Category Archives: Playgrounds

I Wish I Was that Kind of Book Blogger and Other Thoughts from Last Week

Prepare yourself for a rambling post.

All ready?  Okay.

We’re slowly working our way through our Great American History Expedition Checklist.  Not many done so far, but two that seemed appropriate for while we’re doing pre-Columbian America and the dawn of the 16th century were the National Museum of the American Indian and the exhibit about the “discovery” of the Americas at the Library of Congress.  We’ve done them both for fun before, but this time it was school related.  Yeah, it’s not that different, but still.

There are a lot of things to recommend the American Indian museum.  Architecturally, it’s pretty awesome.  The collection is fascinating.  While we were there, we saw tons of interesting artifacts – both things we haven’t gotten to yet in our studies and things we have like Clovis points and Mayan sculpture.  We went through the “Our Universes” exhibit, which highlights some different tribes (including the Maya and the Inka, which was useful for us studying those two cultures) and focuses on traditions and storytelling.  The problem is that everything is such a mishmash.  I feel it every time I’m there.  I understand the benefits of seeing a whole bunch of animal sculptures in a single case so you can do cross cultural explorations.  And I get that they were trying to make a unified political statement about the value of indigenous American cultures across the board.  But when you can’t find out what culture or geographic region anything is from because there’s a total lack of signage and the computer touch screens that are supposed to stand in for signs are complete junk, then you’ve really over homogenized a diverse array of peoples and robbed us of our ability to get any sense of the scope of history and geography as visitors.

Luckily, while the scope was very different, the small exhibit at the Library of Congress was excellent.  They had a larger number of indigenous artifacts than I expected along with European documentary records about the initial clash between the two worlds.  Things were arranged in a logical progression.  Plus, there were cool old maps at the end.  I’m a sucker for old maps.  Also, their touch screens not only work, but provide real information I wanted to know about.  The whole thing reinforced for me how utterly frustrating I find the American Indian museum.  Plus, it’s architecturally interesting too.  There’s the kids fascinated by the floor on our last visit.

After we finished the exhibit, BalletBoy begged me to go down to the Young Readers Room.  This is a seemingly secret basement children’s library inside the Library of Congress where they keep lots of current children’s literature that has been stamped “extra copy” and looks about as beat up as at most regular libraries.  Maybe if you’re a senator, you can take your grandkids there and check out books for them?  But for the rest of us plebs, it’s for looking only.  It’s a bright, happy space with room for programming, lots of comfy chairs, tables of coloring pages, and a pretty adorable little puppet theater you can play with.  They have a few interesting things, like an entire copy of a Harry Potter book in Braille (it takes up a whole shelf!) and, most tantalizingly, a whole table of ARCs and galleys.

I must say, when I saw the selection of ARC’s, I wished quite fervently that I were the sort of book blogger who might receive ARC’s occasionally.  Alas, I am not.  But there was a new Grace Lin,  a new Catherine Gilbert Murdock fantasy, a Daniel Handler YA, and a Katherine Paterson novel called The Flint Heart that which looked downright delightful.  I read the first few pages of that one and I suspect it will make a great read aloud when it comes out.

Most excitingly, though, one of the books BalletBoy has been bugging me about literally every week was there!  The next Squish book by Jennifer Holm doesn’t come out for another month, but there on the table, I found an ARC for him!  He sat and read the entire first half of the book, but wanted to save the rest for when he can have it for real.  If they’d had an ARC of the next Amulet book, I suspect he wouldn’t have been able to be pulled away.

As we left, the kids picked up posters for the National Book Festival in a few weeks.  If you’re local and don’t know this event, it’s really a treat.  In our most memorable year, we had the pleasure of seeing (nearly back to back), Holly Black and Tony Diterlzzi, Mo Willems, Steven Kellogg, Megan MacDonald, and Jon Scieszka and David Shannon.  It was just as amazing as it sounds.  You know you’re jealous.  Here’s the lineup for this year.  They’ve added an extra day and a “storytelling stage” which includes a lot of great authors too.  Sorry soccer practice, but we’re totally there – books over brawn.  The weekend of September 24-25.

