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JOOMUNJIE LAND - Queensland's first free Community Backyard

Imagine, being a child and there is place embedded in your local community being created for children to gather, be wild, play, explore, connect, have fun and be free.

Imagine that this space was designed and constructed by local children.

This is Eagleby’s new monster adventure Play Space. The children called it Joomunjie Land. It is the community backyard helping to secure the health and wellbeing of local children, and it is being led by local children.

Joomunjie Land is a space where children rule!

The suburb of Eagleby, in South-East Queensland, has something extraordinary is occurring. A group of 36 children aged 7 to 12 years old, have taken on the task of securing the health and wellbeing of local children by revitalising play and fun within their community.

Student Leaders from Eagleby South State School are heading up an impressive community initiative to restore the best parts of childhood. They have designed and built a MONSTER LOOSE-PARTS ADVENTURE PLAYGROUND, not just for themselves, for all the children of the local area. It is a community backyard for children to gather and play. They call it ‘Joomunjie Land’.

When asked why they are building Joomunjie Land for the community, these young leaders gave incredibly thoughtful responses:

So children can be imaginative.”

To see children’s ideas.”

So kids come outside to play.”

To let kids roam.”

For social activity.”

We are doing this so the next generation of children can be happy.” 11-year-old Sienna said. “So, kids can have a good childhood.” 11-year-old Bella said. “To play with friends, to make new friends and catch bugs and stuff.” 9-year-old Michael said.

A community backyard is a local response to supporting local play in modern childhood, an activity which is currently being reduced by many challenges. Grown-ups and children are looking for supervised and safe spaces where children can gather and play, face to face, with local friends. Giving them opportunities to build meaningful relationships, be active, social and grow on all sides.

In a group conversation with the young play-space constructors, the children further shared their thoughts, stating play is not only about fun for them. The group told us how play also has many health benefits; helping good mental health, letting them be more physical, grow stronger and learning how to cope with challenging situations. Through play, children are learning to express their feelings, even before they have the words.

This community backyard is full of benefits for children and is entirely sustainable. Joomunie Land has been constructed from locally sourced recycled materials. The Students Leaders organised a community collection-drive by sending home a ‘Loose Parts Play Wish-List’ to parents and putting a call-out to the wider community, sending everyone an invite to contribute. One person’s junk is treasure in the hands of imaginative children with room to play!

What is Loose Parts Play? It is a type of play using items with no predetermined use in play. Such as anything natural, bits of timber, pallets, tyres, crates, water, dirt, shovels, ropes, pots and pans, and any other objects that have play-value.

This type of play is child-directed, meaning their actions are freely chosen and intrinsically motivated. For children this type of activity is highly creative, active, intrinsically motivating, constructive, social, cohesive and fun. Grown-ups in these spaces are called ‘Playworkers’, their involvement is purposefully limited to assistance of children’s play, usually supporting them to solve their own problems.

The children at Eagleby South State School have already reaped the benefits of Loose Parts Play. They have had the pleasure of playing in a smaller Loose Parts Play area for the past 18 months. Now they hope to share their new super-sized play space with the community and play outside of school times.

Principal of Eagleby South State School, Andrew Barnes has been partnering with the Australian Institute of Play for the past 18 months. During this time, he’s observed the entire school being positively transformed into a place where fun, creativity, and happiness are a premium.

Principal Barnes said “Investment in active, outdoor, genuine play is having more impact than any other partnership or program I have seen in my 14 years tenure as principal in Eagleby. It has had a seismic effect. I personally attend daily play sessions here at the school in which countless stories of resilience, social confidence and improved communication skills have been witnessed.”

Principal Barnes elaborates on his frustrations and challenges in supporting children at his school, “We have seen a proliferation of wellbeing programs for children and young people in recent decades. This is in response to genuine need. Such programs are well-intentioned, but even when they do attempt prevention - as opposed to remediation - they often do so in very superficial ways. Many adults are deeply aware that the terrain of childhood has changed. It has been sanitised of adventure, made artificially safe, and digitalised to death. Rather than patch up the problem with programs, we need to tap into this older wisdom and collectively insist that the land of childhood be returned to the children in good shape.

To celebrate their achievement, Eagleby South Student Leaders are organising a 2-day play session to launch Joomunjie Land on June 24 and 25, opening this wild and adventurous space just in time for school holidays.

The young constructors want Joomunjie Land to be open for local children after school, on weekends and during school holidays, when children need it, and at no cost. They are asking for a gold coin donation on entry, but as 11-year-old Faith said, “This is optional, no child should have to pay to play.”

The Australian Institute of Play is funding play sessions at Joomunjie Land over the winter school holidays. This is such a phenomenal effort by these children and a great start for this community. Play in childhood is in steep decline across the globe and parents are facing growing challenges making play happen for their children.

Continuous engagement with these children has demonstrated how incredible and capable they are. Consistently exhibiting thoughtfulness and leadership, building this play space for local children. The Australian Institute of Play has a small amount funding we can contribute towards ensuring Joomunjie Land stays open for the local children during these school holidays. Unfortunately, this is not enough to sustain the changes children need. Secure program funding is required to address the challenges of children being able to participate in healthy active play. Serious investment in localised play opportunities is necessary to support children now and into the future.

We, as a community, are working with a generation of children who don’t know how to play. This is because their opportunities for play have almost all disappeared. The disconnect between children and play has occurred because we have replaced children’s opportunities for self-directed play with structured adult-led extracurricular activities or highly addictive screen play.

We are only at the beginning of the journey towards restoring active and healthy play as a normal part of childhood. Securing ongoing program funding will support Playworkers to regularly supervise this space during peak playtimes. This will have huge impacts for the local children. Playworkers are not only supervisors of children, they are also trained to ensure children feel as though they own their play and the space, as well as feel safe, supported and welcome.

There is a great window of opportunity here for social investors to jump in and support something amazing that is being built in this community. With this support, so many local children thrive!

I am calling the community to action. This fantastic construction effort is a call for help, from the children, who just want to play every day where they live. Who will answer them?


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