Creating appropriate outdoor play spaces for young children is a challenge in childcare centres. Informed decisions need to be made about the design and materials used to implement it.

Safety expectations are high with regulations to adhere to when designing and building these spaces. Not all landscapers are familiar with the specific safety requirements of play spaces, or for a range of age groups within a childcare centre, nor are they likely to be familiar with the regulations, staff ratios and teaching practices under The National Regulations.

What do outdoor play spaces need to do?

Well-designed play spaces should:

  • Allow for safe age-appropriate play and visual supervision in all areas
  • Have connected indoor and outdoor spaces with ready access between them
  • Have a variety of built and natural features and structures
  • Include sand, mud, water, natural features, rocks and trees and edible gardens
  • Have the required amount of shade and protection from the elements
  • Meet the needs of everyone who uses it regardless of age or capability
  • Embrace sustainability and support the natural world
  • Have spaces to accommodate:
      • Individuals/small groups working/interacting undisrupted
      • Children functioning autonomously
      • Messy and loud play
      • More complex physical activities
      • Children connecting with nature
  • Provide challenge and stimulation, and have appropriate resources
  • Be able to be arranged by children so they can explore, take risks, solve problems, create and construct items they are thinking about

Other elements to consider include playspaces that:

  • Are welcoming and vibrant
  • Provide a sense of belonging
  • Reflect the diversity and interests of those who use it
  • Support educators in their roles
  • Facilitate relationships
  • Support children achieving the Learning Outcomes
  • Have features and resources to provoke interest and more complex thinking

This list is not exhaustive. The play spaces created must meet the criteria above, the appropriate Australian Safety Standards and the requirements of the National Quality Standard to be deemed acceptable. The materials selected will have a huge impact on ongoing safety and maintenance too, so it is wise to be thoughtful about what is included.

Families, if you are developing a play space at home, I recommend you take time to plan thoroughly. This can be a large expense, so it is important to get it right first time. You will benefit in the end, as will your children and visitors to the space. A well-designed, visually appealing, and educationally sound play space invites children to use it.

Childcare play spaces are inspected by Department of Education Authorised Officers who will identify any areas that need attention or modification before permission is given for children to use the space.


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