Category Archives: Australia

What makes a favourite?

Editor’s note – It is always a pleasure to welcome guest writers to PlayGroundology. Mark Schwarz suggested the idea for this post when we got together for a lunch in Halifax at the tail end of last year. It’s a serendipitous time for me to post this as I’m just returning from a trip to visit my first granddaughter Evelyn. It was a wintry Toronto time for me, not as balmy as it is in Mark’s home away from home.

Mark Schwarz (aka Grandpa) is the co-owner of Earthscape, an award-winning Canadian custom playground design-build firm. He spends a few months each year in Australia with some of his grandchildren who provide valuable insight as playground testers for his sometimes zany ideas. He began his career as an engineer but the kid in him got the better of him and now his business is play. He has visited playgrounds around the world, always with an eye to evaluating play value and site design.


Grandpa: “What are your favourite playgrounds in the world girls?”
Akira: “Muddy’s. That’s all.”
Elora: “Yeah, just Muddy’s”

Cairns, a small city in tropical Northern Queensland, Australia, is home to the world’s most successful playground. I know, I know everyone has their favourite playground, so why does Muddy’s get the top vote from almost everyone who has visited?


The latest visit by my granddaughters and I demonstrates some of the great design ideas embodied in the playground which gets consistently high visitor traffic, in a city of 140,000. In the 4 years we’ve been coming to Cairns, we’ve visited Muddy’s 10 to 12 times. Most of our visits have lasted 1.5 to 2 hours. The most recent visit was on a Sunday afternoon, 32 Deg C, partial sun and cloud. 150 to 200 people were spread throughout the playground area, even when a rainstorm blew through for a half hour.

This is the most used playground we’ve been to, including 20 or so playgrounds we visited in Sydney, AU, and the much more costly Blaxland Riverside Park, built for the Sydney Olympics, Muddy’s ranks as Tripadvisor’s #2 Activity in Cairns, which is the highest rank for a playground I’m aware of.


Great things about the playground:

– Landscape Architecture. Canopy of fig trees covers most of the site. Gardens break up views and create rooms of distinct play zones.
– Themed seating integrated throughout site. Parents can sit throughout site. The 150+ people on site Sunday all had places to sit, in the shade, close to their children. Many playgrounds we’ve visited have no seating, and those that do are rarely shaded.
– Custom themed. The playground is a mix of standard manufactured play equipment, and themed playable sculpture, art, and site amenities like seating and BBQ shelters.
– Integration. The site doesn’t read like most playgrounds – plopped from space onto a site. Circulation, plantings, play equipment, streams, BBQ area, cafe, musical instruments are integrated into cohesive design.

– Multi-generational appeal. The BBQ areas and cafe are used by all ages, and the water features appeal to both parents and children.
– Water. This is tropical Australia, so we’re always overheated and sweaty, especially while running around a playground. Water is integrated throughout the site, in streams, fountains, a splashpad, and water walls. The splashpad is used mostly by children, the other features are used by all ages. Most of the adults don’t have bathing suits, so they cool down by walking in streams, getting partially immersed in fountains, and hanging out in the mist from the splashpad.


What elements make up your favourite playground? Leave us a comment….


In Praise of Loose Parts

In play, ‘loose parts’ are skirting the edges of nirvana. Ask any kid. Now they probably won’t call them ‘loose parts’. They’re more likely to use the generic and all encompassing ‘stuff’ prefaced by cool, awesome, or great. It might even go the way of ‘this stuff is epic’.

Simple play is best for kidsStudents at Emmaus Primary Catholic School – Melbourne, Australia. Photo: Jay Town. Source: HeraldSun

Wood, rope, tarps, tires, milk crates, cardboard boxes, fabrics and apparently hay bales too can make up a loose parts inventory. It’s what the kids do with it that’s a real blast. They create, they build up and pull down, they improvise, they move, groove and PLAY!

Now, thanks to Australian researcher Brendon P. Hyndman we have empirical evidence that loose parts in primary schools go way beyond a good thing. From the perspective of increasing physical activity, engaging a broad cross-section of kids and being light on constantly squeezed budgets, this study shouts out ‘Eureka!’ embrace loose parts play.

Here are selected comments from A Guide for Educators to Move Beyond Conventional School Playgrounds…. published in the Australian Journal of Teacher Education.

the way they interact with each other…it’ s lovely to listen to…the co-operative play has really increased…they do negotiations…interactions between levels has been fantastic

kids in my room have mixed with kids they wouldn’t normally hang out with…there’s not a…set number that can or can’t be involved

students became a lot more complex in what they did…it was a real journey…there was…dragging, pulling and moving…then came the building phase…then came the dramatic phase…but all of those remain there

Quantitative data, as the charts below demonstrate, also offer a compelling storyline – given the opportunity, kids will choose to build and play with a variety of loose parts so much so that it becomes the dominant play activity.

