Thursday, October 21, 2010

Nature As Playground (and School)

I obviously focus on formal play structures at this site, not for any philosophical reasons, really, other than that's what I'm interested in and that's primarily what the playgrounds in my neck of the woods (or deserts) have to offer.

But that doesn't mean I'm against much more informal play areas such as, well, other necks of the woods.  ("Necks of the wood?"  Hm.)  Some of my favorite play memories of my own youth aren't playground-related, they're play-in-the-woods-related.  (Though some are, too.)

It's not much a surprise to me that Vashon Island, Washington, whose Ober Park playground's secret weapon is an open grassy area surrounded by trees, is also home to a "nature preschool," the Cedarsong Nature School.  The mission of the school is "to provide opportunities for direct experience with nature."  In other words, it's to play outside.  Says the description for the preschool program, "Your child is invited to join us in running through the forest, discovering and decorating hide-outs, making dreamcatchers and musical instruments, creating magic wands and magic potions, learning about the plants, creating a unique nature journal, playing make believe, making up forest songs and dances, and telling stories around a campfire."

While they might be able to handle make-believe, somehow I don't think the Kompan or Rainbow systems would handle a campfire very well.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Review: Thorpe Park (Flagstaff, Arizona)

For those of us unable to afford (or not wanting to spend the time driving to) a summer trip to San Diego, Flagstaff is the next best thing for Valley residents.  At an elevation of well over a mile, it's usually a good 25 to 30 degrees cooler than the Phoenix area, and it's only a 2-hour drive from central Phoenix.  At the intersection of Interstates 40 and 17, and as the gateway to the Grand Canyon (not to mention the old Route 66 running right through it), it also gets a fair amount of out-of-state travelers' traffic.

The best playground in town is Thorpe Park.  It's just west of downtown (which is about a 5-minute drive north of I-40) and has a wide variety of play structures for a wide variety of ages.  There's a sizeable older-kids bulbous play structure, with a smaller, slightly-less bulbous play structure for the younger kids a couple hundred feet away (both in sand or wood chips, I forget which).  There are also separate bouncy/springy metal animal sit-upons, as well as a much older metal jungle gym in the shape of a fire truck.  So it's got a fair amount of play structures, not to mention a decent amount of grassy area.

If there's any distinguishing feature of the park, it's a bank of about 10 swings that sits on the western edge of the play area.  The play area gently slopes down to the eastern edge where the play structures are, so that when you're swinging high, it gives you a bit of a feeling of swinging over downtown Flagstaff.  It's a great swing area.

It's been a couple years since we've gone to the playground, so I don't have any decent pictures, but you can view some pictures here.  In addition to the play structures and swings, it's surrounded by pines on the western side and there are some places to hike nearby if your family is looking for some more back-to-nature play.

This is a nice little park, and if your kids need some playground time, either because Phoenix is too darn hot or because they've been in the car for 6 hours, Thorpe Park will be a nice diversion.


What: Thorpe Park Playground
Where: 191 N. Thorpe Rd. / Flagstaff, AZ (map)
Parking: Parking lot and street parking.  Not sure about public transportation.
Amenities: Restrooms, some shade from the pine trees, but not as shady as you might like from intense high-altitude sun.  Downtown Flagstaff is maybe a half-mile to a mile away.
Bottom Line: Best playground in Flagstaff.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

David Rockwell and Imagination Playground in the New York Times

There's more than enough coverage on Imagination Playground, designed David Rockwell's re-imagining of adventure playgrounds for the 21st century.  But I figured I'd add to the chorus.

Rockwell penned (ink-ed?) an "Op-Chart" for The New York Times this past weekend.  The chart, rendered in reassuring architect-style (I'm sure there's a technical term for it, but I'm not an architect), is essentially a different rendering of the "standard" imagination playground in a box.  While the concept of the chart is a little cheesy -- it looks nothing like a typical architectural rendering, because that's the point -- it is effective and gets Rockwell's point across:
In creating the Imagination Playground in Lower Manhattan — a playground with lots of loose parts for children to create their own play spaces — we realized that many of the elements with the greatest value to children were inexpensive and portable.
At 10 grand (or probably less a set), I wonder how long it is before wealthy parents start buying them for their kids.  When you think about it, if you're willing to put in a pool at $25,000, what's another $8,000 for some play blocks?  (Not my league, though.)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Irvine's Adventure Playground Needs a Bulldozer

OK, that's a misleading headline.  Somebody might read that and think I'm really proposing the demolition of Irvine, CA's Adventure Playground.  The playground looks more like a vacant lot than a fancy new playground with brightly colored equipment, but that's the point, really.  With mud, fort-like structures, movable parts, rope bridges, and the like, it sounds very much like a playground for creativity, an Imagination Playground on the cheap (not to mention more than 60 years ahead of its time, since the concept's been floating around since the 1940s).

