It is hard to believe that I’ve been in Australia over a week. For those of you who don’t know, I’m spending the next couple of months working and travelling, doing training, talks and workshops on behalf of Inspired EC, an early years consultancy. You can find my programme here and I can take on extra bookings if your school or early childhood establishment want to host a bespoke event.
I’m starting to write a few blog posts and to set the scene, there are going to several about Lake Macquarie Variety Playground. Greg Harvey, who writes a super blog, Males in Early Childhood, kindly drove Niki Buchan and myself there. He has already blogged about this community-friendly playground and it’s worth hopping over to his blog to read all about it here.
This large community, all-abilities playground aims to cater for children and their families to play and interact together. It was deliberately designed to appeal to a diverse range of users and to be a social gathering place. Very often, adults are not welcome in a playspace. Some even require adults to be accompanied by children. So to be able to freely wander around this playspace was a quietly joyful experience.
The main focal feature was the multi-storey climbing frame. Whilst it was probably designed with older children in mind, whilst I clambered up, I encountered many very young children and a gang of teenagers. It is great to see a structure that appeals to all ages. The design is a reminder of the local heritage – the mining industry – and this shaft looks as if it disappears into the ground below.
Naturally, any mineshaft has tunnels underneath the ground. Whilst the play structures don’t go underground there are dark tunnels above ground for children to run through. On the outside, traversing climbing walls of varying degrees of difficulty are to be found.
Immediately beside the tower are two huge flying foxes. There was a constant queue of children waiting patiently for their turn. By providing two flying foxes, children can do more together, e.g. have races or compare and contrast the runs. In my experience usually one works better than the other.
The water zone was another hugely popular area. The attention to detail is quite incredible and is the subject of another blog post. The archimedes screw feature really worked!
The park was very well-maintained. There were almost no broken structures other than one of the jumping harmonicas in the music section in the photo below. This was probably my least favourite areas as I felt it lacked the imaginative touches of the rest of the playspace.
The zones were full of attention to detail. There were contrasting surfaces, as illustrated below. Sand, bark chips, grit, grass, rubberised surfacing and concrete were but a few of the surfaces to be found. The curves of the paths and zones helped soften the landscape. Local natural materials such as sandstone were used for other design features such as seats.
The maze was landscaped with native plants. It was located close to the wheeled toy area, so that children could continue riding their bikes and scooters from here into the maze.
As well as new plantings, the big old trees provided welcome shade. And also a natural climbing opportunity for those able and up for this. Again, there were lots of children to be found simply hanging in and around the big trees.
The playground has clearly gone through several developmental stages over the years. The music area was clearly one of the older parts of the space. Nevertheless there were still fun features – check out this clambering spider’s web. The ramps around this are wheelchair accessible and end up at a double slide.
A 3-D approach was taken too. In some places coloured perspex above provided shadow patterns on sunny days below.
The mosaics featured local wildlife and have been designed to be felt as much as seen. Upon closer inspection, you could see Braille inlaid into the mosaic totem poles.
Two pairs of giant green dishes provided another interesting sensory experience. These were salvaged from Telstra – an Australian telecommunications company. They are parabolic listening dishes. If you stand in front of one dish with your back to your friend who is facing the other dish you can whisper to each other and still be heard – even on the pair which were placed tens of metres apart.
Other curiosities could also be experienced. In the photo below is a spiral performance space. It looked like it was built upon the principle of the Golden Ratio. The walls were perfect for walking along.
The wheeled toy zone was an area full of detail. Please look out for the next blog post which goes into detail about this particular area and why it is a useful springboard to thinking about bike play in schools and nurseries.
All-in-all this playground – the first I have visited in Australia – has set a good standard for more child-friendly spaces to come. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to visit two childcare centres with naturalised playspaces. The Oz Blogfest begins… 🙂