Ausie Journal of Teacher Education

Given that many kids in Australia and elsewhere are getting the bulk of their physical activity and play within the school setting, in excess of 50% in some instances as cited in Hyndman’s study, these findings are significant.

The effects of the loose parts intervention were measured at various stages over a 2 1/2 year period and engagement remained steady.

“…teachers’ perceptions were that student exhibited increased amounts of excitement, engagement, creativity, problem solving and physical activity during their play with the introduced movable/recycled materials.”

Loose parts are an important part of the playwork canon and have strong roots in the UK within adventure playgrounds and with groups such as Pop-Up Adventure Play. David Rockwell’s Imagination Playground has also a taken a page from the loose parts experience in the creation of the big blue block play environments.

Loose Parts

All hail loose parts. They are the jazz of play bebopping the kids along in a wonderfall of spontaneity. There are downsides though that can’t be dismissed. As more and more schools, neighbourhood groups and play schemes embrace loose parts, it just might start proving difficult to source the ingredients – milk crates, cardboard boxes and of course hay bales!

Here are the kids, subjects of the research study, in action at Emmaus Catholic Primary School in Ballarat, Australia as reported by WIN News Victoria.

We hope to get something on the go in Halifax this summer and we’ll let you know how it turns out. I have just started to put together a menu of ingredients and am wondering where I will be able to acquire some of them at little or no cost. If any readers have put together a loose parts play event, I’d love to hear from you.

Many thanks to Brendon Hyndman for his grand research. You can follow him @Dr_BPH.

PlaygroundIDEAS – Habitats for Play

Let’s make a rolling wave of applause as PlaygroundIDEAS launches its 150 Days of Play campaign to celebrate providing 150 high quality, low cost playground designs in an open source catalogue. Each day for the next 150 days they will feature a design a day from the design library on the Playground Ideas blog along with examples of how they have been used around the world.


Even though I’m an early riser and start writing in the small hours of the morning, Marcus and the crowd at PlaygroundIDEAS’ Melbourne, Australia home base have got us beat. They’re more than half a day ahead.

As I pen this draft they’re just about ready to grab some Monday lunch. Their news about the 150 free designs (up from 80 one year ago) has been rippling around the world for hours at the speed of play. As I finally push ‘publish’ around 6 Monday morning, supper will be long done in Melbourne.

If you’re not familiar with this international not-for-profit, you’re in for a treat. I immediately fell in love with PlaygroundIDEAS when I first stumbled across them online shortly after getting PlayGroundology up and running.

CDC pan 5

They’re distinctive for a variety of reasons not least of which is how the work they do helps light up the faces of disadvantaged kids in communities in Asia, South America and Africa. Then of course, there is the inventiveness and simplicity of the playgrounds and individual play elements in and of themselves, a cross between tire recycling heaven and adventure playgrounds.

hway ka loak pan

There is also a great grassroots beat coursing through the work that PlaygroundIDEAS is doing with, and on behalf of, kids and play. I heard this firsthand when I interviewed founder and CEO Marcus Veerman a couple of years ago just as he was preparing for one of his first trips to East Africa. With the assistance of international volunteers and funders they help communities and schools make dedicated space for play a reality.

One of their more recent projects involves a playscape for a school in Kenya. A multi station obstacle course is very popular with the kids.


“…the playground is a motivation for kids to come to school, in fact it becomes very hard to get them out of school in the evenings after classes because they want to remain behind and play.”


The scope of the Ruben Centre project in Nairobi is huge and includes football fields, the obstacle course, a geodesic dome made from scrap pipe, a giant see-saw airplane and more. Click through for the story of this primary school with 2,000 kids that now has a rockin’ playground.

Another outstanding characteristic of PlaygroundIDEAS is its use of technology. For the playgrounds and play elements much of the source material is recycled (think tires) and locally available. The building technology is scaled to the environment, primarily people powered and does not rely on large machinery. Then there is the savvy tech use of the interweb to share stories, photos and designs, to build community, recruit volunteers and attract funders.

It’s a pretty complete package. If I could pack up the family tomorrow to volunteer on a build somewhere in this wide world, I’d be looking to Marcus and PlaygroundIDEAS to point me in the right direction.


As part of the 150 Days of Play celebration, PlaygroundIDEAS is hosting two design competitions for creating new elements for the library, one for kid designers and one for adults. Stay tuned to the PlaygroundIDEAS blog for details.