In my final bit of ramble, after we left the Library of Congress, (and bought BalletBoy’s new ballet shoes since we were on the Hill anyway), we went over to the brand new Yards Park next to the Nats stadium.  I’ve been meaning to go for awhile, but it kept not happening.  We’ve not been at a lot of baseball this season.  Well, I must say, it’s completely and utterly awesome.  If you’re local you must go.  I command it!  Mushroom, BalletBoy and I played a slightly epic game of Hide and Seek there.  But that’s not a commandment, just a recommendation.

My Playground Obsession Reaches a New High…

If you live in the DC area, then I thought I’d tell you that my playground obsession reached a new level of nuts.  I started a new blog with the goal of slowly (maybe one a week or every other week) reviewing all the worthwhile playgrounds in the area – Clemyjontri, Cabin John, and the other big spots, as well as the local favorites around town like Turtle Park and Guy Mason Park.  Yes, I know, I’m a little nuts.  I just have all these visions of playground design and how it frankly sucks.  So I’m venting to the internet.  That’s what it’s there for.

Anyway, if you’re interested, you can check it out here.  All brand spanking new.  Now to go out and publicize it somehow.  The world of local blogs is a new one to me.

Mushroom and BalletBoy Go to the Park!

Somehow, despite the fact that I’m far to busy to get sick, I seem to have contracted the flu (or something very fluish).  It’s passing quickly and isn’t all that bad compared to, say, the flu I picked up in China that time, but on Friday, I couldn’t even bring myself to get out of bed for most of the day.  We didn’t have school.  We had to cancel Destination Imagination (which is rotten because we desperately need the practice time before the tournament this coming weekend).  And what a tragedy because Friday’s temperature got into the 70’s.  That’s the sort of February weather that must be seized upon and appreciated.

Well, luckily, we live on a block with a small playground on our corner.  It’s a bit of an urban mess, honestly.  There’s a contingent of homeless guys who hang out there on the benches and play checkers and cards on the tables.  They’re mostly harmless and some of them are even nice, but it doesn’t always make it the most clean or conducive atmosphere for play.  We use it occasionally, but if we really want to go to the park, we’ll walk somewhere else or drive to one of the larger city parks.  This playground is scarcely larger than a house plot.  It’s only there because it used to be the turnaround stop for the trolley car and when the trolley shut down in the 1950’s, the city took it over and had to do something with it.

Despite the issues, the husband and I agreed quite awhile ago that when they were six years old, they could start going to the playground by themselves.  As this was one of the first nice days since the fall and I couldn’t take them to a better playground, I reminded them that they were now allowed to go alone, as long as they stayed together and told me first.  I explained that if anything strange happened to make them feel uncomfortable, such as a fight among the homeless guys or an adult acting strange toward them, that they should come home immediately.  I don’t think they would be in danger at all, but I do know that sometimes sketchy things happen there and that the kids should know to come home rather than stay and feel uncomfortable.

They had turned down the offer to go alone in the fall, but they seized it now excitedly and immediately ran down the block to the playground.  Half an hour later, they came back.  A toddler who, “didn’t know the difference between two and three,” had been bugging them.  But after getting a snack, they almost immediately ran back again and stayed for another half hour on their own.  This time, apparently another toddler, a little girl, “asked us too many questions!”  Still, after using the bathroom, they went back for a third time, again staying for about half an hour before some mysterious internal clock told them they should check in with me.

It’s funny to be that they felt so put upon at the playground, but each time by smaller kids getting on their nerves.  Clearly, a pesky toddler is the biggest problem you could face at the playground, even one in the “inner city.”  We try to live our lives as relatively “free range” parents and the kids have had a number of exciting solo experiences, including a few short hikes with friends in the woods and the ability to go do their own shopping while I’m in a store doing mine.  Sometimes, when they meet a somewhat big milestone like this one, going off completely on their own, it’s a little bittersweet for me as a parent.  The genie is out of the bottle and we’ll never be able to tell them that they can’t run down the block on their own again.  But I’m proud of them for seizing their freedom (not to mention the precious warm February weather) with confidence and nonchalance, as if it was no big deal.

