Characteristics of quality children’s spaces include opportunities for wonder, excitement and the unexpected, but most of all opportunities that are not overly ordered and controlled by adults. These spaces are crucial to children’s own culture and for their sense of place and belonging.

Children’s spaces are preferably outdoor spaces. Given the choice, children still prefer to play outdoors and value the independence and opportunities for discovery that it offers.

For many reasons, in many settings, children’s time for outdoor play has decreased significantly in recent years but not ours! By making time and space for children’s play in nature, we promote and value children’s freedom, independence and choice, and these characteristics perform a crucial role in children’s resilience, ability to deal with stress and anxiety, and general wellbeing. While commercial spaces may offer new opportunities, they do so at the cost of the loss of control children have over their own play.

This is a significant loss as the central point about play is the control it offers to children. it is a process of trial and error where children can experiment, try things out and repeat and refine behaviour. Central to this behaviour is that children can choose how and why they play. The level of control children have over their own play is part of what makes it play, along with its characteristics of flexibility, unpredictability, spontaneity and imagination.

Quality play provision offers all children the opportunity to freely interact with or experience the following:

  • Other children – of different ages and abilities, with a choice to play alone or with others, to negotiate, co- operate, fall out, and resolve conflict.
  • The natural world – weather, trees, plants, insects, animals, mud.
  • Loose parts – natural and man-made materials that can be manipulated, moved and adapted, built and demolished.
  • The four elements – earth, air, fire and water.
  • Challenge and uncertainty – opportunities for risk taking, both on a physical and emotional level.
  • Changing identity – role play.
  • Movement – running, jumping, climbing, balancing, rolling, swinging, sliding and spinning.
  • Rough and tumble – play-fighting.
  • The senses – sounds, tastes, textures, smells and sights.