Thanks to Marcus, Elizabeth, the rest of the gang at PlaygroundIDEAS HQ, all the volunteers and funders for making a difference and helping to make the world a better place for kids.

Today is World Habitat Day, celebrated the first Monday in October since 1986. UN Habitat tags it ‘For A Better Urban Future’. Every human habitat should make provision for children’s play. What a great day for PlaygroundIDEAS to launch 150 Days of Play. Listen for the laughter, look for the smiles and you’ll know kids are playing.

All photos and images sourced from PlaygroundIDEAS.

Steve Reich and The Wombats – Playground Experimental

Some days you just come across gems that are so utterly unexpected. I wonder how Jason Richardson came up with the idea to attach contact microphones directly to slides, swings and springriders and then get percussive with the metal, composite wood and plastic.

Is Leeton, Australia’s playground symphony a first? I would hazard a guess that Richardson is defining a niche of playful, minimalist music. Reminiscent of Steve Reich, I love the inventiveness, the audacity and the fun.

The work was screened recently in outdoor locations including Leeton’s Mountford Park as part of the town’s centenary celebrations. It will be part of the Burning Seed Festival (Australia’s Burning Man) in October.

If you’re not in Australia, or can’t get there for the show, there’s another excerpt of the video on Playgroundology FB, or you can watch and listen to the full 28 minute video version here.

Can’t get enough? Do like me and download the 10 track digital album For 100 Years for the princely sum of $3 US.

This story came to PlayGroundology’s attention via The Irrigator. Enjoy the layered, funky playground sounds.

For 100 YearsDigital album cover via Bassling

St. Kilda for Patron Saint of Playgrounds

Do I hear any votes for St. Kilda as the Patron Saint of Playgrounds? It seems that Kilda has never been canonized so he/she is up for grabs. As my Down Under flub from a couple of weeks back demonstrates, there’s at least two reasons in Australia that Kilda would make a great nominee for a patronly protector.

Seeing an opportunity to help celebrate the 30th anniversary of Australia’s St Kilda Adventure Playground I posted photos on the PlayGroundology blog and FB Page. The one that appears below was quite popular given the number of times it was liked, shared and commented upon.

NOT the 30th anniversary St. Kilda. Photo credit – Fernando de Sousa; (CC BY-SA 2.0). Source: flickr

Little did I know however that there are two St Kilda Adventure Playgrounds in Australia. The error was kindly pointed out by the great folks at Melbourne Playgrounds and by Andrew Coulson who works with Adelaide’s local government.

Yes, that’s right, in Australia there is double the pleasure with St. Kilda – one in Melbourne and one in Adelaide about 750 kilometres apart, just close enough that you could hop in a car and play at both on the same day. If there is any kind soul, agency, media house, or government out there who would like to sponsor my family to take on this feat of adventurous play and report on it, please don’t hesitate to contact us.


As it turns out, both photos I used to illustrate the 30th anniversary celebrations of the Adelaide St. Kilda Adventure Playground were of the wrong playground. The only saving grace on the blog post was a YouTube video that was shot in the ‘right’ St. Kilda and a link to a pinterest board full of photos.

The mix up gave rise to another idea for PlayGroundology – Map Maker Mondays. On a couple of Mondays every month, I’ll be plotting playgrounds on Our Treasure Map and sharing the newly plotted playgrounds on the PlayGroundology FB page. St. Kilda Adventure Playground – Adelaide and St. Kilda Adventure Playground – Melbourne are the inaugural Map Maker Monday playgrounds. Join me and plot some of your own on the Our Treasure Map platform.

Here’s a photo of the real deal 30th anniversary St. Kilda Adventure Playground in Adelaide. Apologies for any confusion caused by my earlier errors in identification.

There is a ruggedness that runs through these two adventure playgrounds. That’s somehow fitting as their shared name migrated to the southern hemisphere with the Scots. St. Kilda is a small archipelago at the western reaches of the Outer Hebrides.

In the 1850s, forty-two islanders emigrated to Australia. Many of the emigrants died en-route, but a few settled in Melbourne, and to this day a suburb of the city is called St Kilda – named after the schooner The Lady of St Kilda which was anchored off the shore at around this time. Source: St. Kilda

There has been no permanent human habitation there since 1930 and the islands are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

And that is my Tale of the Two Kildas with a Saint thrown in for good measure.

Cast your vote today for St. Kilda as the Patron Saint of Playgrounds….

Oz Nation Playground Celebration

This Sunday, November 11, St. Kilda Adventure Playground celebrates 30 years of rollicking awesome.

Photo credit – Fernando de Sousa; (CC BY-SA 2.0)

It’s another in the long line of play spots I would love to get to with my kids some day. For now, I have to content myself with living vicariously via this Flickr gallery and Pinterest collection.

