Finding a Place to Play

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Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play really is the work of childhood.

Fred Rogers

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If you read the newspaper, scroll through your Facebook feed or subscribe to any blogs about nature connection, outdoor play or childhood, you will have no doubt come across a variety of newly developed playgrounds that are moving away from the plastic and metal frame based playgrounds that we are so used to seeing. Schools and local councils are working hard to install the latest manicured Nature Playgrounds. Spaces that afford children (and families) opportunities to interact in more creative and natural ways using elements such as rocks, logs, trees, rope and creatively landscaped spaces. Playgrounds that provide opportunities for risk, social interaction, creativity and adventure!

IMG_2547 (1)Driving home from Fremantle the other day, I decided to call into Webber Reserve in Willagee to check out the community built Nature Playspace. It was interesting to see the stark contrast between this new element and the preexisting ‘standard’ kit playground on the other side of the reserve. It was interesting to note also the way the two different play spaces had been used and respected by the community.

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This is not the first time that I had seen such drastic difference in play spaces. However after this visit, I got to thinking about the ways families view play spaces in their communities and how children used the variety of different play opportunities that exist in their local area (as well as further afield). I started to build a list of questions and ideas in my mind about the comparison that could be made regarding different ‘playgrounds’.

  • Where do children prefer to play?
  • What types of play structures, physical elements and zones do children find the most inviting?
  • How does play differ in these different spaces?
  • What makes a parent choose a specific type of playground (nature based or traditional) for their time outside?
  • How much choice does the child/ren have over the location for play adventures?

11427055_701705793291343_1467159234678733067_nI also wondered about the concept of the human constructed playground – standard or natural. But further to this, how do families view other natural spaces  such as local bush, nature strip, forest spaces as potential spaces for play. How often do they visit these spaces as a family compared with a visit to a specific playground?

One of our main aims with providing Mud Pies Nature Playgroups to the families of Perth is to support parents in seeing the potential of local (and often rugged) natural spaces as providing opportunity for play. We seek to help families connect with local special places that don’t have human made structures or equipment.

We recently asked parents in our community to share some of their special places with us so more families can start to build up their kit bag of amazing, often ‘raw’ nature opportunities in their local area. The response was heart warming and we hope it continues…

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One of the generous mums at our Mud Pies Nature Playgroup reflected on her children’s experiences with play in spaces around her local area and shared here thoughts with us.

“We try to ensure that our children, aged 4 and 2, spend a large portion of the week outdoors. We’ve visited and explored a wide variety of spaces that Perth has to offer – natural, built playgrounds or ‘hybrid’ spaces.

Our local suburban nature reserve has provided more hours of entertainment for our children than I ever thought possible. Our first visit was simply a way for me to get the kids outside for some fresh air on a wintery day when I was feeling a bit ordinary. I had thought it would essentially be a ‘quick walk around the block’. However, walking at toddler-pace takes four times as long not including stops to look at things I would have otherwise walked straight passed had I not had children.

The space has no play equipment, no grass, no soft-fall, no shade sails. It is simply an area of bush which is bordered by a footpath with a single track running through the middle that is loosely covered in crushed limestone.

Our children have explored, imagined, listened, created and discovered. Overarching all of this is a sense of calm – the space is an unexpected sanctuary in the middle of suburbia.

We collect ‘treasure’, ride stick horses, watch ants and butterflies, walk imaginary dogs, listen to the birds, play in the cubbies (at this stage the cubbies are in one particular tree and under another two specific trees), balance on fallen logs, look for purple flowers and dig in a random patch of white sand.

What began as an almost desperate measure to retain some feeling of sanity on a cold day has proved to be a space that our children enjoy and are excited to visit.

Another favourite space for our children to visit is Dinosaur Park at Kingsway Reserve. This is partly due to the proximity to our house as it is a nice walk for the accompanying adult and our eldest can ride her bike without being too exhausted to immerse herself in play upon arrival.

Dinosaur Park provides a mix of traditional play equipment including a slide, rockers, a basket swing and sandpits but also incorporates some ‘built natural elements’. The space includes a trail of stepping logs, teepee frames made from branches, wooden chime benches, sculptured log seating in the sandpit and musical instruments.

How our children use the space is really dependent upon their particular mood on the day, how many other children are also playing in the space and the time of day we visit. Our youngest really enjoys laying in the basket swing because he loves the rocking motion – but not when there are lots of other people around. My eldest has taken to ‘setting up house’ in one of the teepees and makes her own pretend fires to keep warm and gathers pretend food before climbing up and resting on part of the structure. On other days much of our time is simply spent making mud cakes in the sandpit.”

It is easy to see from this insightful reflection that what our children need is the opportunity to play! As long as we provide them with a range of places with varying levels of ‘human-made-ness’ and nature places that allow their imaginations to soar, opportunities for their bodies to experience risk and adventure and for them to actually play, then the ‘where’ begins to matter less.

This is a conversation we would love to continue in order to build perspectives and to generate a wealth of shared knowledge to allow us to provide wonderful opportunities for our children. If you want to share – jump online to our Facebook page or email us at or simply comment below.

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Whatever landscape a child is exposed to… that will be the sort of gauze through which he or she will see all the world.

Wallace Steger