Wednesday, January 5, 2011

what rusty keeler said: dream your playscape

In this 5th post in the "What Rusty Said: Creating Natural Playscapes Series" we'll continue to look at Rusty Keeler's tips for kick starting your natural playscape project.
Dream your Playspace

Now is the time to dream your playscape!  What kinds of activities, and opportunities do you want the children to experience? What kind of features do you want in your outdoor space?

Activities and Opportunities

What will the children be doing in your natural playscape?

• connecting with nature and elements of nature
• playing with water and sand
• playing with loose equipment
• climbing
• rolling down hills
• growing plants for tasting and smelling
  playing instruments
• digging patches
• exploring
• gravel pits for older children
• talking in quiet social areas
• moving around on interesting pathways
• riding a bike over bumps
• nurturing and observing worm farms and
compost areas
• growing and exploring bamboo arbours
• adventure themes
  making cubbies or secret hideouts

Features in your outdoor playscape

Here are some great ideas from Rusty to get your imagination flowing:  

1.  Don't forget to think about colours, sounds, scents and textures:

sensory trail in a school garden
2.  Let your lawn grow and carve out a path or maze with your lawnmower:

Image from Green Living: Musings from Downunder
 3.  Plant some bulbs.

4.  Wild spaces 

Places for children to crawl under bushes, dig in the dirt, damn streams, roll down hills, clamber over rocks:

Little Eyes on Nature:  a space to discover, explore, imagine, create and make their own.

2.  Small hills or slopes

Natural Playspace at Bold Park Community School

3.  Water source near sand pit / dirt patch

Hand pump at Ouyen Kinder

4. Plantings

Plant shrubs, bushes, ornamental grasses, fruit trees and flowering trees to create places to hide; mini forests; shelter; shade; privacy; colour; texture; smell:

Secret nooks and crannies

willow hut

Living tunnel
5.  Add Water:

6.  Places to build

A space for a collection of "loose parts" to build with

7.  Places to Dig

Kensington Gardens Preschool

Open Spaces Preschool via Earthplay

8. Pathways: 

9. Stone circle, labyrinth:

How one preschool is dreaming their playscape

Elm Tree Preschool has created a site documenting the development of their playscape. 

Next in the Series

A whole bunch of handy links to websites, blogs, preschools and backyard make-overs filled with inspiring images and information to help you dream your playscape.


  1. Jenny-
    I love your continued devotion to outdoor play and sharing what you have learned with others! I am trying not to go too gung ho for spring, as winter is so much fun here too, but it is hard with so many ideas and inspiration!

  2. Reading these posts is interesting for me Jenny. As you know, last year we were able to get our entire community on board with creating our new outdoor classroom and it was kind of magical how it all came about. I didn't realize how hard these things are until this year when we have a few additions and improvements we want to make -- we've known what we wanted since Sept., but it's taken until now to put together the magical elements to make it happen.

    I wish I'd had this series to guide me!

    I also wish we had acres and acres of land so we could do EVERYTHING in this post! =)

    Thanks Jenny!

  3. I was reading this and thinking "wow - wish there were some hints on how to do it in my backyard..." and then I saw that I just need to be a little more patient :D

    Thanks Jenny!


  4. Jenny this series is SO inspiring as usual! My head is spinning with new ideas ... just wish I had somewhere to put them. Perhaps I should pop back up to Sydney for a visit and get my hands dirty!
    Donna :) :)

  5. It is so helpful to actually see photos of these things! Since we're still really "in process" it has been so helpful to find resources in order to see what really might work well for us and for our space. It helps us to develop our own vision for what is possible! Thanks!

  6. Thanks for the comments everyone. I love collecting ideas but we are slooooow in implementing them because we aren't organised. 2011 is our year for outdoor playspace planning, and not just dreaming. I can feel it in my bones :)

  7. I don't work directly with children (though I do work in the child care field), nor do I have any of my own, but this has inspired me to look for projects like this in my community to volunteer with! What magical, inviting spaces these photos show. I would love to help create these for my community's children.

  8. Wonderful! inspiring. Every child should have a place to play outdoors.

  9. These pictures etc closely resemble what we are doing at the New Ark Ecology Centre, part of the New Ark Adventure Playground and City Farm, Peterborough UK. More on this at the New Ark website or from me at

  10. I love how everyone has commented that it is so much harder (and slower) to implement their ideas into playscapes then first perceived. It lets me know I'm not alone! We have been slowly upgrading our outdoor area incorporating many of your ideas. I have come to the realization that the 'upgrade' will never be complete and that is what makes outdoor spaces so fun to work in. They are forever evolving and changing. Thank you for your ideas :)