Wilding nature play for children and families: An evaluation of The Ian Potter Children’s Wild Play Garden at Centennial Park, Sydney

Dr Son Truong1,2, Dr Brenda Dobia2, Dr Kumara Ward3,2, Julie Regalado2
1Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada; 2Western Sydney University, Penrith, Australia; 3University of Dundee, Dundee, Scotland


The Ian Potter Children’s WILD PLAY Garden is located in the heart of Sydney, Australia’s Centennial Park, giving children and families an opportunity to immerse themselves in nature play within a major urban centre. The Garden was designed to cater for children of all ages and abilities in a diverse landscape with dry creek beds, an artesian water play area, a bamboo forest, banksia tunnels, turtle mounds and the Park’s first treehouse. The initial concept for the Garden was purposefully aligned with the philosophy and methods of nature play that underpin Centennial Parklands’ education programs. Nature play is not simply about spending time outdoors. It is about allowing children the opportunity to get to know and experience nature through exploration. It intends to cultivate a sense of curiosity and freedom in nature, to build physical skills and develop confidence.

This presentation focuses on an evaluation study on the use and benefits of the Ian Potter Children’s WILD PLAY Garden for multiple stakeholders, including children, parents and educators. A mixed-method approach was used, incorporating surveys of adults and children, targeted observations, photo-voice activities and focus groups with Centennial Parklands staff and Bush School parents. Design features, key findings, and recommendations will be discussed. Children’s exploration of the Garden was associated with learning to overcome challenges through physically extending themselves, and finding new places where they could observe and enjoy an immersive nature experience. Nature play in the Garden thus generated enthusiasm and creativity, combining physical activity with freedom and fun.

Son Truong is an Associate Professor in Community Wellbeing and Therapeutic Recreation at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada. He has extensive experience working with young people in educational settings, therapeutic programming, and outdoor learning. His interdisciplinary research focuses on children’s play and environments, and recreation to enhance wellbeing in vulnerable communities.

About OEA and Outdoors NSW

Outdoor Education Australia (OEA)  was established in 2006 as a national network of outdoor education associations. The organisation facilitates communication between state and territory outdoor education associations about the practice and delivery of outdoor education; advocates for outdoor education across primary, secondary and tertiary education; and provides policy advice.

Outdoors NSW is the go-to place for all things outdoors in NSW.

The peak body for the outdoors in NSW, the organisation, (formerly known as ORIC), represents the outdoor community, advances outdoor standards, safety and practices, and fosters greater participation in the outdoors.

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