Playground or a Playspace?

When we talk to schools about what they want to do with their outdoor spaces, most say they would like to add or upgrade a playground.

However, recently, a lot of forward-thinking schools are embracing the concept of playspaces. But, what’s the difference between a playspace and a playground? This post will walk you through it.

First, we’ll talk about the more traditional playground.


Traditional playgrounds

Traditional school playgrounds tend to have the following characteristics:

  • Consist of a few large structures such as towers, climbing nets, swings, and monkey bars.
  • Place a heavy emphasis on physical activities such as climbing, swinging, and sliding.
  • Make extensive use of loose-fill safety surfacing such as woodchips, bark, and pea-gravel.

Large play structures provide a focal point for a playground; however, they can be expensive and often only provide a few activities. We have witnessed firsthand schools, who have spent the bulk of their playground budget on a large play item, who were later disappointed to discover that only a few students could use it at a time.

Focusing on offering only a few play types often leads to students becoming bored with the playground and is, in our opinion, a missed opportunity to introduce variety to your school playground.

Loose-fill surfacing, while great for safety, can make the play area inaccessible for students in wheelchairs or with mobility issues.

Check out our 25 ways to activate underutilised space in your school



Transforming your playground into a playspace

Rather than just building a traditional playground, we advocate for designing and constructing a playspace where there is a balance between traditional and modern play features. When done well, playspaces ensure that students get a greater range of play options, that play is evenly distributed throughout the site, and that areas for learning are also incorporated within the space.

Playspaces usually combine smaller single pieces of play equipment that link the space together. The pieces can be anything imaginable, from cars, to play huts, to a mound slide, to loose-parts play. Usually, they are selected to ensure a range of different play types are provided that help develop gross and fine motor skills, imaginary play, interactive play, sensory play, sporting, social and collaborative play, as well as quiet and singular activities.

In order to move from the traditional playground towards the more modern playspace, schools embrace the concepts of unstructured play and diversity of play type. Today, schools focus 90% on creating playgrounds and 10% on creating playspaces. We believe those ratios need to flip.


Playgrounds vs Playspaces



Focus on a few large play structures with a limited number of play options. Focus on providing diversity of play through many smaller play items – climbing, running, jumping, sliding, swinging, water play, creative, musical, social, theatrical. Emphasis on unstructured and open-ended play.  
Activities concentrated in one area, catering to a few students at a time. Play is spread out across the playspace and caters to more students.
Emphasis on physical play. A balance between physical, imaginative, social, and unstructured play. Spaces encourage socializing, exploration, and learning. An emphasis on accessibility and making play available to everyone.
Single-purpose space. Multi-purpose spaces that accommodate a range of activities such as play-based-learning areas, outdoor classrooms, and parent gathering areas.


Ultimately, playspaces seek to maximise the play value per metre across your site. They do this by diversifying the types of play on offer, optimizing their placement throughout the site, and ensuring there is a balance between the various play types.



If your interested in enhancing play at your school, check out our 25 ways to activate underutilised space in your school. This guide walks you through some small wins that you can achieve to help get more play value out of your outdoor space.

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Green Bay School

Green Bay School

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Replacing a tired old playground with a unique, vibrant, safe and stimulating play space was a big priority for a growing West Auckland school.

Green Bay School
Green Bay, Auckland

When it came time to transform long-term ambition into practical action the necessary expertise was close by and ready to go.

The old playground at Green Bay School had certainly seen better days.

For Anand Muthoo, Green Bay’s principal, there were a number of reasons why a new play space was a key priority for the growing school.

“It was simply an old and tired playground,” says Anand. “It did not meet the current health and safety requirements, there were no shade sails and, as it was not big enough, the space didn’t cater for our expanding roll.”

A stopgap measure or piecemeal approach was not an option, as “the whole playground needed attention”.

A safe, seamless and spectacular new playground was non-negotiable. The school needed a project team that could exhibit the same values as the students – respect, initiative and positivity.

During the consultation phase of the work there was much discussion with the school about what stories they wanted the new play space to represent.

