Back to basics

Sticks, planks of wood, water and dirt are all an important part of student playtime and learning at St Paul's Catholic School.

And with the recent release of Australian research showing that risk-adverse playgrounds were making for disengaged and unfit children, St Paul's is a great example of just how effective getting dirty and involved with nature in the playground can be.

Principal Mr Stuart Kelly said introducing nature-based play had opened up student's play options and made a huge difference to the School. "The kids are engaged. Play is an important part of their day and we've often dismissed it and just concentrated inside the classroom, but when the kids are playing well outside it creates a ripple affect across the School."

The introduction of nature-based play at St Paul's through Tasmanian Catholic Education Office funding has included a shipping container of equipment including planks of wood, boxes and large cable reels, which require imagination and cooperation between students to move and use.

The School also has a huge sandpit which is enjoyed by students of all ages, water play including a creek, a mountain bike track and bicycles, a kitchen garden and a communal fire pit, where families recently joined students to toast marshmallows and celebrate winter. Students are also building a pizza oven as part of an afternoon activities session.

The School also has a special garden area for students to chat or have a break named Kate’s Garden in honour of former Principal Mrs Kate O’Driscoll, who passed away last year, and was instrumental in getting the plan into place to transform St Paul's playground.

Mr Kelly said providing so many options in the playground gave students the chance to find something that suited them, to use their imagination, to collaborate with others, to burn off energy and to get fit.

...when the kids are playing well outside it creates a ripple affect across the School

Most importantly while the students were engaged in their play, they were also learning. “The great news for staff was as soon as we opened a lot of these areas up, we've found a massive decrease in the number of problems we were dealing with in the playground,” Mr Kelly said. “Students are coming from the playground more relaxed and ready for learning.”

He said staff on duty were also enjoying the grounds and interacting with kids more, and taking part in many of the activities on offer.

St Paul’s is just one of several Catholic schools around the State introducing nature-based play back onto the curriculum. TCEO Education Officer: Early Years Mrs Annie Nolan, who regularly travels the State to teach families and school staff about the benefits of nature based play, said it was often a case of busting the myths associated with playground risk and showing the benefits of nature-based play.

“We are trying to get play spaces that help children with their social and emotional well-being as well as their critical and creative thinking.”

Assistance is available to schools to create a masterplan for playground development and to implement nature-based play areas. Mrs Nolan said all Catholic schools in Tasmania were gradually seeing the benefits of and moving towards nature based play, as funding became available.

And the reports of the benefits from schools like St Paul’s were already flowing through. “The Australian Curriculum requires that we see that children transfer their knowledge and understanding and skills to other places, so the [nature-based] play space is an opportunity for us to see that in children.”