety remains paramount.

Bernard Spiegal and Sue Gutteridge from the UK not-for-profit play and leisure consultancy PLAYLINK and Danish landscape architect Helle Nebelong (visiting Perth for a second time) will provide keynote speeches and short workshops in a diverse program of presentations by speakers from across Australia and New Zealand.

More information at or email
Since I sometimes have much more to say than Twitter can handle, I have started this blog.

Don't expect daily posts, but I do like to share when I find something interesting and I'll also be able to provide updates on the Kidsafe Playground Conference: The Nature of Play.