Given the huge costs involved in taking 5 kids to Chester Zoo, I took a hiatus from it in 2017. However, I’ve been back repeatedly in recent months and re-investigating all areas of one of the UK’s premier visitor attractions and larger zoological gardens. One of the new elements, opened in 2017, was the Madagascar play area.

Apparently inspired by the conservation work in Madagascar, there is a picnic area, a sand play area, an adventure play area, a massive slide and also a water play area.

Now previously on this blog I’ve explored heritage and archaeological dimensions of children’s playgrounds here. This has involved discussions of proximities between playgrounds and heritage sites, and heritage themes in playgrounds. The water play area provides a further example of this, since the ‘dry river’ provides a series of examples of early hydraulic engineering. These are:

  1. hand pump
  2. the seesaw pump
  3. Archimedes’ screw

In addition, there are various dams and switches, as well as a plug, that allow kids to direct and manipulate the progress of water.

All told, this is not simply an installation for fun and active play, allowing kids to step in and around the rocks and water, and interact with water with their bodies, with buckets and by handling the equipment. It isn’t just about getting wet and cold even in near zero degree temperatures (as it was when I took these photographs). I think this play installation offers a valuable dimension of children’s education regarding how people today access and direct water. A further way of looking at this play area (and I’ve seen other versions of this, including at Slimbridge Wetland Centre)), it is an important environment for teaching about the archaeology, history and heritage of waterpower.

So well done Chester Zoo! Although I think they could say something more about this dimension on their website to enhance the educational value for visitors to learn about basic hydraulic engineering past and present.