The benefits of Child’s Play
Insufficient physical activity by children are associated with poorer physical and mental health. The Child’s Play project, led by Associate Professor Wood and Dr Martin at the UWA School of Population and Global Health has generated community engagement with nature-play spaces in Western Australian schools and local communities. The researchers collaborated with Healthway, Rio Tinto, Kings Park Botanic Garden and Parks Authority, the WA Department of Education, Nature Play WA, Kidsafe, urban planners and architects, as well as local councils and schools to identify play space designs that were preferred by children and supported play. Collaborators have used UWA research to inform their strategies around open spaces and evaluate their new and existing parks and playgrounds.
Physical inactivity in children is associated with poorer physical and mental health outcomes. Before 2010 most playgrounds in Australia comprised plastic or metal equipment. Research from The University of Western Australia’s (UWA) Child’s Play project demonstrated these had limited appeal, and that nature-based play spaces stimulate more active play whilst supporting mental and physical development. Child’s Play has collaborated with Healthway, Rio Tinto, Kings Park Botanic Garden and Parks Authority (BGPA), the WA Department of Education (DoE), Nature Play WA, the Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI) and local councils and schools to help them request funding and then design and develop nature play areas in WA.
WA’s most popular park
From 2010 to 2012, BGPA commissioned Child’s Play to run focus groups on play environment preferences and nature play attitudes to inform the development of the $9 million Rio Tinto Naturescape in Kings Park, Perth and then undertook an observational study to gauge how children interacted with nature and each other in the parks that were designed using feedback from the focus groups. Since opening in 2011, Naturescape has attracted 80,000 visitors each year and delivers education programs to about 30,000 school children annually. UWA research helped shape the BGPA Naturescape policies. UWA collaborated with urban designers around safety issues. “The project will play a part in addressing the growing body of research and the view of many child development professionals that the opportunity to engage in outdoor play is vital for a child’s health physical, mental, emotional and social development. …I congratulate Kings Park and all its partners and volunteers on this achievement.” Bill Marmion, WA Minister for Environment 2011.
Nature playgrounds in schools
Pre-2012, WA’s Government school playgrounds could only be refurbished using a limited set of tenders. UWA engaged with the DoE to amend the tender process so that from 2012 it included natural playgrounds and funding for their development. DoE then invited UWA to develop user-friendly, evidence-based play space guidelines. These were adopted as a procurement guide to help schools build play areas. The Play Spaces Guide included input from school children and staff in the Public, Catholic and Independent school systems. The Guide was rolled out to school communities in 2013 and is available on the DoE and Nature Play WA websites. In 2009, 15 schools in WA had nature-based playgrounds. Nature Play WA estimates that by the end of 2016, at least 20 per cent of WA primary schools had nature-based play areas (at least 140 schools). “Childs Play has instigated a re-think into how school playgrounds contribute to the development of the child in authentic settings. Architects are becoming more attuned to incorporating meaningful spaces outdoors to complement traditional indoor learning. The flow of learning from internal to outdoors spaces has been enhanced by the Child’s Play research findings.” Council of Educational Facility Planners International President, 2014.
City of Subiaco
In 2013, Child’s Play and PlayScape architects developed WA’s first dedicated, local government Playspace Strategy for the City of Subiaco. The evidence-based strategy has been used as a tool for planning and design in the development and redevelopment of play spaces across Subiaco, with a strong focus on increasing naturebased areas for older children. In 2014, the City of Subiaco asked UWA, PlayScape and Nature Play Solutions to help evaluate the redevelopment of the Theatre Gardens, which in 2015 won the Parks & Leisure Australia Award for a major play space. “In line with the Strategy, the playground has been designed in a way which allows for cognitive, physical, social, emotional and sensory development for children of all ages. …Climbing walls, water play and sand provide a challenging and stimulating environment for play.” Stephen Tindale, CEO City of Subiaco, 2014.
In 2011, the City of Subiaco asked UWA to study skate park use, after their research found that adolescents were not being catered for. UWA’s research showed skate parks encouraged pro-social behaviours. In 2012, the City of Stirling commissioned UWA to review local skate parks in collaboration with design company, Convic. Extensive media coverage generated community interest in skate parks in WA. “This education process has been long and arduous with no validation of anecdotal evidence supporting us, until now. Dr Wood has assisted us greatly in our work, providing evidence as a powerful tool to educate local government and communities. The positive impact of this paper on our field cannot be overstated and should be mandatory reading for all local government officers in the recreation field.” Simon Oxenham, Convic, Board Member SkateBoard Australia, 2013.
Wood’s involvement with the City of Stirling Skate and BMX Facility Strategy proposal and their community engagement strategy which included endorsing the City’s YouTube Strategy video. Launched 27 August 2013, by year end the video had 2427 views. The Strategy was passed by Council in 2013 and a 14,000sqm youth hub and skate plaza was operational by October 2016. From 2011 to 2016, Wood featured in 11 media articles and the documentary ‘Skater’s City’. Industry collaborations with Convic, PLAYCE and Enlocus landscape architects occurred. “We commended UWA for the research completed to date. It is one of the few examples of research of this kind which looks specifically into behavioural considerations and social capacity as a consequence of skateboarding and the provision of wheeled sports facilities for young people. Enlocus wholeheartedly supports further applied research into ‘youth centered design’ and specifically research which identifies the value and benefit of facility provision and cultural precincts to young people.” Jason McNamee Director Enlocus.
The Child’s Play research team has examined the evidence and knowledge gaps relating to the contribution that parks and open space can make to the health and wellbeing of children and young people. The research has demonstrated that society benefits from having communities rich in social capital and that children can promote a sense of community. Child-friendly communities have subsequently become a key area of research within the UWA School of Population and Global Health. Outputs from this research include the ‘Action for Young Australians Report – Parks and Open Space: For the health and wellbeing of children and young people’, commissioned by the Australian Research Alliance for Children & Youth (ARACY) in 2009.
Additional research led by Associate Professor Lisa Wood and Dr Karen Martin, as well as Dr Hayley Christian and Dr May Carter, has focused on social capital and the urban environment and highlights the exclusion of adolescents from public places. Their research calls into question the stereotype of the adolescent loiterer and provided empirical evidence that skate park settings were associated with pro-social behaviour among young people. This research resulted in practical recommendations to guide local planning and the engagement of young people in the design to minimise perceived problems associated with skate parks.