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Playspaces conference to secure the future of fun

Playspaces conference to secure the future of fun
April 28, 2015

Is the development of Kiwi children being hindered by risk-averse play areas that don’t allow them to explore their own limits, and are overly sanitised playspaces leading to a disconnect with nature?

These are among the hot topics being explored by New Zealand and international playspace experts at The City is a Playspace Conference starting in Hamilton tomorrow (29th April).

The three-day conference, hosted by the New Zealand Recreation Association (NZRA) at Claudelands Arena, is expected to attract close to 100 leading academics, landscape designers, local authorities, and school and community board leaders.

Among the big name speakers attending the event are international playspace advocate Fiona Robbé, a landscape architect and tireless advocate for outdoor play and playspaces that respect the environment, and prolific New Zealand playspace designer Catherine Hamilton, who will explore the impact of involving communities in playspace design.

NZRA Parks and Open Spaces Project Manager Jude Rawcliffe said the conference was designed to help playspace providers and designers deliver affordable, excellent spaces for children and communities by presenting the latest best practice research and insights.

Rawcliffe sees that enabling children to explore, take risks and test the limits of their abilities can be seen as conflicting with keeping them safe, but she believes that this does not have to be the case.

Rawcliffe “safety and adventure are often seen as polar opposites in playspaces, when really they can be effectively managed through great design.

“The research suggests it is time we brought about a more balanced philosophy to playspaces.”

The Conference comes hot on the heels of a visit to New Zealand by Scottish playspaces expert Juliet Robertson, who attracted press and TV attention last week when she called for children to be exposed to managed risk in the playground.

Robertson said playgrounds should not be ‘sanitised’, and should include features like castaway objects that encourage children to use their imagination.

Rawcliffe said there was growing recognition among playspace professionals of the value of providing playspaces that blended seamlessly with their surrounding environment and that allowed children to take managed risks.

She added “no longer do a set of swings and a slide comprise a playground.

“We’re seeing a growing rejection of overly staged spaces for children, as development studies show the importance of exploration.

“Although safety is important, this must be balanced with the need for learning experiences that allow children to test the limits of their abilities through exploration, adventure, and of course, fun.”

Rawcliffe said many of those attending the conference work for councils or made decisions about the design of playspaces in schools, and practical skills gained at the conference would play an important role in helping them to shape their thinking.

The event’s speakers also include renowned Australian landscape architect Ben Richards, an expert on ‘all-abilities’ playspaces that are inclusive of people with physical and intellectual disabilities, while Canadian natural playspaces expert Adam Bienenstock beam in over Skype to provide a 101 session explaining the benefits of playspaces that incorporate natural features. 

For more information, click here to view event details in the Australasian Leisure Management industry Calendar. 




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