St Kilda’s makes a lasting impression so much so that an Alaskan landscape designer posted his photos of the playspace at Design for Play nearly 15 years after his visit.

Photo credit – Design for Play.

And with the merry magic of YouTube, we can all get a little closer to the flying fox, the pirate brigantine and the whooshing slides (warning – headbashing music).

Many happy returns St. Kilda…..

ScreenShot Mondays – Let The Children Play

A couple of Mondays per month, PlayGroundology screenshots a cyberspot that focuses on playgrounds, or play. I hope readers dive in and explore. Even if you’ve seen the selection before, take a moment and check to see what content has been added recently.

Think of this as a very slow stumble upon, an invitation to relish something new or to revisit an old friend. Some of the people and places may be household names in the world of play and playgrounds, others not so much. I hope all will pique your interest in what they have to offer and further your own possibilities for playfulness.

Let The Children Play

Let The Children Play is a gem you don’t want to miss if you’re looking for ideas and inspiration to get the smallest of the small humming along to the outdoors beat.

The ‘Popular Posts’ section is well arranged and has plenty to choose from. One that caught my attention is super sized marble paintings! Why, oh why didn’t this exist in my early childhood world. This is all the fun of marbles, mess and mayhem rolled into one.

Super Sized Marble Painting. Source: Let The Children Play

There’s also a nice selection of blogs on play, outdoor play and early childhood under the ‘blog love’ tab. One of my favourite sections that I hope will grow and grow is ‘inspiring playscapes’. There are two school playscapes featured currently. I’d love to turn the clock back and have a go at playing in either one of them.

There’s plenty more chez Jenny in Australia. Drop in and find out for yourself. Oh and did I mention that Jenny was nominated ‘best individual blog’ and ‘best individual tweeter’ for the 2011 edublog awards?

ScreenShot Mondays will be back in two weeks. If you have any suggestions for a good subject, drop me a line at

A Headline To Make Any City Proud

Casey is city of playgrounds proclaims a headline in a recent edition of the Cranbourne Leader, a daily published in Australia’s Victoria State. It’s a small yet wonderful story. It’s not often that local governments are commended for their commitment to playspaces, or choose to market their playground assets.

The story was picked up from a City of Casey news release that speaks to the local government’s development of a playground strategy in 2010. As it turns out, playground strategies are popular in Australia’s town and cities judging by the number that are posted online.

In many countries, local governments are the stewards of public space play. They make the zoning, planning, design, procurement and budgetary decisions. In the best case scenarios, the management of public play spaces presents opportunities for civic engagement through advisory committees, neighbourhood mobilization and other avenues.

To date, I’ve only come across one program, Playful City USA developed by KaBOOM!, whose primary intent is to recognize best practices of local governments and their residents in making play a priority in their community. It is a model that could be adapted to other jurisdictions to encourage and assist communities to build on the good work for play that they have underway.

Bravo to the City of Casey and to local media for reporting on the city’s commitment to play.

Vampires in Australian Playgrounds

Well, not exactly. But there is one playground where some scary creative for a new outdoor advertising campaign was plastered in plain sight of children. One mother went right to the heart of the matter and had the offending advertisement removed.

Ogilvy Sydney, Photographer – Mat Baker

As reported in The Manly Daily on August 5, the advertisement was placed at this particular location in error by contractors working for JCDecaux Australia. The graphic ad was removed in short order and apologies proffered to all. As you’ll note in the story, it was a Wrigley’s advertisement that had been slated for this spot.

Should there be ethical guidelines in place for advertising in proximity to playgrounds and what about advertising right in playgrounds proper? What are your thoughts and feelings on this topic?

Mum did well to get the ad yanked but I can’t help but wondering where was Buffy when she was needed?

Playground Manufacturer Wins Top Honours at National Design Show

It’s not everyday that a playground manufacturer wins a major design award. In fact, I don’t know if it has ever happened before. That’s exactly what transpired last week for Danish firm KOMPAN at the Australian International Design Awards show in Melbourne.

Sydney Morning Herald, July 22

Really. who’d a thunk it – a playground manufacturer runs away with the hardware against the best of the rest. KOMPAN’s ICON playground, a hybrid of high tech gaming and old fashioned muscle twitching, won the Design Award of the Year. On top of that, they were also recognized as the Best in Category for Sports and Leisure. The company’s promotional video features playgrounder-gamers who certainly look like they’re having fun. I know that I’d be checking it out if there were one near Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Australia’s first ICON was installed at the newly opened Robelle Domain in Springfield, Queensland. It is anticipated that other local governments will soon be fitting up with KOMPAN’s ICON.

Bravo to KOMPAN on this singular recognition.