Pods in the Press

Life Cubed created and installed this play pod at Ainslie School:

Loose parts play: Canberra primary school students revel in playgrounds filled with junk

by Penny Travers for ABC News

Frying pans, old skis, rope and a boat are just some of the things you’ll find in the playground at Ainslie Primary School in Canberra.

From a distance the items might look like a pile of junk, but on closer inspection it is clear the students have transformed the bits and pieces into cubby houses, mud kitchens and castles.

PHOTO: Year five students Jade, Penny, Clare and Arlo create a kitchen in the playground at Ainslie Primary School.(ABC Radio Canberra: Penny Travers)

It is all part of the school’s loose parts play program.

“There’s a lot of research behind play as being something that is really important for children for their mental health and for learning in general,” kindergarten teacher Sascha Colley said.

“We really believe that children learn through play.”

There are two shipping containers in the junior and senior playgrounds filled with “junk” donated by Canberra’s re-use facility The Green Shed.

At the start of recess the “play pods” are opened and students choose what they want to play with.

“Before the play pods, it was kind of a bit boring,” year five student Jade said.

“You couldn’t create stuff, you only had stuff that was already made for you and you didn’t get to make houses and cubbies and things like that.”

PHOTO: Kindergarten student Alex makes a cubby house for Cookie Monster. (ABC Radio Canberra: Penny Travers)

Fellow year five student Arlo agreed.

“You can be really creative and build a lot of things; new things are coming into it all the time and you can make new things and keep on experimenting.”

“I like the big wooden planks and the plastic crates because me and my friends we make chairs out of them by putting the crates down and the planks on top,” he said.

Less conflict, more inclusivity in the schoolyard

The play pods were installed last year and Ms Colley said they had made a big difference to the social behaviour of students in the schoolyard.

“We find it really increases inclusivity; everyone can play,” she said.

“If you have little ones that don’t speak English so well, or might have some sort of learning difficulty or social issues, when they’ve got lots of things to do and there’s a group of children working on something, they find it easier to join in when there’s objects that they can go and touch and become a part of.”

Ms Colley said there had been fewer conflicts in the playground.

“A lot less problems after the lunchtime period too — they’ve had a really happy time so they pack up and they come back into class and they’re ready to learn.”

Students working together

Ms Colley said she had also seen an improvement in the students’ communication skills.

“It requires them to work together; a lot of kids are working in big teams to create things and they’re negotiating and sorting out problems. The playground has a real buzz about it; the playground is a happy place where the children are really excited to get out there.”

And just before the bell rings, the kids all work together to pack up, clearing the playground in under four minutes.

Older kids enjoy play too

While the kindergarten to year two classes at Ainslie Primary School are play-based, the play pods offer older students a creative opportunity that they might not necessarily get in the classroom.

“Big kids need to play too; it doesn’t stop when you’re eight, nine or 10 years old,” Ms Colley said.

“When children play their whole brains light up and they’re thinking and they’re engaged; they’re not daydreaming out of a window and wishing they were somewhere else.

“When there’s a really good balance between free play and engagement to structured lessons and learning the kids do really well.”


At Life Cubed we are grateful to ABC News for their article and for helping us to share the story of our vision; providing children with the building blocks to foster their imaginations, as well as the vast possibilities of sustainable living practices.