07 Feb Sydney’s newest playground
On a recent trip to Sydney I was lucky enough to visit and play at the new playground at the Darling Quarter in Darling Harbour.
Probably one of the most popular playground built in Australia recently, the 4000 sqm new playground at Sydney Darling Quarter has become a new family attraction for weekends. The site is located on the shores of Cockle Bay, and adjacent to the new mixed use development; also with many dining choices available at ground level.
It was amazing to see such an elaborate playground with so many excited youthful faces. The nine meter high conical rope climbing net was occupied by many children of all ages, the younger ones often only able to get to the lower part of the net, whilst the older kids more willing to challenge for the summit.
The interactive water play was such fun; playing and learning seamlessly integrated. All the hands-on games were designed to demonstrate a hydrological function. The interconnected water channels snaking trough the sloped site; before water reaches to the lower end, children can interrupt the flow or direct the flow from one channel to another via the interactive play equipment. While I was trying to figure how to use a water lock, a boy came and lifted the ring shaped handle seemingly with great effort; immediately water flooded the channel again. Pumps of various playful forms manifest the traditional methods of manipulating water movement against gravity. For toddlers, they were thrilled by running across the synchronised water jets or simply enjoying the water washing over their bodies.
The playground is well considered for children of a wide range of age groups. For example the slides and climbing area, the older children often prefer the more difficult rope climbing to get to the big slides, whilst younger participants can access the smaller slides by climbing up the rubber climbing wall. Games demand more skills such as the flying fox also attract older children.
Aside from the success of Darling Quarter Playground, a question springs to mind that why so many playgrounds are underused? Perhaps a possible explanation lies in designers’ underestimation of children’s physical and intellectual abilities. Based on US National Institutes of Health research, by the age of six, the brain of a child has already reached 90% of its full size; a thickening skull accounting for the majority of remaining growth. From the writer’s observation at the playground, games that demand a higher level of physical strength, balance, and problem solving skills always attract the longest queues.
Perhaps a more apt explanation regarding safety standards of play areas has been the influence of public liability insurance underwriters, rather than the singular benefit for children. Recent research published in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Paediatrics shows “overly strict standards might actually be limiting rather than promoting children’s physical activity”, and “play equipment that was safe per standards had soon became boring to the children because they quickly mastered it”. Apparently children may use the equipment in unsafe ways to seek out greater challenges.
For years, overly regulated policies have driven playground design away from was originally intended. A playground is not be an intended to provide a distraction for children, or to provide a safe locker for the parents. Play is inseparable from the process of learning and growing up. Children are challenging themselves physically and intellectually, and most importantly, by triumph in overcoming their own limits, which starts to generate confidence for the rest of those children’s lives.
 David Dobbs, Beautiful Brains, National Geographic, Oct 2011
 Kristen A. Copeland, Susan N. Sherman, Cassandra A. Kendeigh, Heidi J. Kalkwarf and Brian E. Saelens, Societal Values and Policies May Curtail Preschool Children’s Physical Activity in Child Care Centers, Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Jan 2012, website link: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2012/01/02/peds.2011-2102
Playground comic map: http://www.darlingquarter.com/