Now there are moves afoot to tear down the playground, which has led supporters in the community to create their own Defend Adventure Playground website.  (I particularly appreciate the seige mentality implied by the use of the verb "defend.")

I'm not going to get into who's right and who's wrong here -- I've seen more than enough of these situations to know that it's very gray, not black and white, and even if you disagree, it's often a matter of perspective.  (I'll also note that it's not exactly a new issue.)

But I do wish that they had one of these near us.  There are just 3 (and since AP's been closed for a couple summers, just 2) of these in the US, as opposed to a thousand or so in Europe.  Wouldn't it be cool to see your kids tromp through the mud, construct a fort (repeatedly), and cross a rope bridge?  Maybe even -- we can dream, right? -- pretend to operate a bulldozer?

(Hat tip: KaBOOM!)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Review: Kachina Park (Phoenix, AZ)

Kachina Park is a little neighborhood park in a part of Phoenix I like to call "Arkadia with a 'K'." That's because it's adjacent to but not formally part of the (comparatively) swanky Arcadia neighborhood, even though people -- and realtors -- who do live there describe themselves as living in Arcadia.  (I say that with affection because I used to live in a couple different parts of "Arkadia with a 'K'.")

The park itself has some room for running, a meandering path, and a fair number of reasonably mature trees.  It also has a playground, one that Miss Mary Mack remembered for something called "the wheel."


No, "the wheel" was not some sort of medieval torture device.  It was just that wheel thingy above, maybe 2 1/2 feet in diameter and about 6 feet off the ground.  If a kid leans off the adjacent platform, they can grab a hold and make almost one full rotation.  Miss Mary Mack had lots of fun on it... for maybe a couple minutes, then moved on.

Luckily, there were a couple other kids there on what proved to be a record-setting day heat-wise in Phoenix (111 degrees, woo!) so that Miss Mary Mack could play with (and show off to) other kids.  I suspect the park has more kids on days when the heat isn't quite so bad.  Also luckily, the main (big-kid) playground structure had a shade structure which somewhat helped.  (As a parent, I eventually excused myself to the shade of one of the trees lining the perimeter of the play area.)  There's nothing particular noteworthy about the play area itself -- it has the typical big-kid/small-kid play structure dichotomy with 2 toddler and 2 preschool swings.  There's sand, but part of the big-kid structure is wheelchair-accessible via that slightly springy surface stuff.  I wouldn't describe the park as having a surplus of shade and shaded-seating, but compared to a lot of other Phoenix-area parks, it does just fine.

There's no reason to visit this park if you're more than 15 minutes away because you almost certainly have a playground that provides a similar experience closer to you.  Still, it might be enough to make your kids smile.


What: Kachina Park Playground
Where: 42nd St. & E. Campbell Ave. / Phoenix, AZ 85018 (?) (map)
Parking: Street parking (but not a problem).  Bus serves 44th St. and probably (occasionally) Campbell Ave. itself.
Amenities: No restrooms, some shade from the trees, ramadas. Ground zero for the LGO folks (La Grande Orange, Postino) is a quarter-mile away.  That's pretty close for a Phoenix parks amenity.
Bottom Line: Nice, but for locals only.  (And perhaps those waiting for a seat at the LGO places.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Richard Scarry's Playground

I've enjoyed dipping into Richard Scarry books as a parent.  More so than possibly any author, I think Scarry's work was more diffused into American kids' memories of a certain time and age.  This book is my wife's from when she was a child, but I had a copy as well.

What's interesting to me as I scan what Scarry chose to include in his "At the Playground" set of pages above is that fixed playground equipment isn't the primary focus.  Sure we see classics like seesaws, slides, swings, merry-go-rounds, jungle gyms, and sandboxes, but just 15 of the 36 animals on the page are using those features.  I would hazard a guess to say that the ratio for the best playgrounds is somewhat similar.  If the kids are just using the fixed features, I tend to think that the kids will move on to playgrounds when they (and their caregivers) find something new.

Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever (Golden Bestsellers Series) [Amazon Associates link]

Friday, September 17, 2010

Songs for Playgrounds

Here's a list I originally posted at Zooglobble, my family music website.  It's a list of kids music songs that relate to playgrounds, some quite clearly, some more tenuously...

