Creative outdoor play for early childhood

In a new initiative, Many Hands is seeking to promote development in early childhood through the provision of creative places for outdoor play. Whereas spaces for creative play are the norm in schools, kindergartens and other public places in the developed world, in countries like Timor this is not yet the case. Whilst children in Timor-Leste have ample time to play outside school hours, there are very few preschool or primary school playgrounds, and the crucial learning experiences of play in education are not maximised.

The importance of creative play: Creative outdoor play is very important for children’s development. Playgrounds help children develop coordination, peak bone density and strength and generally contribute to the fitness of children by promoting physical exercise. Through the sense of physical mastery that comes from negotiating playground equipment, children also develop self-esteem. Socially, playgrounds help children learn important life skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication, cooperation and leadership. These skills are fundamental to educational attainment and participation in the workforce. At a most basic level, playgrounds create joy by providing children with an opportunity to engage in creative outdoor play, whether by themselves, with friends and/or with family.

New playspaces for Lospalos: Many Hands is looking to provide the opportunity for structured creative outdoor play for the children of Lospalos, by supporting the development of two small playspaces: a playground at Esperansa Kindergarten in central Lospalos and a children’s garden at the Centro Cultura Lautem. Until the project began, there were no boundaries to the play area, and very little shade at the pre-school, which means parents and teachers are reluctant to even let children outside, and outdoor play is not yet a part of their routine.

Australian volunteer, playground designer and landscape architect, James Nash from northern NSW spent three months in Lospalos in early 2015, scoping the potential for playgrounds in Lospalos and considering all the issues in developing culturally appropriate, safe, affordable and sustainable playgrounds in rural Timor-Leste. James worked with MHI staff member Ildefonso da Silva, whose local knowledge and contacts proved invaluable. Together the two consulted, hunted out, sought permission and reflected, and came up with plans for the two areas. They particularly sought to plan spaces that were culturally appropriate, affirming of Timorese culture, while also stimulating of creativity. The new design for the pre-school playground features a stone climbing mound and slide, crocodile tyre tunnels, a performance stage, stump jumps which can double as seating for the 'audience' to the 'stage', and a small traditional house in a quite area near the book and toy library where children can play quietly or attend an outdoor classroom. Most importantly there are new boundaries formed by new plantings, and ample shade through fast growing select shade trees.

Playspace plans: See the plans here: Esperansa pre-school creative playground; Lautem Cultural Centre children's garden.

The two worked with Esperansa pre-school staff and families to prepare a safe space for play by planting a living fence from cuttings brought from families' gardens and several large shady trees.  At the same time, MHI and staff from the Department of Tourism, Art and Culture have marked out the area for the children’s garden at the Centro Cultura Lautem with garden beds.

Guide for establishing playgrounds: James and Ilde documented their experiences in supporting pre-schools to create safe spaces for play, creating a booklet, produced in Tetun and English Making Space for Playgrounds (English); Halo Spacu ba Hamilar Fatin (Tetun). So far this has been distributed to all kindergartens in the Lautem district of Timor.  

Project supporters: Supporters for this project so far include:
-the Australian Government through the Australian Business Volunteers Program, managed in Timor by Scope Global
-expert playground designer James Nash of South Golden Beach, NSW.
- ADM Convent, Lospalos, and families of Esperansa pre-school who donated plants and labour for the gardens
-Robbi Chaplin of Melbourne, Australia, who donated the first $1000.

Help us: $30,000 is needed for the cost of materials, while most other services including that of playground advisor James Nash willl be donated or pro-bono. We welcome donations to realize this goal. Donations can be made here.

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