Anand didn’t need to look far to find someone to draw up a play space master plan – Creo’s Landscape Architect Larissa Rose has her sons at our school. Of course, convenience is only valuable if it’s backed with capability.

“After assessing other projects Creo had been involved in we were confident they could do the job. Larissa is a trusted member of our school community too – we knew of her credibility and professionalism,” says Anand.

The board of trustees saw the huge value in the new school resource and supported the project from start to finish.

Glen Mitchell, Board Property Chair, worked closely with Larissa to monitor the process and ensure everything aligned from consultation into design and throughout construction.

Respect for the budget, the end-user and the surrounding environment was vital.

During the consultation phase of the work there was much discussion with the school about what stories they wanted the new play space to represent.

The local Whau River was a key focus, and Larissa and the Creo team helped the school bring this story to life through the design.

A metaphorical river now runs through the playground, and the boat-shaped deck alludes to local Māori history on the river, representing a waka as it journeys from place to place along the Whau. Creo also added playful elements with scattered mounds – the soft-fall features encouraging climbing and leaping for the school’s junior students, who have taken to the challenge with gusto.

The main feature of the playground is undoubtedly the large multi-play structure with climbing nets, monkey bars and a twisty slide. The centre net now provides a key focus for balance challenges and the rope nets are often incorporated into games of tag and other imaginative games.

While the space has plenty of twists and turns Creo’s straightforward approach to project management made things easier…

While the space has plenty of twists and turns Creo’s straightforward approach to project management made things easier, Anand stating he “was not chasing people to get the work undertaken – it just got done as promised”.

The general enthusiasm and sense of pride the playground has brought to the school and the community is clear to the principal.

The students are voting with their feet, their hands and everything else as “during the breaks they’re all engaged in the new playground”. They’re not the only ones who are happy with the change.


“The teaching staff were just as excited as our students when the new playground opened,” says Anand.

“Parents are also bringing in their younger children to have a play after dropping the kids off at the school. (It’s been an) unbelievable response.”

Asked what his favourite aspect of the new playground is and the happy principal’s response says it all. “Everything”. For any school considering making the change Anand is happy to share the space with other decision makers too.

“Action speaks louder than words. Come and see our playground for yourself,” he says.

We're here to help

If you’d like more information or to discuss a new project, get in touch today

Remuera Primary School

Remuera Primary School


Remuera Primary School has taken full advantage of what was once a dark and underutilised space.

Remuera Primary School
Remuera, Auckland
Circa Budget:

Finding themselves with a dark and often muddy space between buildings, Remuera Primary School wanted to create a bright, tidy area that would eliminate the mess whilst providing an environment where students could play, create, and learn.

The original area consisted of a large central garden with paths either side. The garden had a tall boundary hedge which enclosed an untidy collection of cabbage trees, a nikau palm, and two mature trees within. 

One concern with the existing area was the uneven dirt surface and brick garden edging that presented a trip hazard.

Creo solved this problem by clearing these potential risks and replacing the surface with a flush wet pour rubber surfacing.

The design of the surface introduced an obstacle course theme with footprints, leapfrog lily pads, and balance play steppers. Natural looking resin set rubber mulch surfacing was used around the base of the two mature trees to protect their roots and provide a soft surface for play.

Beyond the surface, Creo added curved bench seating to create three separate areas where students could eat lunch or participate in outdoor teaching activities.

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If you’d like more information or to discuss a new project, get in touch today

Pegasus Bay School

Pegasus Bay School

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Pegasus Bay School’s brief consisted of keeping the existing natural look of the space as well as incorporating a coastal theme.

Pegasus Bay School
Circa Budget:

Creo maintained the natural look of the space by keeping the surrounding trees and tussocks but used them as a feature to improve flow and adapt the overall layout of the space with pockets of play.

The original space included a large loose parts play area, something the school wanted to keep.

Creo was able to retain this, developing the ‘flexible play’ motif while also adding a specific central area for more open, robust play.

This central area has since been used by the school to put out moveable equipment which can be changed from time to time to keep the play interesting for students.