IMG_3543.jpgI know that with Labor Day coming up and schools back in session, many areas of the country may see a decrease their use of playgrounds, but in the desert climates of Arizona, Labor Day means that the first month of school is in the books and it's possible to use playgrounds after 9:30 in the morning. So playground usage actually goes up 'round here.

In honor of this fact, and celebrating playgrounds generally, here's a list of playground and play-inspired songs. Or songs from play-inspired albums. Or songs from albums with "playground" in the name (excluding Putumayo Kids).

Humungous Tree - Barenaked Ladies (Snack Time!)
Multiplication Treehouse - Duplex (Ablum)
Jungle Gym - Jack Johnson Feat. G. Love (Sing-A-Longs & Lullabies For The Film Curious George)
Sign My Cast - Justin Roberts (Jungle Gym)
Hopping And Sliding - Music Together (Bells)
Water Balloon - The Okee Dokee Brothers (Take It Outside)
My Trampoline - Peter Himmelman (My Trampoline)
How Fast Can You Run? - The Quiet Two (Make Some Noise)
Playground - Ralph Covert (The Amazing Adventures Of Kid Astro)
Treehouse Orchestra - Ralph Covert (The Amazing Adventures Of Kid Astro)
The Great Outdoors - Ralph's World (All Around Ralph's World)
Swingset - Ralph's World (Green Gorilla, Monster & Me)
Ice Pack - Recess Monkey (Field Trip)
The Sandbox Song - Recess Monkey (Tabby Road)
Playground - Rocknoceros (Pink!)
Playground!!! - Roy Handy & the Moonshot ((I'm Gonna Be) Your Best Friend)
Little Sally Walker - Suni Paz (Songs For The Playground)
Playground - The Terrible Twos (Jerzy The Giant)
Ooh La! Ooh La! - They Might Be Giants (Here Come the 123s!)
The Bare Necessities - Tony Bennett (The Playground)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Day of Play... or Something Like That

All I ask, when I hear about a day for something, is that people agree on what that day is and what it should be called.  KaBOOM! calls it 2010 Play Day, but is sort of vague on when it is (it would appear to be this weekend through next weekend, Sept, 25th).  It's basically a day (held in conjunction with National Public Lands Day) designed to encourage people to play outside and maybe help spruce up a playground or park.

Nickelodeon and its sibling channels and websites, on the other hand, have a similiar in concept (but apparently unrelated) day called the Worldwide Day of Play, which is scheduled for Sept. 25th.  On that Saturday, the channel will, in PR terms, "empower kids to get up and get active when its TV channels and websites go off the air and offline."  (From noon 'til 3 PM, screens will go dark, with a message encouraging folks to go outside and play.)

I get the purpose of the days, although the idea that Nick would be promoting turning off the TV set and computer makes about as much sense to me as REI telling people to stay at home and watch Two and a Half Men.  And I'm not going to make the argument that "every day should be a day of play," because that's not the point here -- they want a single day to raise visibility.

The problem is that it's probably still not visible enough.  National Public Lands Day is a (relatively) big deal 'round these parts, but there doesn't appear to be a single Play Day event in the Phoenix area.  Maybe it's more visible elsewhere, and if it is, good on them.  But there's room for improvement, no doubt.

As for me, I think I'm going to a playground on Saturday.  And it has nothing to do with this.  Perhaps I'll ask if others are aware what day it is...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Review: Lincoln Park Playground (West Seattle, WA)

You know, I don't really remember much about the climbing structures at the southern end of West Seattle's Lincoln Park.  There were a couple, I think, one for the big kids, one for the small.  They weren't new or old, flashy or rundown.  They were just... there.  Really, they're fine, and I'm sure for the single-digit-aged residents of West Seattle, it's a playground that gets lots of use.  And the park itself is lovely, with a seawall providing the bikers and joggers and walkers lovely westward views of Puget Sound and lots of tall trees -- it seems to be the closest Seattle gets to Vancouver's Stanley Park.

What I want to talk about is the zip line.

I'm used to zip lines that are basically metal handles in a grooved metal track that's about 6-10 feet long (and maybe 6 feet off the ground).  Kids hang on, and if you're old enough you generate enough momentum when you jump to make it to the other end of the zip line.  Kids seem to like them enough, but as a parent it requires a lot of attention for the little ones who need to be pushed (that could be done by other kids) or want to do it even though they don't have the hanging arm strength.

