Play and exploration on the Dartington estate

Date completed: May 2016
Location: Aller Park, Dartington
Sectors worked with: Tourism
Play types encouraged:

Exploratory play

Exploratory play icon

This happens when children decide to investigate their physical surroundings, exploring new spaces and ‘ranging’. What they require are places that provide spatial diversity and interest, opportunities to move into unknown territory and environments that stimulate their curiosity and imagination.

Imaginative play

Imaginative play icon

Playing pretend allows children to stretch their imaginations, create their own worlds and explore real life situations in ways that are manageable for their stage of development. They need flexible environments that they can adapt for their own purposes and which stimulate all the senses.

Quiet play

Quiet play icon

We all need time and space to be still and relax. For children this time is vital for integrating the many sensory impressions they encounter throughout the day. Quiet play allows them to rest, dream and refuel their brains and bodies. They need spaces that feel safe, comfortable and contained.

Social play

Social play icon

Making friends, sharing stories, learning the rules of a new game - children are social beings and play is a perfect way to learn about yourself and other people. In social play children can explore relationship dynamics and learn how to express their needs, establish boundaries and resolve differences.

Physical play

Physical play icon

Children’s minds and bodies grow in relation to their physical environment and require experimentation and challenge to reach their full potential. Physical play helps children understand what their bodies are capable of and allows them to take the necessary risks required for healthy development.

Loose Parts play

Loose Parts play icon

Banging on pots, making mud pies, building dens – these activities teach children about the physical and textural qualities of materials and how different elements fit together. Loose parts play offers sensory pleasure as well as developing hand eye coordination and problem solving skills.


The Dartington Hall Trust were looking to create a play space on their 1200 acre estate. It had to be in line with their environmental ethos and socially inclusive. It also had to be movable if another location was preferred in the future.

The Design: We love getting kids involved in designing their own play spaces, so we held a model making workshop with the children at nearby Park school to find out what kind of play they wanted.

Their ideas were translated into a design that incorporates a big tree as its centre piece. Two large climbing towers connect to a smaller tower via a web of traversing ropes. One tower has an exciting slide while another has a hangout tyre and these towers provide a route around an existing fallen tree via balance beams.


Beyond the boundaries

Located at the edge of a wooded copse the design creates an invitation to explore beyond the boundaries of the playground, encouraging kids to use the copse for den making and playing in the woods. Between two of the mature trees in that copse we created a rope swing.

Blending in with the environment, using locally sourced and sustainable materials and offering inclusive play fulfilled the Trusts brief. The entire playground can be moved to a different location in the future.

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