A new natural playground at St Ives

12 February 2020

A new natural playground at St Ives

Outdoor play at St Ives has taken a creative new direction with the development of an impressive natural playground.

A new natural play space at St Ives has been completed. The core aim was to enable a more balanced approach to whole child development that counters the pervasive allure of technology and complements academic pursuits.

Natural, irregular and challenging playgrounds that are well designed can offer a wide range of benefits for child development including:

• More diverse play opportunities (Sarigisson & McLean, 2012)
• Measured risk to develop problem solving, persistence and creative thinking.
• Psychological benefits including fatigue restoration, building confidence and competence (Bagot, Allen & Toukhasati, 2015)
• Increased physical activity (Coe, Flynn, Wolff, & Durham, 2014)
• Positive impacts on children’s social behaviour such as facilitating more group play (Cosco et al, 2014)

The playground replaces the traditional coloured plastic and metal structures and incorporates quiet, open and active play areas, challenging play spaces, sustainable natural materials and areas for outdoor teaching and learning.

Staff worked with a landscape architect to combine function, play and educational requirements and a multi-stage conceptual master plan was developed.

Opening in July 2019, stage one includes a water play area with water pump and trough, dry creek bed, log and rock scramble, lookout and tunnel and a log and rock climb. Future stages may include embankment slides, a quiet sensory garden, a balance bridge and historical orchard. The maintenance staff, led by Darren Palmer, were instrumental in the coordination and planning of the playground construction and their efforts are very much appreciated by staff and boys.

The benefits of our new play area were instantly evident as we observed active child-directed play, boys connecting with the natural world and complex imaginative play. As the boys climb unfamiliar natural structures and calculate risk, they are building resilience. Even the bumps and scrapes that come with active play have provided meaningful feedback on judgements and give the boys’ opportunities to manage their feelings safely.

After the initial flurry of excitement dedicated groups of boys are emerging involved in a range of creative and social activities. The ‘water trough’ boys have been particularly industrious this term. They have been systematically creating a dam at the bottom of the outlet and coordinating efforts to create a river through the rock bed. Cries of, “release, release”, “hold the flow”, “time to pump” and “we need to fix this” can be heard as the boys work together to manage the flow of water. Spades in particular have become a hot commodity for this group of boys and the sharing of these highly prized items is providing boys with everyday opportunities to practice empathy and resilience.

Further down the riverbed, another group of boys create a path for the water to flow. Their initial idea of a rock island to split the stream was quickly deemed unsuitable as they discovered it slowed down the flow of their hard-earned trickle of water.

The emergence of the ‘rock’ group, who love to crush and grind rocks, was unexpected. The rock crushing has been highly experimental as the boys work out which types of rock are easier to break up, what colour they will make, which ones turn to sand and what they can use it for. This group also likes to stack, rearrange and create with the smaller rocks.

The sounds of creative play are a joy to listen to. One day the log scramble may be their space base or refuge from dinosaurs or provide a careful track to follow in order to get through the bark lava. Each group is fluid and can often be made up of boys from different year levels. Problem solving is fostered, as new ideas and collaboration are stimulated.

Perhaps the most rewarding outcome of our new playground is the social and emotional development. Masters on morning tea and lunch duty have reported a reduction in conflicts and the boys’ engagement demonstrates how our natural playground kindles wonder, curiosity and joy.