It's possible that there are other zip lines like Lincoln Park's (right next to the playground), but I've never seen 'em.  The line itself is maybe 25 feet off the ground, and runs maybe 50 feet in length.  Suspended from the line is a rope swing whose seat is maybe 3 feet off the ground as you're zipping down the line.  You get on the platform (top picture) and the downward slope of the line gets you going in a fast (but not unreasonably so) manner down to the other end, where a big tire at the zip line puts a stop to your movement, flipping you at a 45-to-90-degree angle to the ground and sending you back up the line a little.

We spent a good hour there at the zip line with Miss Mary Mack, Little Boy Blue, and a couple of our local friends' kids.  Miss Mary Mack loved it -- she and our friends' kids spent time rating each others' runs down the line.  I went on a few runs with Little Boy Blue, but he was also able to do it himself.  It requires kids to cooperate (because it's hard to get on the swing at the top without somebody steadying it), it has some danger (but not too much), and gives kids a sensation they don't normally get, that of flying.

I'm not sure the zip line is so awesome that I'd recommend making it a part of a Seattle visit.  But I'm not so sure that I wouldn't recommend it, either.

What: Lincoln Park Playground
Where: 8011 Fauntleroy Way SW / Seattle, WA 98136 (map)
Parking: A couple lots, one bigger, one smaller.  Look like they often get packed.  Also served by bus.
Amenities: Rustic bathrooms down the hill, a bunch of shade from the trees, ramadas.  The playground and zip line are dug in a bit, surrounded by ledges, so decent places to sit.  No services nearby (unless you count the ferry).
Bottom Line: Zip line!  Zip line!  Zip line!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Rebecca Mead on Playgrounds

This website's focus thus far has been on reviews of actual playgrounds, and not so much playground theory.  I think that someone will have a pretty good idea pretty quickly of what makes a good playground, at least in part.  (For example, shade.  Benches.  Funky stuff.)

If you're enmeshed in the world of playground design, you certainly were aware of Rebecca Mead's article in the New Yorker a couple months ago.  She spent a lot of time talking about the recently-opened Imagination Playground at Burling Slip in South Street Seaport in New York City.  The basic conceit of Imagination Playground is not fixed equipment but rather movable pieces -- to me they sound like foam blocks on steroids.  She also spends a lot of time talking about how kids use playgrounds in ways their designers never intended.

If you're not enmeshed in the world of playground design and aren't a New Yorker subscriber, it's not so interesting that I'd recommend that you track down the article (though it's certainly a pleasant read).  In lieu of reading the article, I'd recommend listening to the podcast of maybe 15 minutes or so, which you can do so here.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Review: Royal Palm Park (Phoenix, AZ)

Royal Palm Park is sometimes known as Butler Park (its northern boundary is Butler Dr.).  But it turns out there's another Butler Park as well (though that one's in Glendale).  So perhaps it's just an attempt to avoid a wacky mistaken-identity movie. Or maybe not.

Well, assuming you can find your way here (southeast of 15th Avenue and Butler Dr.), Royal Palm Park is a decent little neighborhood playground.  Remodeled fairly recently (2008, maybe?), it features a fairly large L-shaped climbing structure for the big kids and a smaller separate structure for the preschoolers.  There are a couple swings apiece for the big kids and toddlers, plus a couple springy sit-upons, all of which are placed amongst a large expanse of sand with little to no shade.  If there wasn't a nice tree in the northeast corner of the play area, it'd be virtually devoid of shade -- unsurprisingly, it's that corner of the area that gets most of the sand play.

In fact, if I had to come up with one distinguishing characteristic it's that kids seem to do a little more imaginative play here.  There's a play "snack stand" and all the shade and sand under the play structures (and tree) seem to be filled with kids digging and pretending.  Which is a good thing.  The only other distinguishing characteristic I can think of is that the rest of the park is basically one big L-shaped patch of land that lends itself to dogs playing.  Not really sure why, but I see plenty of dogs here, at least more so than I do at other parks.  I've even seen dog training classes here.

So there's relatively little reason to visit this park if you're from out of town, or even a different Valley city.  But it's part of our regular rotation.


