New generation of play spaces show kids are just naturals at it

Ian Bushnell 10 July 2020 19
New nature play space in Kambah

Emmet Forde, 4, swings into action at the new nature play space in Kambah. Photos: Ian Bushnell.

A quiet revolution is taking place across Canberra’s suburbs as the way children play, learn and interact with nature changes, or perhaps reverts to previous less complicated times.

ACT families have embraced the nature play movement, in which the traditional slide and swingset playground makes way for a natural setting that makes use of trees, rocks, logs, ropes, sand and water to provide a multi-sensory experience that stimulates children’s imagination and curiosity.

Nature play has swept the nation in response to the shrinking backyard, the rise of apartment living and alarm at the increasing amount of time children were devoting to their screens.

It provides a means of unconstructed outdoor play, tactile experiences and a connection to nature that encourages physical wellbeing and the development of gross and fine motor skills.

They are also great fun.

The all-abilities play spaces have been popping up in various Canberra suburbs thanks to government and the community teaming up to overhaul the ACT’s playgrounds.

One opened at Giralang in 2018, three were opened last year – Glebe Park in the City, in Farrer and Eddison Park at Woden – and one at Kambah Adventure Playground has just been completed, while another is due to open next month at Yerrabi Pond District Park in Gungahlin.

Tired established areas are getting a refresh but it’s this new generation of play spaces that is creating the excitement.

Eddison Park and Farrer nature play spaces were even commended in the recent 2020 Australian Institute of Architects ACT landscape architecture awards.

City Services Minister Chris Steel announced on Friday (10 July) that construction will soon commence on five new play spaces, at Torrens shops, Tester Park in Higgins, Narrabundah shops and Richardson shops. The designs have been released for each suburb.

Nature play space at Kambah

The new nature play space at Kambah is set among the trees.

The Waramanga community lobbied for years to have a new playground built near the shops, even providing its own ideas and designs from award-winning playground designer Paul Brookbanks from landscape architecture firm Indesco, which built Henry Rolland Park on Lake Burley Griffin for the City Renewal Authority and co-designed Boundless Park.

Mr Steel says the play space at Waramanga will feature log steppers, tree balance beams and large play equipment with climbing play and a slide, as well as elements for swinging, climbing and exploring.

“Other elements featured across the new play spaces include a climbing net, log steppers and basketball court at Torrens, a dirt bike track, accessible spinner and picnic shelter at Higgins, a nature play circuit, climbing slope and birds nest swing at Narrabundah, and skate ledges and ramps, a nest swing and spinner at Richardson,” he says.

The Kambah space is set among the trees and has logs to walk along, stepping stones, swinging ropes, a sandpit, a climbing net and tunnel.

At the Yerrabi play space local Aboriginal artist Matilda House, assisted by Kirrily Jordan and Annick Thompson, have been painting a colourful mural on the toilet block wall which tells a story about the wildlife found in the nearby waterways.

These seven projects total about $1.9 million but Mr Steel says they are good value for money with the nature play spaces usually costing less than traditional playgrounds.

The government has also been spending about $600,000 upgrading existing playgrounds and $100,000 on shade sails.

“We have also now completed the play space upgrade program with 20 existing playgrounds across the ACT receiving upgrades including new seating, shade sails and play equipment, as well as paint and repair of existing play equipment,” he says.

”We have also refreshed an additional 30 playgrounds as part of the ACT Government stimulus program, with refresh works at three more play spaces to be completed in the coming months.”


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19 Responses to New generation of play spaces show kids are just naturals at it
Acton Acton 11:20 am 13 Jul 20

Kids do not need adults to build them an adult researched, adult approved and adult built playgrounds, meeting adult concepts of what a playground should be. Just let kids loose near the bush. A fallen tree and some imagination is all they need to explore and have fun. But the lobbyists, government officials and builders of playgrounds would oppose natures playgrounds, which deprive them of control and revenue.

Rainer Busacker Rainer Busacker 9:52 pm 11 Jul 20

There are a number of playgrounds that are being "renewed", it would be great if the ACT govt would also consider 'Shade Sails' to offer protection for the children and carers from the sun instead of just top dressing the tan bark. Greater use of playgrounds, year round could be achieved.

Madeline Hollingsworth Madeline Hollingsworth 6:01 pm 11 Jul 20

That should be SOME suburbs.

Peter Major Peter Major 3:32 pm 11 Jul 20

Back to the future. What we had, then had ripped off us, now we are getting it back.

The woke society is finally waking up to what previous generations had.

