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.
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.”