Recapture the magic of childhood: LE ACT explores nature playscapes at Blue Gum Community School

Published: Tuesday 4 May 2021

After a quiet but intense 2020, the ACT Chapter kicked off its first early-morning event for 2021.  Suitably filled up on coffee, fruit, pastries and bacon and egg rolls, over 40 attendees revisited the magic of childhood by learning about and exploring three nature-based playscapes on offer at Blue Gum Community School in Hackett, ACT.

Established as an alternative to mainstream education practices, the Hackett campus of Blue Gum Community School is unique in that it leases its premises from the ACT Government, sharing its building space with other tenants.  Over time, Blue Gum has gradually extended its school areas by taking over spaces from other tenants as their leases expire and – in line with a detailed master plan – refurbishing or retrofitting these spaces to suit the school’s needs.  The school aims to eventually take over and purchase the whole site, allowing it to fully realise its master plan.

With reduced capacity to control its internal learning environments, over the past four years the school has directed its focus to the outdoors and what might be achieved for students by designing nature-based play areas that would extend their physical, developmental and educational learning environments outside, during all seasons. 

Attendees heard from the passionate Sophia Williams, Assistant Principal of Blue Gum, on the research that underpins the benefit of nature-based play for students in terms of deeper learning and risk-based decision making, along with the school’s project journey from concept to completion.  In line with its philosophy of child-led learning, the school has fantastically incorporated these naturescapes into its curriculum and has even changed the timetable of its school day to facilitate maximum time for students out in nature (come rain, hail or shine!) sparking inquisitive research journeys by junior students into topics such as how the trees know that it is time to shed their leaves, or the life cycle of frogs.

The school collaborated with renowned architect, Paul Barnett, who designed and project managed the construction of its three unique naturescapes.  Attendees were enthralled to hear from Paul, as he spoke on the regeneration of various dry and unappealing spaces by transforming them into sustainable and thriving nature and playscapes using water harvesting and designs that mimic the natural environment.

We were also privileged to hear from Michaeli Hillam, Director of Blue Gum’s Early Learning Centre, on the excitement of its preschool students investigating their dedicated nature play environment in wet weather gear during the recent heavy rain event – finding that nature produces perfect circles from rain dripping into puddles, and learning how much easier it is to dig trenches in the rain to plant agapanthus.

Attendees then excitedly toured the three imagination-inspiring play spaces around the school that provide many interesting and diverse play areas for students to explore, yet which meet all relevant building codes/compliance requirements for children’s playgrounds.

LE ACT thanks its sponsor, Interface, for their support of this event and we look forward to hearing more about the company’s upcoming (but secret, as at the date of the event!) news.

Further information on the school and its project can be found here 

Article written by Tara O'Keefe, ACT Block Grant Authority

Image supplied by Ella Masters, Howff Design