Primary school student becomes teacher

Quarry Hill Primary School student, William Szakal recently attended La Trobe University as a guest presenter. Will, in grade two, was invited by his father Martin Szakal, a student of the subject Designing Children’s Environments along with planning lecturer Dr Julie Rudner, to give a presentation on designing play spaces for children.  

The aim was to understand how a child may design a play space given very few boundaries and tools that were familiar. The concept came as Mr. Szakal realised that children can be excluded from the consultation process in developing play spaces, as evident in various municipalities across the country. 

Will is proficient at MineCraft, an online computer game whereby players create their own worlds by using a series of functions and building materials.  

'After watching Will create elaborately designed structures and cityscapes, I thought it was a great opportunity to explore what is important to children in play space design. The fact that he had these amazing skills to utilise to express his thoughts, meant it may offer us a real insight into this area of study,' said Mr. Szakal. 

Dr Julie Rudner is a strong advocate for consulting with children in a genuine way. Her opinion is that too often, the very people that environments are being designed for are excluded from the process. She said many play spaces are boring, lack challenge and mistake standardised playground equipment for a well-designed play space.  

“Fortunately, there are fabulous examples of unique play space designs that are sensitive and inclusive of the landscape and reflect children's contributions. These spaces, which may or may not contain play equipment, are much more fun and exciting because they support active exploration and imagination” said Dr Rudner.

“It’s quite ironic that often designs do not meet the expectations of the people that are to use them. This subject teaches students that to get the maximum benefits and outcomes for citizens, projects need to be inclusive throughout various stages of development. This includes children.” 

School encourages participation in decision making processes

Mr Andrew Schaeche, Principal of Quarry Hill Primary School - who also attended Will’s presentation - is another strong advocate for children’s participation in the decision making process. The school has recently raised funds for a unique climbing wall. An initial student survey was conducted to identify what was of interest to them. The students then had to vote for their preferred project from a shortlist and the climbing wall was chosen.  

'The students love participating and driving the decision making process. It teaches them how to be flexible and how to negotiate, they learn elements of diplomacy and how a democracy works. We think it is integral for children to have as many learning experiences as possible and this is just another great opportunity for them,' said Mr Schaeche. 

The ‘Bushland Area’ at the school is another example whereby children were included in developing the concept and design phases. The area is a natural play environment that is strategically preserved and enhanced to create a variety of opportunities for learning. 

La Trobe University planning students are considering these areas of study and will be generating high quality projects that local councils can consider in their forward strategic planning.


Media enquiries 

Dr Julie Rudner, P 5444 7228 M 0438 783 637