In praise of the emerging Aussie free range childhood movement

Kids at play traffic coneI have been mulling over the series of events that I took part in whilst over here in Australia. What strikes me is the level of commitment, energy, enthusiasm, activity and progress that I have seen on this trip (my sixth tour of the country over the same number of years). I have a strong sense of something in the air: an opportunity moment. So in no particular order, I want to pay tribute to the following people:

  • The out of school hours setting in Adelaide that carried on holding ‘wheels days’ (regular days when kids can bring their bikes and scooters to the setting) after one child had an accident, and some parents called for the days to stop. (The centre took a straw poll of all its parents, and found that 90 per cent wanted them to carry on).
  • Willunga Steiner School in South Australia, which has built a parkour course for its students to enjoy whenever they want during lunchtimes.

  • Bold Park Community School in Perth for its engaged, open-hearted and generous advocacy of risk, resilience and responsibility as key building blocks for a 21st century learning philosophy. As Jacob, one student of the school, put it: “We’re more likely to make good judgements if the adults around us trust us.”
  • Outdoors Victoria for coming into being, for identifying children and nature as a priority, for collaborating with the Victorian Child and Nature Connection over its launch, and for supporting a round-table discussion with Bicycle Network Victoria on the theme of promoting a more balanced approach to risk in relation to kids and cycling.
  • Jen Peedom, the TV executive I was interviewed by, who is happy to let her 4-year-old daughter walk around the block in her Sydney suburb accompanied solely by the family’s pet dog.
  • Marine Reserve Skate SpaceSerge Thomann, Deputy Mayor of City of Port Phillip, for taking the side of skaters and supporters in seeing through the building of Marine Reserve Skate Space in St Kilda (a facility that local skaters had been waiting over a decade for).
  • Educators in early years and out of school hours services in and around Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane (with a special mention to the Logan Child-Friendly Community Consortium) for pushing for a more balanced, thoughtful approach to risk (helped by supportive messages from the National Quality Standard and My Time Our Place).
  • Civic leaders in Port Phillip and Campbelltown, South Australia for giving time and space to thinking about how they can make their towns more child-friendly…
  • … and Campbelltown City Council for declaring its intention to  further investigate road closures for children’s play, following my presentation to a group of senior council officers.
  • Meet the street sessionThe residents of Bertram, a neighbourhood in the Perth area, who have started organising their own version of Playing Out, which they call ‘Meet the Street’ days.
  • The bush kindergartens that are springing up in South Australia and Queensland, following the lead shown by trailblazers like Westgarth Kindergarten in Victoria.
  • The Network of Community Activities for opening up debate about risk in New South Wales…
  • … and the Department of Natural Resources Management (Adelaide & Mt Lofty Ranges) for opening up debate about children’s connection with nature in South Australia…
  • Waterfall Gully tyre swing… and Damian Madigan and family, who live in the Mt Lofty area and are happy for members of the public to use their front garden play space and tyre swing.
  • Queensland Children’s Activities Network and some of its member services for moving to risk benefit assessment as a better way to manage risk.
  • Glenn, an out-of school hours educator who, after hearing me speak and reading about Bubup Nairm Children’s Centre’s stance on rocks and risk, resolved to quit his job at a setting he felt was too over-protective, and to find one that better fitted his own philosophy (see this comment after the post).
  • The parents and teachers at Fitzroy Community School in Melbourne, which organises mandatory one-night camps for 4 year olds – with parents – followed soon after by one-night camps for 5 year olds without parents – and at least three camps a year through to year 6…
  • … and the husband-and-wife teachers from the school who let their 8-year-old son travel to school on the tram on his own (something he is fiercely proud of).
  • Mel Edwards, Coordinator at Bubup Nairm Children’s Centre in Port Phillip, Victoria, who (as I described in my last post) resisted pressure to water down the learning opportunities on offer to her kids after an accident.
  • All the parents, educators, health workers, park managers, civic leaders, politicians and policy makers who gave their time to participate in the talks, workshops and seminars (over 1800 in total, I reckon).
  • All the speakers who shared platforms with me – with a special mention to Canadian playground designer Adam Bienenstock (whose philosophy neatly complemented my own, and whose jokes got more laughs than mine) and parenting writer (and fount of good sense) Maggie Dent, who fired up educators in Perth in spite of the almost complete failure of her vocal chords.

And last but not least, all those who helped to organise the events and helped to build the movement for a more free-range childhood in Australia. I feel proud and privileged to have played a part in all this action. I look forward to seeing what happens next. And I hope to continue to play an active role.

[Editorial note: minor revisions made to the text for accuracy on 28 and 29 August 2013.]

12 responses to “In praise of the emerging Aussie free range childhood movement

  1. Was wonderful to work with you, Tim! It’s so exciting to see all of these risk-benefit experiences happening for children around Australia. Thanks for inspiring us to continue the thinking, the commitment and the hard work. The next step (for me) is to start working on a National Play Day! A long held dream, but as a result of our combined PLA/EChO conference in Adelaide, I feel like we now have a group of like-minded cross-sector people who could make it happen. We meet for the first time next week – I’m full of hope!

    • Likewise Lisa, it was a pleasure to work with you too. Good luck too with your plans for an Aussie Playday – I’m sure Play England will be happy to help at any point (as am I).

  2. Hi Tim, wonderful, inspiring post! Would it be possible to please include us in your blog :) Many Thanks. Cecile, Victorian Child and Nature Connection –

  3. All of us working towards a childhood filled with play need to link up!

  4. The Australians are keen to embrace outdoor transformational learning. Archimedes Training, the worlds leading Forest Schools trainers, were invited by the Australian Government to deliver a range of Forest Schools courses to educationalists and decision makers…with a great deal of success.

    I hear they are building on these successes in other countries around the world…this is great stuff indeed!!

  5. After hearing you speak in Adelaide Tim, I went back to the Barossa with a lot to think about. I’m an Early Childhood Educator bursting with excitement on implementing risky play. My Director is on board 100% and we are now planning and researching how to improve our natural outdoor environment. We want to create an environment for the children we work that allows them to experience play in a whole new way. Thank you for the inspiration and information.

  6. Natalie Kellett

    These are pretty inspirational – great to acknowledge positive actions in the right direction. (The one about mandatory camps for five year olds without parents didn’t seem as free range though). Keep us updated.

  7. It’s great to hear that you will be back in Australia soon Tim. Looking forward to it.
    So proud to be associated these school holidays, the first ever Mt Baw Baw Kids Adventure Festival which will see kids hit the great outdoors to connect with nature, and find their sense of adventure. More at

    • Hi, and thanks for news of the Kids Adventure Festival. In fact I have no firm plans to return to Australia (I write this in March 2014) – but I am open to ideas, and expect to be back before too long.

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