The nature play space at the Para Wirra Conservation Park is a key component of extensive upgrades to the Park’s visitor facilities.
The play space nestles itself amidst a mature stand of remnant eucalypts; a charming and challenging arcadian environment that upholds the principles of nature play; ie - to engage all of the senses, provoke imaginative and socialised play and, most importantly, inspire inquisitive learning. At the centre, a dry creek bed is introduced, twisting between the existing trees, following the natural contours, as if formed by natural forces. Children are encouraged to scramble over large rocks, congregate in the ‘billabong’ sand pits that spur from the creekline, to dig, explore and reveal.
From both flanks of the creek, a network of tracks weave between the trees. Inquisitive adventurers move through a natural woodland landscape, engaging both with the nature they encounter along the way, as well as with a series of seamlessly integrated play elements. A maze of tall vertical logs leads to a zig-zagging arrangement of elevated balance beams, which in turn leads to a web of climbing ropes strung between tree trunks. A ‘flying-fox’ zipline adds an element of thrill for older kids, while a sculptural tunnel of weathered steel rod arches engages the imagination of toddlers. Larger groups of children can gather at a rock platform amphitheatre cut into the upper side of the site – a space that orientates as a ‘home base’, or alternatively becomes a setting for theatrical performance play.
Unlike the traditional playgrounds of set piece equipment, play opportunities in true nature play exist everywhere. Natural branches, leaf litter, logs and rocks are allowed to accumulate across the site, providing the materials for unscheduled play through the construction of ‘cubbies’, obstacle courses or sculptural works of art.
The play space succeeds by revealing itself slowly, one discovery after another, be they intended or unintended. Almost unseen at first glance, this landscape of play reveals itself through personal exploration, interaction and encounter. Achieved on the typically tight budgets of nature play projects, the outcomes in terms of creating bonds with nature, improving physical and mental well being and building resilience, risk-taking and self-confidence in children proves the profound worth of the relatively small investment.