The Wild Play Garden in Sydney is purpose built for kids to go wild in and explore the wonders of nature – including water sprinklers on a hot day!

“A few years ago we decided to have a bit of a shift in the sort of education we were doing at the park and we started the bush school,” says Sam Crosby, who is coordinator of Education and Community Programs at Centennial Parklands.

The idea was to create a place where people could visit anytime rather than relying on educators to run a program.

The garden features all sorts of interesting structures and plants that encourage young minds to be inventive and interact with the environment. There are archways of woven branches, canyons with paths running through slabs of cut stone, timber boardwalks and rocks to clamber over.

“Some of the kids are a bit wobbly when they first get here because they’re not using to walking on uneven ground,” Sam says. “But within about 20 minutes they’re starting to negotiate the boulders, the logs, they’re balancing and able to move freely and speed up a bit. That resilience building happens a lot in a space like this.”

Sam says the obstacles help bring out characteristics and skills that a child might not show in a classroom environment.

Other features reflect the park’s wildlife, such as the stone ‘turtle mounds’.

Sam’s favourite part is a climbing bridge made of a single log with stepping stones cut out of it, which leads to a high platform, all enclosed in a bamboo mini forest. There is safety netting on either side but children are still challenged to slow down and take a mental risk in climbing the pole.

Paths of wooden beams are different lengths and at different heights.

Horticulturist Bryce Lambert says he doesn’t mind replacing hundreds of trampled plants each year. “They get stepped on, torn, ripped and played with – and that’s fantastic,” he says. “If I worried about every single plant that got pulled out of the ground or ripped I’d go insane.”

“I think the garden provides a place for them to grow physically, socially, emotionally, cognitively and ecologically,” says Sam.

“They get to be surrounded by nature,” agreed Bryce. “And hopefully, with that connection to nature, become custodians.”

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'Wild play' garden for kids

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