As the school wanted to incorporate a coastal theme, it was important for Creo to develop this idea into the design. To do this, Creo added beach inspired accessways, a boardwalk, a custom jetty, a ship’s rope balance play item, and a central island mound.

The beach inspired accessways were created using large timber sleepers set into the ground. The sleepers were arranged in a way to produce gaps, creating fun, playful pathways.

This idea introduces a ‘don’t step on the crack’ type play element to the space.

The surrounding plantings were arranged to protect the area from the prevailing Easterly wind whilst also enabling views of parts of the playspace within from beyond the school fence. This approach maintains the school’s attractive frontage and invites visitors to the school to explore the space for themselves.

We're here to help

If you’d like more information or to discuss a new project, get in touch today

Getting back to nature

We are all aware of the importance of teaching children about planting, harvesting, and eating their own fruits and vegetables.

Many schools have vegetable gardens and orchards for this very reason. But what about other plants? Do children benefit from the planting of shrubs, trees, and flowering plants? We believe they do. Which means we try to incorporate planting wherever possible or practical.

The thing about children and plants is that they are a tricky combination. Children love nothing more than jumping in and out of bushes and climbing trees, which takes a toll on those plants. But if balanced and placed correctly, planting provides an almost limitless supply of fun and benefits to children and the playspace in general.

When considering plants for your playspace, it’s important to try to provide a range of forms, textures and colours. Plants also need to be safe, so anything that poses a poisoning or choking risk is off the list, obviously.

Check out our 25 ways to activate underutilised space in your school



There are several types of planting groups that we look to include within a space:



Trees are so important to providing scale within a space. They soften the feel of a space and may provide habitat for wildlife. They may provide tree climbing and in maturity they are valued for their natural shade.

There are two types of trees: Evergreen and Deciduous. Deciduous trees drop their leaves once a year and this can provide a great teaching opportunity, as well as providing a new play material. In the wrong place, however, this mass leaf fall can cause maintenance issues.

As the name suggests, Evergreen trees keep their greenery all year round. They are often the preferred choice for schools as they don’t have an annual leaf drop. Interestingly, Evergreens lose just as many leaves as Deciduous trees do, however, they do it gradually, over time. This is a fact that many people overlook which is a mistake as Evergreens will require just as much maintenance as Deciduous trees, just spread out over the course of the year.

Tree size is very important in play spaces. As with residential properties, available space for trees is getting harder to find and everyone wants a small tree. However, most trees in catalogues are given at a ten-year mature height and can often grow more than predicted. A good estimate for the smallest tree is to allow at least 5m for its eventual growth.


A playspace is a hard place for a plant. Constantly getting picked at, pulled, and trampled on. Plants chosen for high use areas need to be hardy, not only against children’s physical wear and tear, but sometimes from rabbits, chickens and from well-meaning over watering or sand travel.

Soft stem plants that snap are never a good choice. We look for plants that have a bit of spring in them to handle bumps and knocks.

Schools close during Holiday periods and it is often hard to find someone to water the plants at these times. We look for plants that fend for themselves naturally, as well as plants that may be self-spreading or are good for keeping weed growth down.


Some schools may wish to have only native plants or native areas in their playspace. Having proven themselves in the local climate, natives are generally hardier than most plants. Roanga Gardens for Maori healing and teaching or Flax Gardens for weaving can also be achieved.




Sensory areas are important for children to allow their smell, touch and visual senses to be engaged. Plants are chosen that can be picked and used in play, such as flowers or herbs used to make a smelly potion. These plants usually also encourage wildlife into the play space. Sensory planting areas are often a quiet, calm, contemplative space, that are important to include in any busy play area.




As outdoor areas are often limited on space, we want to get the most from our plants that we can. Planting edibles is a great way to do this. They enable multipurpose use of space, while providing all the softening and calming attributes of a planted area, and they give back edible offerings. Edibles come in a wide range of options from trees and shrubs which are generally permanent as opposed to vegetable gardens that need re-growing. They are great resources for teaching and cooking and can extend the learning of many children that don’t have productive gardens at home.



