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5 of the most exciting outdoor spaces in ECE

At Creo we have come up with our top 5 outdoor play spaces in Early Childhood Centres. These play spaces show the diverse range of playground design that we have at Creo, whether that’s completely natural spaces, modern designed centres or playspaces that fit within an overarching theme.

If you want to see even more of our Early Childhood projects you can also Click here to download the latest Creo Project Portfolio which has details on more of our projects throughout New Zealand.


1. Community Kids Clendon

For Community Kids Clendon it was important to create an open and inviting outdoor space that could be used for various play and learning activities.

To achieve this, Creo delivered a design that balanced flexible play with the more traditional set play spaces to create a range of opportunities for learning and robust play.

To create the flexible play area, Creo created a cushioned turf area. Here, moveable play items, such as boxes, can be set up and changed daily. Adjacent to this space, a feature slide and mound was introduced and the entire ‘island’ surrounding by a soft bike track loop.
Additional play value was activated in the space through the placing of more traditional play items. A sandpit with water play log and mud kitchen creates the opportunity for messy play where children can role-play and experience various textures.

Low traffic areas at the corner of the main building were lifted through the addition of connecting elements of a stone pathway and planter boxes. This, as well as the placement of a wooden Waka, provide exploring and adventure play.

The new space gives Community Kids Clendon an inviting, flexible and low maintenance space with plenty of play options for their children to enjoy all year round.

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2. Montessori Oamaru

Montessori Oamaru wanted to create a modern playspace using completely natural materials. They brought Creo in to help them with the design which needed to create a high level of inter-age socialization and provide plenty of play opportunities, all whilst being safe for the children.

When we were first approached to complete the playspace design and build at Oamaru Montessori, the site was a completely blank slate. A purpose-built modern learning environment was just starting to be built and our client wanted a natural playspace to work with the design of the new building.

The design aims to provide a space where connections and respect for nature is developed, by playing and caring for planting areas, gardening, trees and natural materials.

The design is simple, but structured so that the children are free utilize their creativity to choose or change how they use the environment for their own activity.

A large central lawn facilitates this free play space and circuiting path allow children to access all areas of the site directly and easily, while being a play feature its self.

Challenge is provided through swinging and sliding activities, balance and climbing from log play as well as many unstructured and movable play setups that can occur in this flexible space.

Creo was able to support the client through this design by creating a flexible, adaptive, natural space. The benefit in our design and build capacity was that the design was able to be created while working to the clients budget and providing thought into the future maintenance and life of the playspace, that will grow and change with the centre as they develop.

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Click here to download the latest Creo Project Portfolio

3. Equippers

Equippers Church in Manukau was experiencing growing pains. The popular Auckland church had seen significant growth and consequently they were running out of space for their kid’s program.

So, when the property next door came up for sale, church Pastor, Barrett Ruakere, saw an opportunity to expand the church and create some space for the congregation’s youngest members. The problem of not having enough space for the kid’s program soon became the starting point for a radical vision of a Bible-based Early Learning Centre.

Barrett and the church leadership had a striking vision for the centre. They wanted to reproduce some of the great stories of the Bible to provide physical reminders and reference points that could be used for teaching and inspiring young minds.

“I sort of had in my mind, five features that were key. So, we started with things like Jonah’s Whale, things like Joseph’s Dream Coat. So, rather than ordinary shade sails, our coloured shade sails have a biblical theme and that’s running above the kid’s heads, so we can always reference that.”

To achieve this level of accordance between purpose and design, it was important that Creo listened to the Church leadership and provided sound advice on the design while remaining open to innovation.

The finished play space is a marvel to behold. Upon entering the centre’s grounds, the visitor is presented with a scene straight from the pages of The Book of Jonah – a Pour’n’Play whale, with fully functional water spout, emerges from the deep. Beyond that, a sand pit and water play area are bordered by a Perspex wall that’s decorated to resemble ‘the parting of the Red Sea.’ Moving further into the over twos area there is an Ark, set in Pour’n’Play surfacing.

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4. Young World

Young World Childcare Centre is in a new building in Owairaka, Auckland. The design for this north facing corner site provides children with a warm secure play space that transitions seamlessly between the indoor and outdoor spaces.

The space was designed to have two separate areas to cater for children aged between 0 to 2 and 2 to 5 years. Although they are separated, the design ensures a visual connection between the two areas. The focus for both areas was to create flexible outdoor spaces that provide a safe but challenging environment, where confidence and learning can flourish.

The Creo design team worked with the clients from the initial concept process, then oversaw the construction of the design. This process ensured the original design intent was carried throughout the project.

Due to the size and height constraints of the site, the design aimed to utilise every bit of available space and allow for easy access around the outdoor areas and between the two levels in the site. This was achieved by connecting two levels with a sloped play area. This not only provides upper body challenges, sliding and hill play but allows free-flowing play to occur between the two levels, as well exciting play opportunities.

The lower level is a flat landscape turfed area which is also a safety surface and allows for different activity play configurations to occur.

To the other side of the lower level, every bit of playable space is utilised to provide a range of sensory activities from water features, planting spaces, waterplay and sand play. Blackboard, mirrors and outdoor kitchens encourage the children to explore and be creative within this sensory area.

The site’s shape and level change provided challenges but due to the multipurpose surfaces, a wide range of different play experiences and areas were created to suit the centre’s needs.

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5. Just Kidz, Flat Bush

Just Kidz’s newest early learning centre at Flat Bush has a brand new playground that compliments the modern, stylish design and feel of the centre itself.

Just Kidz’s Operations Manager, Vanessa Henry, says they were looking for something special. A company who could provide a quality product and finish, as well as design. “We were looking for an innovative playground, with aesthetic appeal and great functionality for children to gain maximum benefit.”

Due to the project being a new build, Just Kidz wanted the outdoor area to complement the new buildings on the site. These were open, modern and stylish, so it was important that the outdoor areas continued this feel, working with the indoor space to allow for a seamless transition and for full utilisation of the available space.

Furthermore, Vanessa and her team also wanted to beautify the space by incorporating natural elements whilst offering challenges, space and areas of interest for children to explore and discover.

From a design perspective, this was great news, as it allowed the design team to focus on creating a space that integrated natural play opportunities, sensory areas, challenge, and experimental play, with hard-wearing flexible use areas.

The Centre now has two areas, one that is designated for children aged between 0 to 2 years, and the other that caters for older children aged 2 to 5 years. While separate, the two spaces allow for good visual connection between the two age groups. Both areas have large covered spaces to accommodate play in any weather condition, and the surfaces are ideal for toddlers learning to walk as well as for older children running around.

Vanessa says the playground is “a wonderful, open space that promotes visibility and safety,” and is another step forward on Just Kidz’s mission to grow and “continue to develop beautiful, high-quality centres that can serve our communities.”

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