What: Royal Palm Park
Where: 15th Avenue and Butler / Phoenix, AZ (
Parking: Parking lot of sufficient size.  I think it's served by bus.
Amenities: No bathroom, little shade, steps for sitting on. Also, in a neighborhood, so no services nearby.  Now that I write that, I'm wondering why we spend as much time here as we do.  Maybe because there are always kids here.
Bottom Line: Perfectly fine neighborhood park and playground.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Review: Ober Park Playground (Vashon Island, WA - Seattle)

I wasn't particularly expecting a fancy playground when we visited Seattle's Vashon Island.  It's semi-rural, and though there are plenty of nice cars driving off of and onto the ferry from West Seattle, it's also an island without a traffic light.  But Ober Park is a sweet little spot, definitely worth some of your time regardless of whether you're a resident or an interloper.  The park is tucked behind the library along the main north-south route that leads from the (northern) ferry terminal, just north of the main downtown (such as it is) intersection.

It's a decent assortment of new-ish climbing and play structures scattered amongst wood chips.  There's a big tire swing, a really tall slide, monkey bars that are crooked, the modern Kompan take on the spinning wheel...

There are a few swings (two big, two toddler, I think? maybe three of each), and while the two primary climbing structures still have the age division thing going on, for whatever reason it doesn't feel quite as forced as it does on other playgrounds.  There are a couple benches and walls for sitting on, bathrooms inside the library (I think), plus you're within a short walk of a small coffee/hot chocolate stand.

But the secret weapon of this playground is the little valley just north of the playground itself.  A gentle slope down into a grassy, amphitheatre-type setting surrounded by trees.  It kept our kids amused running up and down playing with other kids for a good hour, probably longer than the time they spent on the actual playground.  It's proof again that playgrounds aren't just structures, but any play space that allows for play.

I don't think Ober Park playground is reason by itself to visit Vashon Island, but as neighborhood playgrounds go, it's nearly perfect.
What: Ober Park Playground
Where: 17130 Vashon Highway SW, Vashon Island (map)
Parking: A relatively small parking lot shared with the community center and library.  We didn't have trouble finding a spot, but the lot was always more than half full.  Not sure of its public transportation accessibility, but seeing as it's next to the community center on the island's main road, I can't believe it's not bus-accessible.
Amenities: Drinks/food within walking distance.  Bathrooms inside the community center; I think there was a portajohn, too.  Also, trees.  Lots of really tall trees.
Bottom Line: This is a great little playground, definitely worth your time if you visit the Island.  (And if you live there, you're probably there weekly.)


Friday, September 3, 2010

Review: Balboa Park Pepper Grove Discovery Playground (San Diego, CA)

Until I spent a few years in the Valley of the Sun, I didn't quite understand the allure of San Diego.  But now that I'm a long time resident, I more fully appreciate the charms of the city.  And by "charms," I mean "sub-80-degree summer afternoons."  We don't make San Diego an annual trip like many folks here do, but we've gone a couple times, and playgrounds have been a key component of our trips there.

One of our favorite is Balboa Park's main playground, which, according to the park's blog, is officially called the Pepper Grove Discovery Playground.  It's on the southern end of the massive park, south of the Fleet Science Center, west of Park Boulevard.

As you can see from the pictures here and in the links above, there is nothing particularly special about the equipment itself.  There are a few swings, some updated and bulbous but not wow-able climbing equipment on rubberized surface, and some spring-y and scoop-y ride vehicles on sand.  There is also -- and I'm sorry I don't have a picture of this -- an egg-like chair that spins round and round.  The adult in me nearly throws up just thinking about it, but the kids of course love it.  It'd be a pretty good neighborhood playground.

The distinguishing reason to visit is the presence of all those trees lining the playground.  Those pepper trees provide lovely shade for when the mid-afternoon sun gets a little too intense to hang out on the playground itself (which is pretty devoid of shade or seating).  There are trees aplenty, so even if the playground gets a bit crowded (which it definitely can), you'll still likely be able to find a spot to hang out and have a snack or a whole picnic.  You'll be more likely to find a spot under the trees than you will a parking spot in the adjacent parking lot (you're more likely to find space a fifth-mile or so south on Park Boulevard).  There are bathrooms right there, but if you need snacks, a 10-minute stroll up the hill to the main part of Balboa Park (El Prado) will suit your needs nicely.

I can't say that this should be your first stop at Balboa Park, one of America's great parks.  But if you're going there, and your kids need some unstructured play time, it might be the best.