Lynn Stape Lynn Stape 12:26 pm 11 Jul 20

ahh yes kids being allowed to be kids and play the way we use to play when we were young... in a few years time someone will start the rotation of telling parents their childrens lives and play must be structured and that this sort of play is not healthy and we will have a few generations who grow up the way some have already in recent decades past...then they will eventually return to these sort of beliefs once again... the cycle of 'those who think they know best' ;-) ...

    Gregg Heldon Gregg Heldon 2:15 pm 11 Jul 20

    Lynn Stape I much preferred growing up when I did. Played on the street, in playgrounds, on ovals, walked up Mt Taylor, without adult supervision. Rode our bikes everywhere. It was great.

    Lynn Stape Lynn Stape 2:29 pm 11 Jul 20

    Gregg Heldon I lived on an island and we roamed free and could do what we wanted... I remember being on the handle bars of a bike one day, as the rider took off down a steep hill from the local tip ... we won the race with the local kids, even with me aboard... We got lost in a scrub another day, but after a few hours still managed to find our own way home, albeit covered in scratches from the prickle bushes lol.. the best bit was sitting on the beach watching the fairy penguins hopping from rock to rock... we left when I was still a junior in primary... kids don't get the opportunities we had when I was a kid :-)

Julia Caroline Julia Caroline 11:45 am 11 Jul 20

Let’s bring in first school lessons and outdoor learning at schools. The schools I have been to so far are concrete expanses where even the autumn leaves are swept away as soon as they fall. The children have very little opportunity to see let alone interact with the wonderful country around them. How do we then expect them to be future caretakers of the land?

Vanessa Jones Vanessa Jones 11:31 am 11 Jul 20

How about Belconnen area, near the Belco CBD or a suburb near Belco centre? So many new apartments built in Belco town centre but where are the new playgrounds in Belco for kids in the new apartments, and where are all the new apartment rates going? Are the rates going to the new tram line elsewhere? Or going to ?????? some magical special place we can't see?!

    Josh McQuillan Josh McQuillan 4:16 pm 15 Jul 20

    Probably going towards infrastructure needed to deal with the new apartment buildings. Water, sewage, rubbish to name the couple. Were they promised a park before they bought a new apartments? it's like moving in next to the airport and then complaining about the noise

Elspeth Shannon Rollason Elspeth Shannon Rollason 11:30 am 11 Jul 20

Love these. We saw them all over Denmark.

Wendy Brewer Wendy Brewer 10:18 am 11 Jul 20

Nicole Dixon, when you’re looking for different free things for the boys.

Jen Windsor Jen Windsor 10:16 am 11 Jul 20

This is such a great initiative. We have been asking if these play spaces are accessible for walkers and wheelchairs so all kids can play - such a vital age for young kids , yet so many of these places can’t accommodate a kids walker or wheelchair. So those kids either don’t go or sit on the sidelines. Would you know, The RiotACT if they have considered this in the design? I think they haven’t.

    Donna Venables Donna Venables 11:56 am 11 Jul 20

    Jen Windsor there is a playground near the carillon. It is called Boundless. It is designed for wheelchair access.

    Jen Windsor Jen Windsor 12:04 pm 11 Jul 20

    It is! But actually there isn’t a lot that our kids can do in there, and it’s extremely busy. We can sit in the accessible areas and watch kids play. There is an awesome one near batemans bay that has accessible and inclusive options. As kids age they become harder to lift in and out of the equipment. It would be super nice while they are being upgraded to put some thought into making spaces accessible for all kids - seems a missed opportunity to me

    Taryn Langdon Taryn Langdon 7:55 pm 11 Jul 20

    Jen Windsor not sure about this nature play section, but the Adventure playground which this is part of also has (what looks to be) a very accessible fort and wheelchair swing.

    Jen Windsor Jen Windsor 8:00 pm 11 Jul 20

    Taryn is that the Kambah one? The swing was broken for a while.... and is off to the side of the park from memory. Might be different now. Most kids want to be part of the action and hear and see the other kids. The fort was good! and the slides awesome if you can get up there .... I guess I'm just hoping some thought could be put into the design when they are putting in upgrades... walkers need smooth services, big inclines are hard work for kids and care givers (Hello boundless) Kids (well mine anyways) want to get in and be part of it, like right in there.

    Taryn Langdon Taryn Langdon 8:14 pm 11 Jul 20

    Jen Windsor I was actually just thinking about my comment and how narrow minded it came across. Sorry! Thank you for sharing the actual reality. I 100% support your call for better accessibility in all new upgrades. The architects and government need you on their team to advise!

Debbie Muddiman Debbie Muddiman 10:11 am 11 Jul 20

Alfie Walker Mel Evans we might take a look at these for some ideas for Walsh Park

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