Kinder gardens get a makeover

Research news
03 September 2014
Educators join with top horticulturalist to improve childcare environments.

When it comes to optimal outdoor play for young children, researchers are unanimous that natural environments are best.

Researchers from Deakin’s "Greening Early Childhood Spaces Research Group" have been working with students and horticulturalists to spread this message to Victorian childcare centres and kindergartens over the past 12 months.

Led by Dr Anne-Marie Morrissey, the Deakin researchers include: Liz Rouse, Llewellyn Wishart and Associate Professor Julianne Moss.

The research group has been lucky to gain a persuasive champion for their cause. One of Australia’s top gardeners, Wes Fleming, from Fleming Nurseries, has worked with them to design several affordable and creative kinder play spaces.

Fleming won the “Best in Show” award at the Chelsea Flower Show last year in the first ever unanimous “Best in Show” decision at Chelsea - and is a passionate advocate for the benefits of "urban green."

The researchers initially worked with Mr Fleming on a babies’ and toddlers’ playground in a childcare centre at Eumemmering.

They have since collaborated with several kindergartens in Ballarat and have two more lined up for next year. Research and evaluation on the Ballarat kindergartens has been funded by a grant from the Foundation of Graduates in Early Childhood Studies.

“Unfortunately, there has been a trend towards more artificial environments, particularly in some childcare centres,” Dr Morrissey said. “Some centres have too many artificial surfaces and plastic equipment - and not enough rocks and plants.”

“The centres are probably considering health, hygiene and maintenance issues, and reducing what they see as safety risks, but, in fact, more natural environments have the opposite effect.

“Before we began the project, we realised that we had the expertise in education, but we didn’t have the landscaping or horticultural knowledge,” explained Dr Morrissey. “So we placed an ad in the ‘Nursery and Gardening Association’ newsletter and were absolutely delighted when Wes responded.

“Now, our goal is to share what we have learnt, establish a sustainable model, and show that it is possible to create green outdoor spaces that are affordable and easy to maintain.”

Dr Morrissey added that uneven surfaces - such as inclines and declines - provide opportunities for children to develop improved motor skills, balance and agility.

“Being engaged in nature also provides a sense of wellbeing and connection to the natural world and wildlife,” she said.

“A lot of kinders do have great play spaces - and green spaces are now recommended in the National Quality Framework. We just need to make sure that this is understood and implemented across the country.”

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Madeover - Eumemmering childcare centre gets the Fleming treatment. Madeover - Eumemmering childcare centre gets the Fleming treatment.

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