I pass an early childhood centre each morning which has an outdoor play area that consists of a lawn, prefabricated play gym, a couple of tiny plastic cubby houses, and a sand pit covered with sail cloth. There are no plants other than grass, there’s no variation in levels, no stepping stones, no small spaces for groups of children to meet, no natural shade, and no diversity in shapes and textures. The infant and toddler area is much smaller and sadder. This is not an isolated case; my trips on the train to Sydney reveal similar scenes of drab, uninspiring play-scapes.
I realise that budgets, time and energy are always issues, yet I would also argue that if we are serious about quality early childhood education then we need to create environments for children that provide:
- visual and physical diversity
- opportunities for sensory stimulation
- opportunities for robust activities
- spaces for reflection, discussion and planning
- areas for a variety of social interactions
- spaces to create
- naturally cool areas in summer
- opportunities to explore the natural environment
- spaces that are inviting
The benefits for both children and adults by far outweigh the expense. So let’s start planning!
I have posted some photographs of the Japanese garden at the Campbelltown Arts Centre, NSW, to give you some ideas for children’s play spaces. These are only ideas for inspiration, as the garden is not a playground, and you would need to check on safety regulations before making any major changes. There are also books available that specifically look at children’s playgrounds, or you could hire a suitably qualified consultant.