What: Balboa Park (Pepper Grove Discovery) Playground
Where: Balboa Park, San Diego, California, 92101 (map)
Parking: Parking lots adjacent to park, free, but can get full with Fleet Science Center and other visitors; street parking along Park Boulevard; big shuttle lot further south on Park served by free trams.  Served by bus.
Amenities: There's a bathroom of passable quality.
Bottom Line: You're in San Diego, playing on a playground on (probably) a beautiful day.  What could be wrong?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Review: Granada Park (Phoenix, AZ)

There are few parks in this world that couldn't be improved by the presence of ducks.  Geese, I'm no so sure about, but ducks are guaranteed kid-pleaser.  It's the primary reason, I think, why we return to Granada Park in north-central(-ish) Phoenix.
Bring three or four slices of bread, and your children are amused for at least ten minutes. The ducks are well accustomed to the public feedings, and they start swimming to the shore of the lower pond long before you actually reach the shore of the pond.

But this isn't DuckMapped, it's PlayMapped, so eventually we make our way across the bridge separating the lower and upper pond up to the playground.  It is, like many playgrounds in the city of Phoenix, filled with playground equipment from Miracle Recreation Equipment.  Unlike playground equipment in other parts of the country, our equipment in the Valley of the Sun tends to feature drab colors -- they're going to fade anyway, so why do a rainbow of colors?  The playground got an overhaul in, what, 2008, maybe?  It features the standard big kids' set, small kids' set, swings (four toddler, four big kid) and a climbing wall.

I've always like these two playground features.  On the left, those tethered mushrooms require more balance and dexterity than you would otherwise expect -- I keep encouraging Little Boy Blue but he doesn't like them so much.  And I find the "rock climbing slide" pure genius.  Not that it stops kids from climbing up the other slides (or from sliding down this one), but at least it's a novel idea (or was at one point).  Also, there's sand.  The suburbs seem to prefer the bouncy play surfaces, but Phoenix, they like the sand.  (Even now, they rake it in the morning, like it's some massive sand trap.)

For parents, it's not a perfect park.  Insufficient shade and seating are the primary culprits, and even in winter when it's not so hot, that lack of shade and seating are an annoyance (many of prefer to just sit under the trees nearby the playground).  It's a neighborhood playground, but it is less than a mile drive off of a major freeway artery, so it's not a bad choice if you're passing through.  The park gets crowded on pretty Phoenix days, though.

But as playground parks go, it's a perfectly nice one.  Just remember to bring some bread.

What: Granada Park
Where: 6505 N. 20th St. / Phoenix, AZ 85016 (map)
Parking: Parking lots adjacent to park, free; street parking along the park when lots are full (which they often get to be).  Served by bus.
Amenities: There's a bathroom, but it's of barely passable quality.  Also, in a neighborhood, so no services nearby.
Bottom Line: Relatively new playground equipment, so-so shade.  But did I mention the ducks?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Review: Rio Vista Community Park (Peoria, AZ)

Ah, the suburbs.  So very far away.  But also blessed with space and (at least in years past) sufficient tax revenue to meet the desires of their often family-focused residents for play areas.  So as we were planning to head out to Peoria for an unrelated reason recently, we decided to stop by Rio Vista Community Park.

The park is clearly one of Peoria's most important (if not the most important) parks.  It's got a community center, ball fields, a splash pad, ramadas aplenty, and a river running through it all.  Really.

But let's talk about the playground itself.  There's a lot of different types of play equipment, as you can see from the pictures here.  The big primary-colored (and age-segregated) play structures.  The (comparatively) odd Kompan structure next to it.  A small rock-climbing wall next to it.  Swings (four for the big kids, four for the small).  A couple big corkscrew slides.  Stonehenge.  Swinging steering wheels.  A metal rocketship (not pictured).

In other words, there are lots of different play structures.  None that were particularly new to me, but many that I hadn't seen all collected in one play area.

Seriously, who decides that they need Stonehenge (not quite 18 inches in height, but not 18 feet tall, either) right next to the purple balancing mushrooms?  Those spinning wheels would be kinda cool for older kids; the spiral slide was more spirally than most -- you could get multiple static electricity shocks coming down that one.

Now, we were there on an overcast day during the week after K-12 schools had started, so it was a lot less crowded (and perhaps more pleasant) than it would have been otherwise. One of the big drawbacks to the playground is that while the structures are (partially) shaded, there are few trees and places for the parents to sit.  The large number of ramadas would fill that purpose if it's empty, but on spring weekend afternoons, I bet the place is absolutely packed.

In the end, the playground is a really nice (if a bit oddball) collection of relatively new equipment, and if we lived nearby, I bet we'd visit quite a bit.  If you're passing through Phoenix (say, on your way to LA from Northern Arizona), it's definitely worth the stop if you need a playground break.  It's a suburban playground, and I mean that in the best sense of the word.

