The Journal is our place to bookmark stuff that caught our eye, share things that have inspired us, and capture what we are up to. Enjoy!

Remember playing with water?

Children love water play. Splashing in puddles, damming streams, having water fights – these activities bring us into connection with water’s primal qualities and awaken children’s natural play instincts. At Earth Wrights we love including water play in our designs, whether opening up existing water ways for children to safely explore, or installing pumps and rocky stream beds where children can splash away to their heart’s desire. Check out these examples and share your memories of water play in our comments section. We would love to hear them!

Sacrewell Farm 

Watcombe Primary

Sacrewell Farm – A case study in natural play design

“It’s hugely important for children to have a safe place to enjoy nature. There are so many different parts of this area for children to enjoy – they could never get bored. “

Laura Bingham, Mother and Adventurer

Sacrewell Farm is a visitor attraction run by the William Scott Abbott Trust, with the aim of providing an agricultural education for everyone, from school children to heritage enthusiasts. We were approached to help them develop an underused area, downstream from their award-winning 18th Century watermill.

The area includes a shallow valley with open grassy spaces, woodland and willow coppice, as well as a network of streams, ponds and mill leats. As soon as we arrived, we saw the great potential for natural play. The affordances were already there – they just needed improved access and, importantly, a clear invitation.

Children are the experts when it comes to play and we were fortunate to have the guidance of a group of youngsters from a local primary school to advise us on how we could improve the landscape of Sacrewell to make it more playable.  The site is rich in natural features – streams, hedges, mature trees, seasonal and marsh vegetation, hills and mounds – which clearly excited the children we consulted and sparked a sense of adventure. Continue reading “Sacrewell Farm – A case study in natural play design”

Wild and Free – Making the world your playground

Mark Hannaford is the founder of World Extreme Medicine, the world’s leading provider of expedition, wilderness and remote medicine training courses for medical professionals. As someone with a passion for outdoor adventure we were interested to hear his views on natural play.

Remember playing outside? What are your strongest memories of outdoor play as a child?

As a kid I always wanted to be outside. We lived in Plymouth for a while and had a big field behind the house where during the summer groups of kids would get together to play football and cricket. I also spent a lot of time playing in the woods and as soon as I was old enough, I would cycle onto Dartmoor and camp out with a friend. I must have been 10 or 11.  Other times I would go off walking in the day and cooking in the woods and stuff like that. And I loved walking the coast path.

What is the riskiest thing you ever did as a child?

Oh, I suppose some of the trips I’ve done didn’t really have a plan. I would go at 9 o’clock in the morning, just me and my dog, and not come back until after dark, sometimes 10 o’clock at night, and in those days of course with no mobile phone. I guess I would take a map with me, but it was all fairly unplanned and I didn’t really know where the heck I was going. I don’t seem to remember my parents being particularly concerned though. They were probably thankful for the break! Continue reading “Wild and Free – Making the world your playground”

Inhabiting the Forest

(Notes from the conference session at Evolving the Forest, Dartington Hall, 19-21 June 2019)

Our children have been slowly disappearing from public life and in our forests independent children of any age are now a rare sight. Taking note of Tim Gill’s (Rethinking Childhood) observation that “the visible presence of children and youth of different ages and backgrounds (…) is a sign of the health of human habitats, just as the presence of salmon is a sign of the health of the river”, this should be of great concern to all of us.

For this reason Inez Aponte, our Communications Manager, hosted a panel discussion at the Evolving the Forest Conference at Dartington Hall, called Inhabiting the Forest. The panel consisted of Roger Worthington, Head of Recreation and Public Affairs at Forestry England, Mark Renouard, Co-founder of Earth Wrights, Independent Artist and Educator Anne-Marie Culhane and Chris Salisbury, Founder of Wildwise.

We discussed the importance of forests to childhood and community wellbeing and explored how we might encourage healthy, regenerative relationships between children and nature.

Continue reading “Inhabiting the Forest”

Sticks, crabs and mud – Talking play with Laura Bingham

Age: 26

Profession: Adventurer, speaker, explorer

Mother to Ran (2)

Laura opened our new play space at Sacrewell, so we decided to ask her some questions about her own experience of outdoor play.

Remember playing outside? What are your strongest memories of outdoor play as a child?

The first thing that comes to mind is how my Dad used to mow the lawn in stripes and how the mower would leave these lumps of grass in lines and I would challenge myself to crawl from one side of the lawn to the other side across these lumps and stripes. A simple thing like mown grass can be so much fun. I still love the smell of it.

I also remember being in the car and looking out for trees lined up in a perfect four. I was convinced that they were portals into the fairy kingdom.

What is the riskiest thing you ever did as a child?