With creativity happening at a far earlier stage of the playground process the entire space can be expanded to cover both play and learning experiences.

Discover how to deliver play and plan for a successful school future – check out our 25 ways to activate underutilised space in your school.


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BestStart Naenae

BestStart Naenae

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For BestStart Naenae the development of a new playspace was an opportunity to add more play, learning, and fun to their busy Early Learning Centre.

Naenae, Lower Hutt
Circa Budget:

Centre manager Emma Barber wanted an outdoor space that was inviting, practical and allowed the children to extend their physical development.

She was also wanted to prioritise flexible play areas where moveable play items could be used interchangeably.

Emma became aware of Creo after her project manager recommended the ‘full service’ design and build company.

Through the Creo consultation process, BestStart Naenae were able to refine their plans to include two bike tracks, a sensory path, and areas for ball games and flexible play.

Due to some weather issues, the playground took longer than expected to build, but once the turf and soft fall track was laid, Emma saw the space starting to take shape.

One aspect of working with Creo that Emma particularly liked was how accommodating the Creo team were and how quickly they responded in making small changes to the plan as required.

The result is a playground that ticks all the boxes for Emma and the centre’s children.

“Our playground is awesome. The infants love their sensory path and the older children spend most of their time on the bike track,” says Emma.

Overall, Emma has had great feedback from parents and the local community. In particular, people love how open and safe the new space feels.

We're here to help

If you’d like more information or to discuss a new project, get in touch today

How the modern NZ school is making more from their playground design

While still important, swings and slides no longer dominate New Zealand’s school playground design. Nowadays schools are taking learning outside, taking children on a journey, and taking everyday play above and beyond.

There is no one factor in this revolution of play space. Instead it’s the combination of changing mindsets, design expertise and equipment innovation that is now driving our schools forward (and up and through and over and around).

With further evidence showing how play supports and sustains learning (and vice versa), forward-thinking schools in New Zealand are now taking their outdoor spaces to the next level. In doing so they are ensuring their playgrounds are fit for (multi)purpose use across the years to come.

The smart investment in school landscaping is now being made in adaptable and flexible spaces, ensuring unique features create a point of difference for the school and allowing for a more holistic approach to both learning and playing. In doing so schools are making the most of what space they’ve got, with each and every area used efficiently and effectively.

We take a look here at the key factors in playgrounds designed to bring out the best of children, the teachers, the school and its community.

Check out our 25 ways to activate underutilised space in your school



1. Nature can be balanced with nurture.

Blending the best from both natural and artificial environments is ensuring children can learn from important ecological areas while also enjoying all the convenience, safety and creativity from the bright and bold play spaces. With the right design approach everything clicks into place properly too – an artificial court can look perfect next to a butterfly garden or secret circle.

This approach also helps schools avoid some of the ongoing maintenance costs typical of traditional play spaces. New areas with innovative surfacing can be essentially maintenance-free, allowing greater focus on keeping the natural spaces growing and thriving.


2. Outdoor space is for learning too.

Creating greater flow from the building to the outdoor area is breaking down traditional barriers and allowing teachers to take a break from the confines of the classroom.

Shade structures provide sun protection and, in some cases, waterproofing for wet weather play and learning too. These well-designed areas ensure teachers can maintain line-of-sight outdoor supervision from within the classroom – so children can work outdoors in a safe and secure environment. Such spaces can be easily adapted too – transforming from the busy physicality at break time to studious philosophy during learning hours.


3. ‘New’ can be balanced with ‘old’.

The modern school play environment offers the best of both worlds, with great traditional equipment and innovative new design combining to stimulate imagination into action.

The big changes have started at ground level. Dust in summer and mud in winter is minimized (although there is still space for such nature play). No longer do messy bark chips get tracked through the school. Now surfacing options such as Pour’n’Play can be molded and shaped into mounds and hills, providing critical fall height protection while delivering colour and ongoing durability. So too have the obstacles changed, allowing for more vaulting, leaping and climbing. These types of play encourage children to push their limits in creative and dynamic ways.


