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.