|Sensible attitude to natural risk!|
|Children scramble up the metal rungs in bare feet|
'The Treehide' structure is an invitation to all climbers and risk takers, the steep metal rungs sloping and angled so that climbers have to remain constantly alert and concentrate as they make their way to the top. From the platform there is a bird’s eye view and glimpses of what is to come - the promise of more to come is always a great motivation to keep investigating.
|The Treehide can be seen in the background|
|Rungs unevenly spaced to offer challenge|
This viewpoint is a space for reflection (and recovery!) and not so much a place to engage in a particular activity - I watched the children climb up, take a quick look and climb down again....the challenge of the climb being the motivation and goal.
From the top of the Treehide the gentle sound of water can be heard and on further investigation this leads to "The Spring" which in the Australian heat is immediately appealing. A collection of large angular rocks with carefully designed grooves, hollows, dips and puddles could be seen from the viewpoint. This and the shadow pictures the trees made on the stone and the earth enticed me down to explore more closely.
|Enticing view of 'The Spring' from the top of the Treehide|
|Carefully selected stones add the detail|
|A place to sit quietly and to just BE|
Two young boys, who were obviously familiar with this space. arrived and immediately chose to explore the potential of the large puddle – they walked through it, sat in it, ‘directed’ the collection of stones needed, piled them up, lined them up, sorted them and tried to use them to block the water flow. A piece of bark was used to dam up the puddle with the comments: “it stopped, it stopped a little bit, some is getting under, it doesn't work”. Eucalyptus leaves floated in the puddle, down the groove and then dropped off the ‘cliff’ much to the boys' delight. The adult calmly and quietly supported only when requested by the children.
|Some of the resources nature offers|
|Trying to stop the waterflow|
|Giant stone blocks - his favourite place|
|Evidence of bird 'play'|
|A little bird using the water hollows|
|Adding soil to make mixtures|
A strategically placed mound of rich ocher coloured soil invites children to transport and then experiment with water and soil mixtures to create mud paint, mud pies, mud sculptures and any other use they can make of the water and soil combination.
There are no buckets or other man-made tools to transport the water encouraging children to be creative in their thinking – not easy as the natural tools I would normally choose to use would include large leaves or rolls of bark that would allow me to create a water channel to divert the water from the spring to the hollow but these were not easily found.
|Paperbark Creek is a natural gathering place for adults and children|
This calmness is what nature brings us - there are no walls to 'bounce off', the environment constantly changes as the seasons change and as the children using this space create changes. These changes can be subtle or drastic capturing children’s attention and imagination and inviting them to explore this space and the opportunities on offer over and over again. Adults with the children were also relaxed and allowed (trusted) the children to just ‘BE’ – some sat in the shade reading while others chatted to friends. There was no rush or sense of urgency and no parents over anxious about the activity their child had chosen to engage in. I have often observed this when adults and children are in a wild natural space together, both appear less stressed and much calmer - could it be the lack of walls and fences, the lack of man made rules?
|Time to get to know each other and 'work' collaboratively|
|Natural creativity- using stones and water|
|A place of high play affordance - with so much to offer|
|Interesting structures that could be anything|
|Cubbies and shelters. Metal domes and piles of logs, branches and sticks invite children to build their own dens|
|Alec photographing the fire-circle in a cubbie|
|Shelter - to be completed later?|
There was evidence of children having created pretend fires inside the shelters - a natural urge of the human race is to sit around a fire sharing and reflecting and it is no wonder that children also have this urge. I would love to see children being able to make real fires under the watchful supervision of bush rangers or forest school leaders - even a small 5 minute fire in a firebowl will allow children to investigate the properties of fire, build up a knowledge and become aware of keeping themselves and the natural environment safe. The Naturespace was closed the day after we visited due to the heat and increased fire risk and will be closed for the rest of February!
|Fairy with wings|
|A seed pod shop|
Natural creativity was evident everywhere – children writing their names in the water using carefully selected stones, or using stones of different sizes to create bridges and castles with moats. Two little girls proudly showed us the smiling fairy with wings and hair they had created using specially selected sticks, leaves, seeds and seedpods. When it was time to go they created a ‘shop’ by sorting the different natural materials they had been using in their transient artwork for other children visiting the area to use.
|Upside down trees and large ropes at different heights create challenge for all ages.|
|Maze - combination of metal and stone|
|Child's view of one of the 'posts'|
|Self risk assessing|
|How it all fits together|
Alec managed to climb nearly but not quite ....to the top! Two young boys scrambled onto the lowest ropes and were proud and so chuffed with their achievement; "I did it!" They did not attempt to go any higher; "it's wibbly, wobbly", "don't shake it, you will make me fall!" I feel this is another great opportunity for children to self risk assess and only use the equipment as they feel able to - the complexity of the rope structures allows a different challenge for all regardless of age - no adult needs to tell children how high they can climb .
|Sticks and logs - open ended resources with a high play affordance|
"The Prickly Thicket" offers another opportunity to create or complete structures by weaving sticks, branches, leaves and reeds between the metal bars or by placing sticks or large pieces of bark on them to make a roof or wall. There are a variety of these metal structures; one shaped like a giant basket another an igloo - or should that be a twigloo! These reminded me of baskets - giant baskets - but a comment made by a boy of about 10 was "looks like a jail" as he looked through the bars!
|A giant basket?|
|Concrete and metal walkway|
I would have to say that the large metal and concrete pathways were visually intrusive and very hot to walk on. I did wonder if these were created to allow wheelchair access but then there are many paths in the environment that would not be - I much preferred the dusty natural paths meandering through the bush. I would also question why it was necessary to put an artificial rubber surface in the large shelter although I was grateful that it was not in the bright primary colours that I am seeing in so many playgrounds now! I am hoping that the shiny new steel used in the cubbies, paths and other structures will weather and 'dull down' with time to be less visually intrusive.
|A Billabong with a child-friendly reminder not to disturb the tadpoles instead of just warning not to swim!|
This Naturespace is a place to visit regularly to be able to build on previous experiences, a place to spend long periods of time and allow in-depth investigations, a place to explore and be allowed to make changes to take come ownership, a place where time slows down to nature time, a place where children are trusted to be self risk assessors.