Do you remember a time when children were free to play in a garden and all they really had by way of equipment was their imagination and the environment around them? I do, but in my distant childhood memories. As much as I appreciate lovely play equipment I do think we need to encourage children to be resourceful, use their imaginations and play without fancy gadgets. The Ian Potter Children’s WILD PLAY Garden is located in Centennial Park, Sydney and was designed to encourage children to reconnect with nature by providing them with opportunities to use their imaginations in ‘wild play’.
The playground was designed with children 2-12 years in mind but there were plenty of adults engaged and using their imaginations as they ‘helped’ their young charges build with sticks and decorate their construction with leaves and stones. Although our kids are beyond playgrounds now, I was keen to see the much talked about “all abilities” play space. I’ve seen friends share photos and felt somewhat cynical about the surfaces chosen being suitable for a wheelchair. We visited today after a morning of rain and although the ground was wet it wasn’t too hard to get around. BJ is heavier than the children the playground is designed for, so I presume it would be slightly easier with a lighter child in a wheelchair. Wide pathways link the various play areas making it easy wheelchair access however there are features with stairs in some areas of the park.
Lush gardens surround the play spaces including 12,700 trees, shrubs, succulents, grasses and ground covers. I felt like I’d entered a busy version of the Secret Garden with beautifully flowering shrubs surrounding some play areas, ferns in the water play zone, giant figs shading the open play space and a bamboo ‘jungle’ which worked a little like a maze.
Sticks are left for children to use for construction. We happened upon a teepee-like structure and I pulled a couple of logs out from the front of it to get BJ closer. A little girl came over and said, “I built that!”. I felt mortified that she may think I was destroying something she’d so lovingly built. I told her I was just getting the wheelchair closer and how much I liked the way she’d decorated and built it. It turned out she was fine with us playing with her creation, she was just proud and wanted to let us know she’d done it.
Fortunately she left fairly quickly after our encounter because although BJ was being careful and trying to add to the teepee, it came tumbling down. AJ and I furtively looked around hopeful the little girl hadn’t seen what became of her hard work.
Today was quite warm in the afternoon and the water zone was popular with the kids cooling down by darting in and out of the jets and fountains. There’s a lip which defines this area which is a shame as there is easy access to it. We’d be able to bump a walking frame or wheelchair over it and a Hippocampe or beach chair would have no problem.
A suspension bridge leads to a tree house where kids climb to the top before sliding back to the garden bed.
While in the garden, we met one of our HWWT readers and her comment was “I think they could have done more” (in relation to access). I really love the feel of the garden but it’s always hard when some of the most popular areas are not accessible, like the tree house with slide.
We’ve always loved Centennial Park and when BJ was younger I can imagine we’d have loved this addition to the other walks and activities we did within the park. BJ always enjoys a visit to the café and there is a Liberty Swing (wheelchair swing which needs a MLAK key) in another playground within the gardens.
The Ian Potter Children’s WILD PARK Garden is fenced.
A stand-alone unisex accessible bathroom is available within the fenced playground.
Six accessible parking spaces are available out front. You need to go beyond the entrance to find them.
A van is located within WILD PARK and sells coffee, ice creams and snacks.
Entry is free to Centennial Park and WILD PARK.
Take swimmers if you’re thinking of letting the kids play in the water zone because you know they’ll be soaking in 5 minutes.
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