Well, drawing on the nicely painted walls of the house didn’t go down well – that was pretty risky. But in terms of physical risk…when I was six years old, we started visiting my family in South Africa roughly every two years and I would go microlighting and wild water rafting. That’s quite a risky thing for a small child. But I always felt safe with my parents looking after me. Continue reading “Sticks, crabs and mud – Talking play with Laura Bingham”

Into the Woods – returning to nature’s perfect playground

“This oak tree and me, we’re made of the same stuff.”
― Carl Sagan

The relationship between humans and forests is an ancient one. From Yggdrasil, the Norse tree of life, to the Bodhi Tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment, trees and woods are at the core of world folklore and mythology. As a species we evolved in a forest-edge setting and on a neurological level the woods are still our natural habitat.

With this thought in the back of my mind I took a stroll through North Woods in Dartington on a (far too sunny) morning in February. Small creatures stirred in the undergrowth and the air was full of bird song. But one distinct sound was missing: that of the young human animal – climbing, laughing, running, playing – inhabiting the forest.

At Earth Wrights we believe nature is the ultimate environment for play and our designs aim to replicate the way Mother Earth fosters children’s innate biophilia. Yet countless studies have shown that children are spending less and less time outdoors and even less in the forest. How can we invite children back into nature’s perfect playground? Continue reading “Into the Woods – returning to nature’s perfect playground”

Christmas – a Festival of Play


At Earth Wrights we love getting outdoors and playing in the fresh air, but even if the weather forces you indoors there is never an excuse not to play! So this year, after the last of the Christmas pudding has been scraped from the bowl and before you get cosy in front of the fire/radiator/x-box why not have some fun playing a silly game?

The Victorians loved parlour games. In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, when Scrooge goes to ‘visit’ his nephew Fred with the ghost of Christmas present, Fred’s guests are playing parlour games which we still play today such as Blind Man’s Bluff and Twenty Questions. Here are some old and new games for you to try. Continue reading “Christmas – a Festival of Play”

Making space for the primal nature of kids

At birth we are the buds, the tips of the tree of life. Our parents are the twigs on which we sprout, our ancestors the branches, and the boughs and trunk are as old as life itself. We are gifted with a precious heirloom, our jewel-like strings of genes. Worked and reworked through our long ancestral line, they determine both how we look and function and our potential. Three bright facets on this heirloom recently caught my magpie eye.

  1. Children are born with small brains and five times the fat of their primate cousins – gorillas, for instance. They are primed with potential and fuel, ready to rapidly grow and learn how to survive and thrive in the world. Evolution has placed a tool in their hands. A flexible, quirky, unpredictable tool, useful when messing about and experimenting with the rich natural setting of planet earth. It’s called play, and children have a strong instinctive drive to engage with it. They enter the world expecting and anticipating play; it’s in their inherited genetic coding.
  2. We are subject to the influence of biophilia, an instinctive attraction to all that is alive and vital. It is during childhood that we are particularly motivated to seek out the natural world around us. Paul Shepard calls it ‘loading the ark.’1
  3. Human biological evolution happens slowly and our genetic make-up is still the same as that of our hunter gatherer ancestors of 12,000 years ago. ‘The neural processes that guided our ancestors’ behaviours in Pleistocene hunting and gathering bands are likely to still be in operation today’.2 Yet our culture has evolved at lightning speed over the last millennium, leading to today’s technological society. The ancient hand-in-hand journey of our genes and culture has been broken. They have lost each other on the path and are now strangers.

Continue reading “Making space for the primal nature of kids”

At one with the magic of nature

Earlier this year Tommy Leighton interviewed one of our directors Mike Jones for Early Years Childcare magazine. They spoke about why Mike got involved in designing for natural play and the unique approach Earth Wrights offers children and communities. If you want to know why we do what we do, read on!

Tell us a bit about Earth Wrights and your journey so far

The seeds for Earth Wrights were planted several decades ago when I finished my degree in Landscape Architecture. My focus had always been on how to make urban environments good places to live and creating playable communities is part of that. The pivotal moment came when I was asked to design a play space for a women’s refuge in London and couldn’t find anyone to build it, so I just got on and built it myself. I saw with my own eyes what a difference it made to the kids to have a playground that was exciting and imaginative and really met their instinctive play needs – allowing them to use the space whichever way they wished, rather than being stuck with just swings and slides. Continue reading “At one with the magic of nature”

Plants that love kids

It is easy to think that children and beautiful gardens don’t mix well. Think of balls and feet trampling your precious tulips and you would be forgiven for concluding that never the twain shall meet. But there are plants that are both robust enough to be handled and beautiful enough to inspire interest and appreciation from even the wildest kids.

pic: pvandermaesen

Inviting your child into the garden – whether to tend or play – allows them to build a relationship with plants and wildlife that will stay with them forever. It lets them get up close with other species and develop an attitude of care and reverence as they watch the cycle of life unfold – a cycle which all creatures, humans included, are part of. In fact, when designing gardens for play the right mindset is one where children are considered just another wild species amongst the flora and fauna that we are attempting to nurture. Continue reading “Plants that love kids”

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