Tag Archives: playgrounds

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.

Leave Our Children at the Park Day!

I adore Lenore Skenazy ‘s Free Range Kids Blog.  In case you didn’t know, she proclaimed today “Take Our Children to the Park and Leave Them There Day.”  You can read all about it on her blog, where she’s been posting up a storm about it, not to mention doing the rounds on the 24-hour news networks.  I hope it goes well.  I don’t know that any of the negative, fearful parents out there will be swayed by anything as rational as statistics on how much lower the crime rates are now or how rare random kidnappings are, but I admire Lenore Skenazy for trying and for putting this cause out there.

Alas, at 5 years old, Mushroom and BalletBoy are a mite too young for this, but maybe next year, especially if the impending redesign of our corner park makes it a little more kid friendly and a little less drunken old man friendly.  It seems like a park that’s literally a stone’s throw from our house ought to be a place where the kids can go without me, especially since they can just dash back home in a matter of less than three minutes, no street crossing needed.

Tires are fun!

I remember tires being a staple of playgrounds when I was younger.  Where did they all go?  There are two in Maryland we visit occasionally, but they’ve mostly vanished in favor of the more prefabricated play equipment.  Alas!  Are used tires more expensive than they used to be?  Or is there more risk associated with them on playgrounds?  Or did they just go out of fashion?

Mushroom and BalletBoy on the tire ship.

Oh, and did I mention that there's a tire dragon too? Wouldn't it be awesome to design a playground that was all tire animals?

Climbing Spiders

Climbing structure in Druid Hill Park in Baltimore

Last time we went to the Baltimore Zoo, I spied, over the hill in the park, an amazing climbing structure plucked out of my childhood and knew that at some point in the near future, we simply had to go climb it.

I grew up in the middle of nowhere, without any playgrounds (it’s okay, don’t pity me, I had my own creek and barn).  However, my grandparents lived in New Orleans, which is the place that, to this day, somehow defines some aspect of “city” in my consciousness.  There were many excellent city playgrounds there.  Most memorably, around the corner from my grandparents’ house on Constance Street, there was a corner park with only one play structure: a giant pole with a bunch of red ropes stretching out and anchored into the ground supporting a large net of more ropes for climbing.  In my memory, this structure was enormously tall and perpetually full of kids all trying to get to the top.

Mushroom and BalletBoy climbing across the bridge.

I’m sure there are many more of these out there, but until I spotted this one in Baltimore, the only place where I had seen another one of these climbing structures was during our trip to Paris a couple years ago.  At the time, the kids were slightly too small to fully partake in them.  The ones we saw there were also much, much more grand in scale than this one.  They were closer to my memory of the one in New Orleans.  As a single play structure, I think the design is just brilliant.  This one has a bridge between the two towers, where kids can hang upside down and edge along.  There are a million different ways to get caught inside the ropes and make your way to the top.

Race you to the top!

This one isn’t that tall, but I was still slightly amazed to see it.  After all, those gaps you use to climb the rope are plenty big enough to fall through.  A kid could absolutely do a dive off the top and get tangled in the ropes below before falling and breaking his arm or leg.  This play structure doesn’t have the risk completely taken out of it.  I don’t think it’s actually dangerous at all, mind you.  I just think risk, or at least perceived risk, has homogenized and dumbed down most of our playgrounds.  If you want to see some slightly more creative thoughts on what playgrounds could be, I highly recommend the blog Playscapes, which is full of some fascinating stuff, mostly from Europe, unfortunately.

All the proper experts tell us how essential play is in brain development in young children.  Kids will always find ways to play, even without any playgrounds (or creeks or barns, at that).  However, I really dream of playgrounds with better design and especially with more varied design.  It would be nice if playgrounds didn’t all fit into one of just a couple different molds.