What: Rio Vista Community Park
Where: 8866-A W. Thunderbird Rd / Peoria, AZ 85345 (map)
Parking: Parking lots adjacent to playgrounds, free.  Park and community center likely served by bus.
Amenities: Well, the community center looks nice from the outside.  And there's a bathroom.  But if you're thinking of, you know, food... bring your own.
Bottom Line: Lots of playground equipment, a fair amount of shade, and lots of picnic tables.  On an uncrowded day, it's fabulous.  Crowded day?  Hmm....

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Seeking Playground Reviews

As I noted earlier, I'd like to make this site a listing of high-quality playgrounds across the country, with reviews so that folks can find descriptions of great playgrounds, be they a 10-minute walk or 2-day roadtrip away.

My first two reviews, for example, are for playgrounds which aren't even in the same state as the one in which in we reside.  I'll get to playgrounds closer to home, eventually, but would like this site to be, if not comprehensive -- listings of tens of thousands of playgrounds would be unwieldy, frankly -- at least broad-based.

And that's where you come in.  I'll never be able to touch on more than a few dozen playgrounds (if that many), but I know I have friends and readers all across the country (even some internationally), and if each of them wrote just one or two reviews, this would become a very interesting (and useful) site for all involved.

I don't have the site set up, wiki-style, to allow you to enter your own reviews, so you'll need to e-mail them to me at playmapped AT gmail DOT com (I think you can figure out how to make that a real e-mail address).

What am I looking for in reviews?  Well, you can look at the other reviews to get a general sense, but I'm pretty open.  I just want reviews where the reader can get a good sense of the playground's highlights (and lowlights) for kids, along with any relevant info for the adults to help them evaluate how easy (or hard) the outing will be, logistically.  I would like, if possible, all the reviews to include the summary info found at the bottom of each review under "Details":  What [park/playground name], Where [address, along with Google/Mapquest map link], Parking: [Street/lot/pay/public transportation if any], Amenities [Anything else that would positively or negatively affect the overall experience], and Bottom Line [pretty self-explanatory, that one].  If you don't submit those, I'll probably write them myself based on the information in the rest of the review, but it'd be easier for me if you did it.

Pictures are great, but not required.  And I'm happy to provide a link back to whatever website you'd like to link to, along with any introduction you'd like to provide, if you'd like to do so.

Finally, and I swear this is as legalese as I'll get around here -- I reserve the right to edit or not publish a review for any reason (I can't imagine that this would be a problem, but just in case) and submission of a review constitutes your granting of a permanent non-exclusive copyright to me of your text and pictures.

So, I hope you'll help make this site a useful one for the millions of families across the country for whom play is important.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Review: Ella Bailey Playground (Seattle, WA)

In our quest for nice playgrounds in Seattle, we had been told that Ella Bailey Park in the Magnolia neighborhood northwest of downtown Seattle had great climbing structures and an awesome view of the city.  (Others are similarly enthusiastic.) And maybe Seattle residents might not care about looking at their downtown repeatedly, but visitors?  With new structures?  Oh, yeah, we were there.

We quite liked the park (we went just with Little Boy Blue as Miss Mary Mack stayed at our hosts' house playing with her friends there).  The structures are new (installed in 2007 according to the park's website) and are from Kompan.  There are 4 different climbing structures, roughly ordered in age-appropriateness.  I was particularly struck by the design of this ladder here on the "oldest" structure.  I don't recall seeing any kids climbing on it during our time here, though.  There's a curvy slide that Little Boy Blue enjoyed, and a lot of other features/design notes on the structures.

In addition to the structures shown in the pictures, there's a tire swing (tire swings seem to be particularly popular in the Pacific Northwest) a couple half-basketball courts, a wide-wide open field of grass, and a porta-pottie.  In other words, this very much feels like a neighborhood park.

A park, I might add, with an awesome view of downtown Seattle.  There are less than a handful of regular swings, which seems to me a waste of vista.  I wish there were a whole bank of swings facing south so that on a clear day kids (and their parents) could swing right at Mount Rainier.

The park was reasonably crowded on a summer weekday morning, and I bet it gets packed on weekends.  With good reason.  It's a clean and lovely place to while away an hour or two with your family, regardless of whether you live in Seattle year-round or are visiting just for a couple days.

