The Ian Potter Children's WILD PLAY Garden is an oasis of adventure, giving kids the opportunity to play and challenge themselves in nature. Since opening in 2018, the Garden has been widely praised by design critics, in the media, by family bloggers and on social media. Despite all the accolades the question remains: what really happens to children when they visit this play space, and how do parents feel about their children’s experience?
To answer these questions Centennial Parklands engaged with the Western Sydney University Centre for Education Research to find out. The results of the first academic study of the Garden have now been published.
Exploring the Garden’s impact
The Garden is an immersive play space of natural materials and native plantings inspired by the local landscape, including dry creek beds, banksia tunnels, and Centennial Park’s first treehouse. In this diverse and dramatic landscape, children are encouraged to run, jump, and discover the wild side of life.
The research study focused on the uses and benefits of the Garden, including developmental and learning outcomes, for multiple stakeholders including children, parents, and educators.
Putting children at the centre of the study, children between the ages of three and 12 were invited to complete surveys alongside their caregivers as part of a mixed-method approach. 112 adults and 42 children were surveyed, with targeted observations of children’s play as well as photo-voice activities with children, adult focus groups and interviews.
The results are in
The results: nature play provided by the Garden benefits physical activity, social engagement, imagination and connection to nature. The research found that both children and adults value the rich natural environment of the Garden and the variety of play experiences it offers, creating a range of benefits for children.
The variety of built and natural features, as well as diversity of pathways, in the Garden creates high movement potential for children, challenging their personal and spatial awareness.
Children’s exploration of the Garden was associated with learning to overcome challenges through physically extending themselves.
Children who had visited the Garden indicated that they had very positive attitudes towards playing outside in nature. This was associated with a sense of freedom and competence.
Parents further noted that:
Exploring the Garden through nature play encouraged children to use and develop physical skills with increasing confidence.
Children’s sense of enjoyment, freedom and fun were enhanced.
They showed greater engagement in creative and imaginative play, and this carried over into other settings.
Unstructured nature play helped to develop skills for problem solving, social interaction and collaboration.
Children said that their favourite things about the Garden were waterplay, the giant slide and the treehouse/bamboo forest. They also liked exploring and discovering different spaces and activities.
The Garden makes nature play and its benefits available to urban children and families in a unique and innovative way. Dr Brenda Dobia, lead researcher on the evaluation project says, “The Garden’s combination of natural aesthetics, sensory experiences and physically challenging activities provide a stimulating environment that promotes children’s engagement with nature and supports developmental outcomes.”
With such positive results from playing and learning in the Garden, it’s no wonder the first dedicated nature play space in New South Wales and has quickly become a highlight for families.
Explore nature play from home
While the Garden is currently closed due to COVID-19, you can help your children explore the wonder of nature from home. Our Education team have developed fun and simple activities for families to enjoy the benefits of nature play at home