AS principal of Baldivis primary school John Worthy saw first-hand the transition of students from free-range country kids to caged city slickers.
As high-density housing swallowed up the farmland and the urbanites moved in, the local tradition of dropping kids off at the school gate and letting them run down the driveway came to and end. Instead there was a chaotic jam of parents trying to chauffeur them to the front door.
After school, kids once disappeared into a world of make-believe in bushland and paddocks till nightfall and hunger brought them home. Then they started disappearing behind the telly instead.
Mr Worthy noticed his charges becoming less socialised, increasingly aggressive and more likely to struggle in class.
It fired his interest in how children play, particularly in nature, and the seed of his current thesis was planted.
Now based at Beaconsfield primary, the 32-year veteran of teaching is being given the opportunity to try some of his ideas on a grand scale, with the school about to create Fremantle’s first large-scale nature playground.
Two derelict houses have been demolished next to the school, making room for a playground that will link classrooms to the school oval. The houses’ presence meant the kids used to have to go on official excursions simply to play footy 20 metres away.
Mr Worthy says the aim is for the finished playground to be a community facility.
He has the enthusiastic backing of the P&C. President Anne-Sophie Deleflie has two young sons at the school.
“We have a tiny backyard, so it’s a great opportunity for my kids to get outside to play and we’ll be coming here on the weekends too,” she says.
Planning hasn’t really begun yet, but the need for some greenery is so urgent the school was out this week holding a planning day, which attracted local pollies and architects from local firm CODA.
Mayor Brad Pettitt told Mr Worthy the council will look at ways it can help with the project.
CODA has already donated $20,000 of designs to help develop the playground and integrate it into the existing site, while Fremantle Labor MPs Melissa Parke and Simone McGurk donated saplings and trowels.
by STEVE GRANT