School of Population and Global Health

Rio Tinto Naturescape Observational Study 2011-2012

Research team

Chief investigators

Literature review

What makes a good play area? 

Children playing - wadingResearch indicates that contact with nature is important in supporting children’s learning and development, as well as mental and physical health.


There is an emerging body of evidence and dissenting discourse about the impact of the curtailment of children's access to nature and scope for imaginative outdoor play. 

In April 2011, research commissioned by The Kings Park Botanic Garden and Parks Authority was undertaken at the Rio Tinto Naturescape in Kings Park, Perth, as part of the broader Child's Play Research Program. Rio Tinto Naturescape includes a creek to wade in, ropes and rocks to climb, cubbies to build and lookouts. It was created in response to growing concerns about the disconnection between children and nature, with unstructured outdoor play replaced by indoor or screen-based play.


The project comprised:
  • Initial qualitative research entailed 5 child (4 - 12 years) and 2 parent focus groups. 
  • An observational study of the new Naturescape area on two evaluation days. One of these incorporated children coming with their families and the other with school groups. A total of 372 children were involved and played in the area for approximately two to three hours. The observational study observed how and where children played, their social and group interactions, type of creative and active play.
  • Feedback survey with children and teachers from observation days.


The initial focus group research demonstrated strong support for the underlying premise of Naturescape as an area within the urban landscape that could reconnect children with nature and nature-based play and.
Findings from the observational study days indicated that the most commonly observed activities at Naturescape were: Active play (chasing, sliding, running and jumping);  Exploration (digging , Water play (splashing and water fights); Construction (building forts, dams, cubbies); and some imaginative play (eg. Man versus Wild!, jungle, army games).
All teachers and parents reported that they that they would bring children back to Naturescape.  Teachers reported that they could see the benefits of child development and learning of Naturescape in the areas of Science, environmental studies,  Development of  Social Skills, Technology and Enterprise, Art, Society & Environment and Physical Education.


Key benefits of access to a large natural play area within an urban city were identified as:

  • enables contact and experience with nature/ counter nature deficit 'disorder'
  • compliments and supports child development and learning outcomes
  • fosters problem solving skills
  • promotes physically active play
  • fosters future ambassadors and protectors of natural environment
  • provides opportunities for creative, imaginative, non-adult directed play
Since Naturescape opened to the public in October 2011 it has been visited by over 12 000 children (including school groups) and has rapidly become well known as a place where children can play actively and imaginatively in a natural setting.

Research findings have also informed research translation case studies used by the Department of Education to promote new playground guidelines and the City of Subiaco’s evidence based play strategy.  


The Kings Park Botanic Garden and Parks Authority


School of Population and Global Health

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Last updated:
Thursday, 19 June, 2014 2:52 PM