What: Ella Bailey Playground
Where: 2601 W Smith St / Seattle, WA 98134 (map)
Parking: Street parking, free.  Neighborhood likely served by bus.
Amenities: In the middle of a residential neighborhood. Just one porta-pottie and virtually no shade.  So even if you'd like to spend 4 hours here, you probably shouldn't.
Bottom Line: Beautiful Seattle views, new playground equipment, and a big field for running around in.  You will likely be jealous.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Review: Marshall Community Park (Vancouver, WA - Portland, OR region)

Marshall Community Park in Vancouver, Washington (just off I-5 and across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon) is a big park filled with tall trees.  Perfect for a summer day, right?  It's next to the Marshall Community Center and stretches across the street.  Lots of wide fields for running around.

But our friends brought us here for the playground, which was apparently constructed in 2006.   As you can see, it's a pretty big play structure, with slides, bridges, etc.  It's almost too big -- typically structures like this are split into two, one for the pre-K kids, one for the gradeschoolers, but there's no differentiation here, so there points at which we couldn't see our kids, which doesn't happen typically at most playgrounds our family explores.

In addition to the more standard stuff on the playset, one kinda component was a chain-link bridge of about 8 feet in length so that someone could practice inching their way across, either with or without the chainlink handrails to aid in their balance.  The playground also featured a very small fire-station like play area for the wee ones, those tire/pole things in the foreground, a weaksauce swing set (4 full-size, 2 toddler-size), and a set of monkey bars that mimic bridges, reaching an eventual height of about 8 feet, high enough to make even me a bit cautious as I tried my hand traversing the thing.

The set looks a little empty, and it certainly was when got there on summer Friday morning.  It did fill up, however, as the morning progressed and summer camps from the community center stopped by to run around.

There's nothing particularly special about this playground, and so it might strike you as an odd choice for the debut review here.  But I think a lot of playgrounds are in this "decent-to-good" range, and so why not start out with it?

What: Marshall Community Park
Where: 1015 E. McLoughlin / Vancouver, WA 98663 (map)
Parking: On-site, free; being next to a community center, I'm sure it's on a bus line, too.
Amenities: The community center is a good place to get an ice pack if a certain child of yours stumbles and whacks the back of his head on part of the structure.  Just sayin'.  But there aren't other stores, restaurants, etc., nearby.
Bottom Line: I'm sure there are nicer parks/playgrounds in Portland proper if you're in the area.  But this is a nice, big suburban playground if you're spending some time in the Vancouver area or passing through on your way to or from Seattle.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Why PlayMapped?

When our daughter (known here as Miss Mary Mack) was about 3 years old, we went on a family vacation to San Diego.  Our big "splurge" day was a trip to Legoland.  It was not the perfect day at a Southern California amusement park -- she cried, was a bit timid, and, well, none of us had a lot of fun.

Except at the playground.  We spent well over $100 for a day at Legoland, and all our daughter wanted to do was play at the playground.  If I had known that, I could've easily saved $100 and a day's worth of aggravation.

Ever since then, our vacations, both near and far, have tried to include at least one trip to a playground.  And we've generally found that our times at playgrounds have been among the most enjoyable parts of our trips.  Miss Mary Mack and her younger brother (Little Boy Blue) have fun, we the parents get a break, and we also get the experience of seeing what is typically a non-touristy part of a location -- we all get a better feel for the place.

And that place can even be down the street in our own hometown.  There is value in visiting playgrounds in our own spread-out city, seeing different kids and families, trying new things.

So, yeah, playgrounds = good.

The problem is trying to find good playgrounds.  There is the occasional weblink to an article listing the best playgrounds in a particular city or region, but the usefulness is mixed -- sometimes the articles are out-of-date, they often lack pictures, and for an outsider looking in, it's often impossible to figure out exactly where this awesome playground with the 3-story-tall slide is.

So this is my small attempt to solve that problem.  I want to review playgrounds, not just from my city, but from all around the country.  I want to talk about what I as a parent enjoy in playgrounds for my kids (as opposed to the viewpoint of the playground designer, which is also important, but not my focus given my total lack of formal education in the subject).  And I want this to be comprehensive, so that playgrounds from all around the country get their time in the sun.

How that's all going to work will be revealed here shortly.  For the moment, though, thanks for stopping by, hope to see you again soon.

Monday, August 9, 2010


Welcome to PlayMapped, my attempt to help families around the country find awesome playgrounds for their kids.  I'll be providing some more background on the project in coming days, but if you're looking for information on the country's best playgrounds, I hope you'll find this site a helpful resource.