4. There is no such thing as ‘nothing space’.

With new building or extension work schools are often left with areas where nothing much is going on. With a comprehensive master plan outdoor spaces can be linked together and previous ‘dead areas’ between or behind buildings can now provide both hidden delights and useful resources.

Here there are a huge number of ways to activate this type space. Unused wall areas can be transformed into climbing spaces with protective surfacing, or beautiful green walls or even fantastic interactive music walls. Areas of concrete that might easily become shabby instead can be transformed into mazes or scooter tracks. Gardens can become established for butterflies and bird life with stone steppers or logs and nature play added. Indeed, with an expert designer onboard these previous dead spaces will come alive with action and excitement.

To access 25 ways to activate underutilised space in your school click here.


5. Building is better (and faster and more cost-effective too).

Schools have struggled in the past having to deal with multiple contractors and silos of information and project inefficiencies that inevitably come with it.

With an integrated approach from a design-build team no project phase now occurs in isolation and schools don’t need to manage multiple meetings with six different people. As a result projects are being delivered far faster than what was previously possible, ensuring less overall cost for the school and far less disruption to everyday operation. Find out more about the design-build process by clicking here.



With creativity happening at a far earlier stage of the playground process the entire space can be expanded to cover both play and learning experiences.

Discover how to deliver play and plan for a successful school future – check out our 25 ways to activate underutilised space in your school.


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How a design and build service provides the ECE play space you want (and need)

When it comes to building or upgrading a childcare centre playspace there is a multitude of services to work with. How do you ensure the right coordination and consistency of quality through the entire process?

Making sure you get the best players on your team involves choosing the right playspace designer, quantity surveyor, project manager and, of course, installers. It’s a challenging task – and one that most busy childcare centre owners or managers simply don’t have time for.

This is why a company offering a complete design and build service is the smart choice for any ECE project. There is only one decision to be made at the start of the project, and the rest falls into place.

A design and build company provides the design and construction of the project under one contract. The company you choose will be with you from the development of the initial concept through to final sign-off.

Here are the four main reasons why a design and build service will help you get the ECE play space you want.

Download our ECE Playspace Design + Build Guide



1. Expertise

A lot of time and effort goes into planning and designing a new play area. Consideration must be given to the best way to engage and delight children at the same time as providing rich learning experiences for all abilities and well organised flow within the space.

But what is equally as important is facilitating the construction. By using a design and build service, it is possible to bring all elements of the project under one contractor and maintain one clear vision for the project. As well as providing advice on design approaches it also ensures guidance on other critical aspects of the project. These include timeframes, budget and how work will be carried out around ongoing ECE operation.

Design and build firms have the staff on board to carry out all of these functions, offering professional experience in each trade, as well as the ability to price, project manage and bring in reliable sub-contractors where needed.


2. Continuity

A design and build company is involved in the project from start to finish, which adds an inherent efficiency and effectiveness to the process. The work they do creates a common vision at the beginning and enables continuity through every decision made subsequently. The chance of critical elements being overlooked is minimised when working with one contractor.  

The design and build contractor also becomes accountable for all aspects of the project. The workload (and stress load) is lightened for internal ECE staff, and everyone is assured that timelines, budgets and overall vision are met.


3. Costs

Often the task of matching the needs and wants of a project with the budget is a challenging task. By working with one firm for the entire process you can ensure that all costing is analysed early in the process – and clear direction is given on what can or can’t be achieved.

Design and build provides guidance on the cost of fees, construction costs, utilities, equipment and landscaping. Alongside this other elements are considered including conceptual design, completion timeframes and minimising disruption to operations.


4. Time Savings

The design and build approach offers a seamless transition from the design stage to the build stage.

During the concept design consultation your design and build company will translate ideas into a workable design concept. After this the same team will produce detailed construction drawings and provide material selection.

From there a schedule of work is created to set the overall project timeline. When construction begins everyone has a clear understanding of the project and the ultimate end goal.



