An unofficial natural playspace

5 October 2011 · 5 comments

in Nature Play & Learning, Outdoor Play

In the summer I visited the Lake District and popped into Rothay Park in Ambleside. It’s a lovely well-maintained place and has a little play area which looks like this…

It’s a fairly standard affair for young children and to be honest, I found it a rather dull spot. However, because of its official presence I suspect the rest of the park has been left unintentionally exciting for children of all ages. I think the real play park is around this play park! And here’s why…

At the entrance there were some inviting puddles…

Right beside the play area is this massive rock outcrop. It provides a great climbing experience for teenagers who are too old to use the play equipment.The bare rock in the photo below is where children slide down. It’s been quite worn over the years.

On the other side of the rock outcrop is a steep cliff providing more risk and challenge. I’ve seen the local after school club visit the park and the children playing all over and around it.

There were several smaller rock outcrops throughout the park with more shrubs and plants left to grow. Here’s another popular natural slide…

Tree stumps provide miniature world spaces for play. Or for children to use as bases where they can’t be tagged or caught. There were several around the park.

This is the River Rothay. Part of the park borders this river with steep drops into the water. Not all of it is fenced off.

This artificial stream and bridge keep children entertained every time I pass by. A child politely stepped out of the way to let me take a photo!

This sculpture is a more “recent” addition to the park in 2000. It’s called “Turning Point”and despite looking fragile, is robust.

There’s lots of woodland glades surrounding the rock outcrops around the park, mostly near the rock outcrops and edges.

There’s privacy and space to play alone, out of sight.

And lots of wide open grass for playing football, rounders, practising gymnastics and other games.

I’ve always found paths with roots fascinating. As a child I used to like balancing along the roots and deciding which “path” to take. This is one of the rootiest paths I’ve ever seen!

For me, it was a real trip down memory lane. I used to attend the nearby school in the Seventies. Back then we were allowed down into the park to play every lunchtime. So it was nice to see children still playing in the spaces I used to, getting up to the same sort of activities. Interestingly, the school playground hadn’t changed much in 35 years either…

No wonder I value natural play spaces as an adult!

Where was your favourite place to play as a child? What long term impact have you derived from playing there? How can you enable your own child or class of children to have similar positive experiences of playing in nature?

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one } October 5, 2011 at 11:36

Great post Juliet – and the images of the ‘play traces’ (paths, worn cliff edges) bring it to life. It’s so important to document children’s playful uses of ‘non-prescriptive’ spaces, whether in the city, the town or the countryside.


Niki Buchan October 5, 2011 at 12:23

So true. I find it sad to see large numbers of children ‘caged’ in play areas with soft fall surfacing and man made structure while the lovely wild spaces are empty on the other side of the fence! Thanks Juliet.


Juliet Robertson October 5, 2011 at 22:39

Thanks for your comments! Tim – I like the idea of “play traces” – never heard of that before.

Niki – the lovely thing about the park is the lack of notices around – so historically children have always used the rock outcrops.


tomsensori October 6, 2011 at 14:32

Juliet, I grew up in a town in Minnesota on the Mississippi River. We were forbidden to go there by our parents, but we were down there every chance we got. I now live in another city on the Mississippi. Every chance I got, I took my own children down there to hunt for rocks and climb over dead trees. To me there was no better natural, exploratory playground. To this day, I still walk the Mississippi to find things to bring into my classroom.


Juliet Robertson October 6, 2011 at 20:53

Thanks Tom – it sounds like an amazing place!


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