Two Unexpected Play Spaces

I haven’t blogged much about playgrounds and play spaces lately, so when I came across these photos from this fall, I thought I’d put them up.  Both are with our co-op group downtown on the mall, though on different days.

Here’s the only sculpture in the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden that you’re welcomed to touch.  It’s called Six Part Seating by Scott Burton.  It gets much, much more natural use and attention than any other sculpture in the garden.  We have often enjoyed it and I have seen many other people doing the same.  Potential sculptors take note of how wonderful interactive art can be!  I don’t know that Mushroom or BalletBoy have ever played musical chairs, but the kids all naturally invented some sort of version of it and would have happily continued with it for longer if we hadn’t needed to be somewhere.

The second spot is the infamous “spaceship” seat in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.  There are only two of these odd benches left in a very outdated exhibit about animal bones.  When Mushroom and BalletBoy were younger, we made heavy use of it.  They’re probably too old now, but honestly, it’s just so inviting that I don’t know how to make them stop.  It is my sincere hope that when the museum gets rid of them (which they almost certainly will – with the exception of the popular dinosaurs and Pleistocene mammals exhibits, the bones exhibit is one of the only exhibits left not to have been overhauled completely in the last decade) that they donate these to a proper playspace.  They probably don’t meet some sort of safety code, but they’re just amazing.

Durham Playgrounds

Mushroom climbs one of these ultra-modern playgrounds that are going in all over. I wonder how the old playground game "Dirt" would look on something like this.

I know, I think about playgrounds way too much.  I just love finding anything with new elements.  I wish we could find amazing or interesting ones like those featured in the blog Playscapes.  Alas!  But anything new is worth the notice for me.  Both of these playgrounds we found in North Carolina had a feature I’m seeing more and more in playgrounds: the slide without rims.  BalletBoy thinks they’re exciting because they’re “dangerous.”  The first one was small, but it had a large arch that gave it the illusion of height.  I’m not sure what I think of that.  It was interesting from a design standpoint, but I’d rather have actual height.  The second one was a much bigger playground with a very tall feature.  Kids were kept from falling by metal grilles.

Check out that funky seesaw. I like that it compromises between actually being a lever (no springs!) and following safety guidelines that prohibit the old-fashioned (and better) kind.

The Quest for Playgrounds

We hit two completely different but exciting playgrounds on our southern travels, both worth a mention because I’m totally obsessed with playground design.  It’s just so exciting to find a playground that isn’t made up of the exact same set of a dozen different elements, just arranged differently or set out in different colors.

Chehaw Play Park in its old-fashioned wooden glory.

First, the play park at Chehaw, in Albany, Georgia, was a sprawling playground with lots of imaginative elements, including a boat and a rocket ship.  This was the sort of playground that I saw more of in my youth but which has been almost entirely replaced by prefabricated plastic and metal equipment.  I guess wood was deemed to not hold up well enough.  Another nice thing about this playground was how shady it was.  The planners had clearly planted trees and designed the space a long time ago with a shady future in mind, that was greatly appreciated by us on this day in the upper 90’s.  This is in complete contrast to the playground near by grandmother’s house (one of those prefab kinds of affairs) where there’s not a tree in sight.

Mushroom and BalletBoy on the "slide" made of tiny rolling wheels in Centennial Park in Atlanta. Check out those molded "rocks."

The second was the playground in Centennial Park in downtown Atlanta.  This is more of the prefabricated type of play equipment, but there were a few innovative additions.  Also, the otherwise flat space had been cleverly molded into rubbery faux hills and rocks.  I’ve been seeing these increasingly in parks, especially on a small scale.  I hope more playspaces decide to install them as they are so much more open-ended and interesting than just another slide.  Large sunshades covered the area.  Overall, worth the stop after we had finished our run through at the aquarium.