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What is a Play Environment Consultant?

A play environment consultant’s prime objective is to ensure provision of relevant facilities for children, and can be involved in all aspects of planning, design and even construction of environments.

Who play environment consultants work for:
Play environment consultants provide services to community management groups, a full range of early childhood services, public and private schools, all levels of government, and commercial ventures (i.e. shopping centre development) or public parks.

What is a play environment?
Play is far more than a “way of passing time” or “letting off steam”—it is an activity in which children develop competencies and learn to master many skills. An environment which provides a range of developmentally appropriate opportunities is a richly rewarding place. In practical terms, this means that a facility has to be able to cater for a very large range of skill levels (individuals even within an aged group can differ significantly) and the spectrum of interests.

Play outside is about hidey holes, fantasy, construction, digging, splashing, climbing, riding—and so much more. Even a swing changes design and size with the age of the user

A total play environment consists of both inside and outside areas, so that these should be designed to deliver maximum benefits to the user (including social-physical interactions). There should also be asset-management value.

Understanding your project:
Every location, every site and every service offered is unique. It is not effective to use a “standard plan”; what is needed is a planning process (and product) which is tailored to your needs.

Regardless of size of project or budget, every facility should aim to:

  • Meet the children’s needs because this is cost-effective and pre-empts ad hoc changes/compromises later on; children’s needs should not be an afterthought.
  • Construct according to a master plan which has built-in flexibility, so that staged development can happen.
  • Ensure sound planning before—and provide a maintenance budget for after.

How Play Environment Consulting Pty Ltd can help you:
Planning underpins every play facility. Most of my clients do not have the time, resources or knowledge to move confidently through this specialised field. However, by involving a play environment expert from the very earliest stages, not only will you have a better product, but you can avoid costly mistakes. [It is always more costly to rectify something than to plan it correctly in the first place.]

The degree of involvement varies according to the size and scope of the project. However, Play Environments Consulting Pty Ltd actively seeks to establish the child and adult user needs for each project. This combines an assessment of intended play spaces (i.e. site, building, playground) with in-depth knowledge of the requirements of the developmental age of the children, teaching practices (where relevant) environmental behaviours and of the principles of Best Practice.

  • Small projects can be totally planned—together with recommendations as to equipment, or construction materials, or access routes to increase the effectiveness of play, or ways to maximise site characteristics, to provide safe supervision. Work can also be in conjunction with an architect or a landscape architect.
  • Larger projects are more likely to be managed by a multi-disciplinary team, where the final product is better than the potential inputs of any one individual.
  • Assessment of existing facilities is also available, especially in relation to play value and safety. Timely advice can be critical to long-term viability—it can also affect the success of applications for funding. Society expectations change over time.

The expertise available:
All projects are developed under the direction of Prue Walsh, an early childhood educator whose consultancy work specialises primarily in physical environments in early childhood settings. Her work also extends to schools and public playspaces.

She has consulted on over 2,000 early childhood centres, schools and public playspaces throughout Australia covering site evaluation, building and playground design, and implementations with emphasis on children's play needs. Further work has been carried out in USA, Scandinavia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey and Dubai.

In 1991, she was a recipient of a Churchill Fellowship.

Written work has covered: ECA and Councils' child care planning policies, plus play environment articles in journals and magazines. She is the author of Early Childhood Playgrounds - Planning an Outside Learning Environment, Best Practice guidelines (in NSW and Lutheran Church Queensland), and a chapter for Creating Child Friendly Cities. The full list of publications (approximately 30) is available on request.

Her speaking engagements have included guest speaker at national and international conferences, as well as conducting training workshops at both university level and practitioner level. Many of her projects involve community and child user consultations (which are often the most intensively read sections of her written reports).

Further work is carried out in conjunction with her husband, John Walsh (FRAIA) Architect, when issues of building planning and design need to be addressed

Understanding how to use our products:
As you read further within this website, it will become apparent that Play Environment Consulting’s products come at a number of levels—from a simple assessment report on existing facilities, to total site Master Plans with detail design information.

As the client, you are given custody not only of information about your site, but also the responsibility to implement the recommended plans at a level which will ensure their integrity.  There have been occasions when clients (or their contractors) have altered those plans to the detriment of the final product, or (even worse) used substandard suppliers/workmanship which destroys the quality of the planning process.  While we cannot guarantee that such events cannot happen, we consider that it is an integral part of our follow-up service to respond to any suggested alterations, so that changes do not unintentionally have dire consequences.  Every contract we sign says “contact me”; and we do follow through.

It might also be timely to draw your attention to the fact that every detailed design report is officially copyrighted.  We would hope that the professionalism of our clients will appreciate that our designs are in fact protected intellectual property (to which you have access through the consultancy).  In particular a contractor should not be using these for work outside the contract (which has also sadly happened, although not with the knowledge of the primary client, but it is as well to remind them of the illegality of such actions).

Finally, it is our objective to provide a better link between your wish list and the product delivered to the children and staff at your facility.  Our 20 years of experience is most definitely at your service.