Play for kids' imagination

WA councils are spending millions of dollars on bigger, better and more extravagant playgrounds in a bid to lure children away from computer and television screens and encourage them outside.

From a giant volcano playground that shoots out steam to a Dr Seuss-inspired blue and white creation and the twisting and turning racetracks of the Formula One-themed circuit for little bikes and scooters - child's play is not what it used to be.

Shaun Reynolds, a design consultant at Forpark Australia, WA's leading playground equipment manufacturer, said councils were spending more than ever in developing creative playgrounds for their residents.

He says that a decade ago funding for playgrounds was allocated out of the small amounts left over in yearly budgets.

Nowadays, it is not unusual for councils to invest millions of dollars for custom-made play equipment, with parts often imported.

The City of Nedlands has proposed a $3 million All Abilities Play Space on its foreshore, the City of Stirling has recently opened a $3 million facility in Yokine and the City of Vincent is seeking expressions of interest for a $700,000 playground in Leederville.

In recent years, the City of Melville developed the $9.5 million Kadidjiny Park - aka Dr Seuss Playground - the City of Mandurah built a $3.5 million Adventure Park, the City of Wanneroo opened a $2.2 million play space overlooking Lake Joondalup and the City of Belmont spent $2.2 million on its Volcano Playground.

City of Belmont chief executive Stuart Cole said the playground attracted visitors from all over Perth and interstate.

"High-quality public spaces enhance people's health and sense of wellbeing and connection to the outdoors and as such are valuable assets for the community," he said.

The Shire of Kalamunda will open a $370,000 Nature Playscape next month and the City of South Perth has built a $260,000 all- abilities playground in Como.

Mr Reynolds said there was a growing awareness that playgrounds were not just for children but for the whole community.

"Councils and also private developers have come to see playgrounds not just as facilities but as investments - something to enhance the amenity of the entire area," he said.

In Banksia Grove, Pitstop Playground, which opened last month, features chalk boards for mini racers to mark down their lap times.

Addison Bass (6), Jack Vetrone (6), Emity McManus (6), Kiara Trant (7) and Miranda Young (6) enjoying themselves at Melvilles Kadidjiny 'Dr Seuss' Park. Picture: Steve Ferrier / The West Australian

Nature Play WA chief executive Griffin Longley said there was a clear trend towards more elaborate, challenging playgrounds to engage children in activities.

He said 70 per cent of WA primary school children failed to meet national guidelines of one hour of exercise a day, and the average Australian child spent less than two hours outdoors a day - less than maximum-security prisoners.

Mr Longley said children had disappeared from streets because parents were afraid of increased traffic, predators and a general breakdown in neighbourhood ties.

"We do run the risk of putting our kids in protective house arrest," he said.

"As adults, we need to find ways and create environments to engage children. We have to compete with digital technologies that can entertain a child for six months straight before they get bored - this has never been the case in the whole of human history."

International expert on child's play Marc Armitage said when it came to children's play spaces bigger did not necessarily mean better.

"The playgrounds that get used the most are the smaller playgrounds near children's homes," he said. "The things the kids use the most are grass, trees, bushes and flowers."

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