Fleming's Nurseries is putting the "garden" back into kindergartens with a new project that aims to re-evaluate the way outdoor play spaces are designed.
KinderGarden™ aims to reinstate the "garden" into the play spaces of early learning facilities commencing with six kindergartens and day care centres across Ballarat.
A collaborative project between Fleming’s Nurseries and Ballarat City Council and supported by service providers Eureka Community Kindergarten Association (ECKA), and Uniting Care, KinderGarden™ will also be underpinned by research from Deakin University.
The project aims to completely re-evaluate the way early learning facilities shape their outdoor play environments to encourage the best learning and development outcomes for children from 0 to five years of age.
Play areas and equipment in standard early learning, daycare and kindergartens across Australia include a range of equipment and materials made from plastic and metal, they feature large expanses of rubber soft fall, chip-bark, concrete, sandpits and little-to-no natural materials such as grass, trees, or plants.
The elimination of perceived risk is often a major factor in the way play spaces have developed in recent years with sticks, rocks and plants removed along with traditional organic soft fall to mitigate the risk to children. These have been replaced with synthetic soft fall surfaces and plastic equipment that offers limited challenge.
Other factors such as excessive sun and drought have influenced the design decisions made for these environments. The recent and long-term drought made the maintenance of natural turf difficult, so synthetic options were introduced while an increased public awareness of the risks of UV has led to the introduction of shade structures to eliminate exposure to sun.
KinderGarden™ works to reshape the playground environment not only to increase the level of physical activity of children but also to vary the range of activities in which children participate. Climbing, balancing, stretching and reaching can all be done in a range of situations within a KinderGarden™.
The gardens are designed so that these activities take place as part of play and not the sole activity directed by a piece of equipment. The KinderGarden™ spaces are designed to be random and not regular and predictable. This is specifically to encourage children to be more aware of their physical environment and to assess the risks and challenges that it presents. For example, rocks used as steps are not perfectly level with regular heights.
Assessment of risks and personal capabilities is a learned behaviour and the sooner that learning commences – the sooner a child will master it.
Bringing in plants and functional trees such as trees which will bear fruit that the kitchen and children can use in their learning experiences, helps children appreciate the natural world around them.
Deakin University will publish their research findings at the end of 2014, however, their initial studies have already seen overwhelmingly positive benefits of the new play spaces with wider ranges of movement being recorded and greater imaginational play taking shape following the redevelopment of the play areas.
Fleming’s will continue to champion the KinderGarden™ program across Victoria in 2015.

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