What makes a truly great playground? Ask an adult and you’ll get one perspective. Ask a preschooler and you’ll get another. Ask a tween and you’ll get another totally different answer. That was my experience this summer, as the kids and I participated in the KaBOOM! Park-a-Day Challenge.
While we came nowhere near visiting a park a day, we hit at least one playground a week. In that respect, it wasn’t really a challenge for us. I’ve always believed that kids need time and space to run, jump, slide and climb, so we tend to make playgrounds a part of our routine. We’re also lucky to live in a fairly affluent suburb of Indianapolis. Our town, Fishers, has even been designated a Playful City, meaning the town has made spaces to play a priority in its planning. In short, we have lots of options.
The challenge this summer was to really pay attention to the playspaces around us. On one hand, we were helping KaBOOM! by adding information to their Map of Play. More importantly, though, we were evaluating with a closer eye what makes one playground a hit with the kids and what makes another playground boring.
Is that important? I think it is. Most families I know don’t live on sprawling acres where their kids can run out the door and roam free. If we want our kids to stretch their limbs, we take them somewhere. And if we’re going to make that effort to get them out, why not take them somewhere that will really get their minds and bodies stimulated? Trust me, we’ve been to one too many cookie-cutter playgrounds where Elena and Eli (especially Elena) will give each piece of equipment a half-hearted try before they put all their pent-up energy into whining that they’re bored.
Here’s the thing that we learned this summer: a playground doesn’t have to be brand-new or super-fancy to be fun. It just has to have that one special element that makes it challenging or enticing to a kid’s mind. So without further adieu, here are out Top 5 NE Indianapolis Playgrounds and what makes them special:
1. Cyntheanne Park (12383 Cyntheanne Road, Fishers)
Also known as “The Dangerous Park” to my kids, which probably causes everyone over at Fishers Parks & Rec to cringe. No, it’s not truly dangerous, but it is innovative. It’s unlike any other playground I’ve ever seen, and that’s what makes it special. Nearly every piece challenges little bodies in ways they’re not accustomed, and several pieces involve an element of risk. I love that, especially as a parent of an older kid. One of the best ways for kids to learn what they are and aren’t capable of is by trying something and failing (or in this case, falling). They’re not as fragile as you think. Give them space to figure that out.
2. Oaklandon Play Park (11828 E. 65th Street, Indianapolis)
The one and only wooden playground we’ve found in Indianapolis (if there are others let me know!). This just goes to show that a playground doesn’t have to be all new and shiny to be awesome. Both Eli and Elena loved this one, and it’s not easy to get them to agree on what makes a great playground. There are tons of nooks, crannies and tunnels, making it a perfect place for a good game of hide-and-seek. Eli loved that there were monkey bars and rings that he could actually reach without help. An added bonus? The park sits next to train tracks that see a good amount of traffic. If you’re lucky, one will go by while you’re there and your little train-lover will declare it the Best Playground Ever.
3. Founders Park (11675 Hazel Dell Parkway, Carmel)
Okay, this one is new and shiny . . . as in it just opened earlier this month. My kids love this playground because it is a climber’s paradise. Cleverly designed boulders, with fossils and creatures dotting the craggy surfaces, provide different levels of climbing to satisfy the timid to the most fearless of kids. There’s also a sand pit, so be sure to bring some buckets and shovels. Best of all, this playground is fully accessible according to ADA requirements.
4. Brooks School Park (11780 Brooks School Road, Fishers)
Although this park has been in existence for awhile, the playground is all new. The older, cookie-cutter playground was replaced with a fantastic ADA accessible playground. This playground has 3 things going for it that make it a place my kids repeatedly ask to visit. One, it has height. Most kids like the feeling of looking down on the people they’re constantly looking up to. The main play structure goes up 3 levels! There are a variety of ways for the kids to make their way back down, giving them endless combinations of up-and-down play. Two, it has some features that we don’t normally see in a playground, like lots of musical/sensory panels and a sweet climbing/balancing rope. Finally, it’s situated next to a creek. When the kids eventually tire of playing on the equipment, they love stomping around in the creek. Never underestimate what a small piece of nature, whether it’s a hill, a ravine, some rocks or a creek, can do to enhance play.
5. Dr. James A. Dillon Park (6001 Edenshall Lane, Noblesville)
Our list wouldn’t be complete without a spray park (or a “squirty” park as our little friend, Jessie, likes to call them). Sometimes a spray park is the best of both worlds: the kids can get some water play in without all the effort it takes to get them, their suits, the toys and the snacks to the pool. Again, we’re lucky to have quite a few spray parks to choose from, but Dillon Park is our favorite. Why? It has lots shaded places for parents to sit (very, very important and something many playground planners don’t seem to take into consideration), the spray park is large and has lots of room to run, and the adjacent playground is pretty unique. It has a few spinning elements, which my kids love. The experience of spinning just to the point of almost losing your lunch is surely one of the highlights of youth. It also has one of those super tall, stand-alone twisty slides that kids love. You can tell it gives some parents palpitations, which makes it kind of fun for me to watch. Something for everyone!
So there you have it. This has truly been one of the most fun and rewarding activities I’ve done with my kids. Looking at playgrounds with a different eye has given me an appreciation of what it takes to plan a really great playspace. Just because summer is over, we won’t stop playing. I hope to continue visiting new playgrounds, hitting up spots all over town – not just NE Indianapolis – and sharing our favorites with you. You can see all of the photos I took at various playgrounds at Flickr.
Check out KaBOOM’s Map of Play and see what’s near you. Don’t see your favorite playground? Sign up as a KaBOOM! member and add it yourself. The more people that participate in editing the Map of Play, the better resource it will be for everyone. You can even search and add playgrounds while your at the playground, using the Playgrounds! app for iPhone. Now, get out and play!
What’s your favorite playground, and what makes it a winner with your family? On the flip side, what makes a playground a flop?