The busy ECE will be constantly juggling the needs of the children, their parents and the surrounding community. With the daily administrative and bureaucratic requirements there’s a lot to keep up with. That’s why attempting to project manage a new playground build is often too stressful for ECE owners and managers. Thankfully there’s a better choice available. 

If you’re ready to read more on the process it’s easy – simply download the Creo Playspace Design + Build Guide and discover how much better your play project can be when you use an all-in-one service.

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5 reasons why a master plan will help your school

There’s an old saying that goes ‘a goal without a plan is just a wish’. When it comes to developing a school play environment, one that will make everyone happy both in the short and long term, the last thing you want to do is rely on wishes.

This is why smarter schools in New Zealand steer clear of ambiguity and work in partnership with a company who can develop a master plan.

A master plan is a high-level document which clearly communicates all elements of the complete outdoor landscape of a school, with stages of design and development informing the here-and-now work while future-proofing the overall space for the years to come. It is how countless schools, developers and town planners visibly inform stakeholders of the project’s concepts, costs and design.

By determining the overall vision for the play area, any outdoor learning areas and additional landscaping support, the master plan is the critical first step of any new project. For work to get buy-in from the many stakeholder groups involved, it is important to address much more than just the design. A master plan documents how the project will meet the school’s future growth, its core values, timeframes, budget and how best to maximise the learning and play opportunities within the total school environment.

Thinking of making the exciting move to develop a school playground design? Here are the main reasons why a master plan should be the first item on the agenda…


1. One document to impress them all

Any school has several stakeholder groups who bring differing points of view and needs to the project. A master plan provides a place where each group’s needs and input are recognised and addressed. This plan is created after consultation and analysis of needs, costs and timeframes. It is where everyone’s big ideas and wish lists become a tangible and concrete plan.

From this solid start it becomes easier to communicate the overall vision of the project to strengthen community and stakeholder support. It is a smart way to minimise misunderstandings or frustrations, and lay out how issues have been addressed and needs met. Essentially, a master plan is the best way to get everyone on the same page – and then keep them there.


2. Future-proofing outdoor areas

While the aim of a master plan is to bring everyone onto the same page, it doesn’t necessarily mean the project is then set in stone. A good master plan is designed for flexibility and to incorporate future development.

It is a way of safeguarding the school’s values while ensuring work will sit in harmony with the current environment and meets the school’s potential growth and future needs. Then, if there is more work in the pipeline that requires additional funding, a master plan serves as a PR or promotional document to help with fundraising and community buy-in.


3. No hidden trap doors

No one likes surprises, particularly when it comes to expenses. A master plan makes expenditure visible to all stakeholders and ensures transparency on planning and budgeting.

The master plan can include a cost-benefit analysis of each element of the design. This process ensures all opportunities and solutions have been explored in line with the vision of the project. It is a reliable way to determine which elements should be included or excluded. It can help alleviate overspending (or under-spending) and to analyse timelines, costs and expected outcomes. 


4. Perfect timing

A play space master plan provides a shared vision right from the start. And this, in turn, creates a cohesive approach to the timeframe of the project.

From here, it becomes a simple process to categorise each element of the project and prioritise work based on importance or price. Work can be scheduled over months or years as funding allows and, with the decision-making process clearly documented, deadlines can be met to ensure minimal disruption to the ongoing school operation.


5. Making the most of every space

The ultimate goal for any school play area is the all-important playability and usability factor. There are many elements to consider for this to occur and, with a master plan, it is less likely that these elements are overlooked.

Areas that a master plan may help uncover are the use of existing shady spots, the relationship with existing buildings, the range of play types needed to cover all ability levels and how welcoming the area feels. So too can the modern learning environments be part of the cohesive whole – with each element flowing into the other ensuring ease of group movement and use of each area.


In every respect these plans allow for maximum success by giving a birds-eye-view of the project. Any school looking to achieve maximum value from their outdoor spaces should consider a professionally designed master plan. 

By taking this high-level approach the school is able to determine where the project is now, where the new work will take it, and what it may look like in the long-term future.

Not sure what a school master plan looks like?

See our sample version here.

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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 Creo Project Portfolio 2022 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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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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