New Leaf Early Learning Centre

The outdoor play space at New Leaf Early Learning Centre captures a ‘sense of place’ within the surrounding natural environment. Located within a few hundred metres of the beach and framed by natural bushland on two sides, the space retains existing trees and existing topography to provide a simple, low tech, low cost, sustainable playground. The undulating landform creates an experience of connected spaces that inspire adventure and exploration.


Stone, sand, timber and native vegetation feature prominently in the overall nature-themed design. Recycled trees harvested from the site were reused for short and tall stepping stumps, benches, a carved log ladder and a timber forest maze. Additionally, a dragonfly hewn from site timber by a local chainsaw artist, invites clambering, sitting, gathering and socialising. The retention of the existing trees contributes to comprehensive shade cover when combined with a larger bespoke shelter and shade sails.


The design is highly inventive, maximising opportunities for unstructured free play. The array of natural materials allow children the freedom to express themselves, feel inspired through their own exploration and connect with nature. A hand-powered water pump sends water spiralling down a watercourse to provide visual delight and safe water play. Adjacent to the water pump is one of two double-width slides embedded in the existing slope. The slide is accessed by a variety of stepping logs, a stone staircase and sloped grass pathway. At the opposite end of the play space, amongst the retained trees, timber trunk posts provide a ‘maze’, while a timber screen with coloured panels provides the backdrop for a ‘story telling corner’.


A variety of planting provides a sensory experience through use of colours, scents and textures. Children brush past rosemary bushes, rub the leaves of the lemon-scented myrtle tree and listen to the rustling of bamboo in the wind. A fenced kitchen garden also allows the children to grow their own fruit, vegetables and herbs.


The design demonstrates a sustainable approach through the reuse and adaptation of existing on-site materials and minimal alterations to the existing landform. Use of heavy machinery in the landscape construction was minimal and the reliance on transportation of materials to site was reduced.






Alexandra Headland, Sunshine Coast, Queensland



Completed in early 2016



Greg Thomas – project director
Sophie Fossey – project lead


Project Phase

Schematic Design through to Construction Services



Grammar Early Learning



Core Architecture

Barlow Shelley Engineers

Matty G Inc. – Chainsaw Artist


Awards & Recognition

2016 Nominated as Australia’s Best Playground (AILA)


Photograph Credit

Greg Thomas

Mischa Laugs (slide 13)