Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Geography and Sustainable Communities


Planning for play in urban landscapes is becoming a priority in western societies where more children are living in cities. In children’s geographies and related fields, play is a well-researched area. Some recent work has, however, questioned the childcentred focus of existing research on play, arguing that this approach may miss broader relationships that impact children’s lives. Similarly, scholars theorising play have advocated for a wider range of actors to be recognised as part of the play process. In response to such calls, this thesis adopts a relational approach to play, drawing from more-than-human scholarship. It approaches play in the context of children’s lives, as not solely an activity performed by children, but one that includes many actors that contribute in diverse ways to play happening. This thesis does this by examining how play happens in two types of spaces that children use with their families in the Australian coastal city of Wollongong: playgrounds and tidal rock pools. A discussion in the community around the ongoing maintenance of Wollongong’s tidal rock pools coincided with the start of this study, and informed its focus.

A relational approach to play was operationalised in this study via a range of qualitative methods. Observation, interviews with parents, drawing activities and interviews with children, and family go-alongs to playgrounds and rock pools were all used to explore relationships in children’s lives that contribute to play. Through vignettes, rich insights into families’ play practices going to these spaces emerged. This thesis presents three key findings that have implications for how play in cities is understood and supported. First, playgrounds and tidal rock pools are a valued part of family life in Wollongong. Second, children’s play involves more than just children. Parents, nonhumans, and materials were shown to be influential to how play happens in children’s lives. The role of parents in play goes well beyond restricting or limiting play, as some literature has portrayed them as doing. Rather, parents provide opportunities for play, participate in activities, and mediate the environment for play to happen. They are fundamental contributors to children’s play. Nonhumans and everyday materials that children find and play with also shape children’s play in cities. This thesis builds on literature that foregrounds the importance of human-nonhuman relations in children’s lives. It shows that meaningful play experiences emerge through children’s encounters and relations with diverse nonhumans and materials. Third, by exploring parents’, nonhumans’, and materials’ contributions to play, this thesis reveals how play in cities happens as part of children’s and their families’ everyday lives.

Adopting a relational approach to play opens up possibilities for understanding play within the broader context of everyday urban life. This, in turn, has implications for how play is planned for beyond the bounds of designated play spaces. Viewing play in childhood relationally reveals the everyday spaces in which families play, and highlights the everyday nonhumans and materials that afford play opportunities.

FoR codes (2008)




Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.