Playscapes: Why Children Need Them

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending a presentation by Tim Gill. Tim is one of UK’s leading experts on childhood play. He was asked to speak about the importance of playscapes in Adelaide for the Park and Leisure Australia Association, Echo (Early Childhood Organisation INC SA), and NRM (Natural Resource Management). All sessions and interactive workshop were very well attended by educators, early learning providers, local councils, as well as industry.

by Martin Crabb


I felt the presentation made some really valid points about the benefits for children to play and interact with nature elements, and the positive outcome that this creates. This certainly was confirmed when Tim asked the question, ‘what were some of your most memorable play experiences growing up as a child and where did this happen’?. The overwhelming consensus was memories of playing outdoors in a natural setting, like by the local creek, climbing trees, and making a cubby out of sticks and branches.

Some main points of interest were:
– Children should be given the chance to explore, follow curiosities, and start to become independent. However, with many parents having a zero-risk mindset due to a fear of what might happen, children often don’t get the opportunity to connect with the outdoors and nature.

– Despite the common assumption children are ‘growing older younger’, in reality, the opposite is the case in terms of freedom. Children have lost the right to roam and are reared in captivity.

– Factors such as increased traffic, reduced number of parks and green spaces available, fear of crime (which is then perpetuated by the media), all contribute to making it harder and less appealing for children to be outdoors unsupervised.

Due to this preoccupation of safety, play spaces for children are often unadventurous and do not foster imaginative play. The impact of this is that the design of the playground is often repetitive and asymmetrical. Life is not like this and playgrounds don’t teach this.

However, in the UK playgrounds have started to change. There is now more of an emphasis on nature. Zero-risk has stopped because adults are now starting to think about what playgrounds are actually for. Children need to be challenged, have the opportunity to explore and interact with nature.

– When deciding what should be in a playground, a risk-benefit assessment instead of a risk assessment should take place. Give children the opportunity to have everyday physical and social challenges. Play brings the world to life for children, it exposes them to the risks and realities of the world in which they live.

– Examples: Allowing children to make cubby houses, climb trees, having an area where children have the opportunity to hunt for bugs, play with fallen debris, make mud-pies and so on.

I personally get great personal and business satisfaction assisting schools and early learning providers creating these areas that provide this style of play.

Please see Tim Gill’s website for more information.


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