September 01, 2011 Kerala Taylor

Three takeaways from a summer full of play

For the past eight weeks, our Park-A-Day Summer Challengers have been busy visiting as many parks and playgrounds as they can. By now, they and their children have become local playground authorities, if you will, who can not only recommend the best playgrounds in town, but who can tell you what distinguishes a good playground from a great playground (it's not just about the equipment!) and why some playspaces fall short.

We asked our Challengers what they learned from their park visits that they didn't know before. Here are three notable takeaways:

I can help improve my public parks

Does your local playground need a trash can? A fresh coat of paint to cover up graffiti? Often a good local playground can be made much better with a few small improvements, but it’s up to you to let your city officials know. As seasoned park-goers, our Challengers not only began to notice areas for improvement that could be addressed quickly but took it upon themselves to act. As playparks says:

"Concerning a city park closer to my home, I emailed my city council member about the need to plant more vegetation on the hills surrounding the park to prevent erosion. I also alerted him to some of the illegal activity going on at the parks. I got an immediate response from the council member and our sheriff. There has been much more policing of the park since our email exchange. I think cities want to improve, but sometimes need guidance from their citizens."



Some of the nicest playgrounds aren’t open to the public

There’s nothing more frustrating than a beautiful, gleaming playground—behind a locked fence. Some of our Challengers found themselves unable to access the better playgrounds their hometown has to offer because they are privately owned. This disparity clearly demonstrates the need for more joint-use agreements, which open private playgrounds to the surrounding community during designated hours. It sounds like sashametro might become a strong joint-use advocate in Troy, N.Y.:

"When I started this project, I was looking to find out more about the playgrounds around us in Troy, in order to make a case that there were plenty of playgrounds elsewhere, but none downtown. This was to support our case for a downtown Troy playground. But that wasn't quite what I found. There actually are a fair number of toddler playspaces downtown—the problem is that the nice ones are not open to the public.

This contrast is starkly visibly on Old Sixth Avenue, where the city playground on the east side is arguably the worst playspace in all Troy—and that's saying a lot. Directly across the avenue on the west side, a public non-profit that operates a Head Start program has a gorgeous modern playspace for 2-5 year-olds, but it is behind a fence with no access for anyone but the handful of children enrolled in that program."

Playgrounds need more opportunities for challenge and risk

Our Challengers with children in the 9 to 12-year-old range had a particularly hard time keeping their kids entertained this summer, even on play equipment that claims to be age appropriate. As our culture becomes increasingly litigious (and increasingly paranoid), how can we ensure that our playgrounds continue to challenge and engage our children as they grow?

AngieSix points out: "My oldest is 9 and my biggest challenge was finding playgrounds that kept her interested and challenged. I'd love to see a playspace that was REALLY designed for 9-12 year olds—it would be so cool. I imagine it would cause some kind of ruckus, though, since it would need to involve some elements of risk and that scares many parents.

I learned that just because you have a lot of very nice playgrounds, that doesn't mean your kids will love them. If they don't have an element that makes them unique, it doesn't take long for them to get bored. What was surprising to me was that it doesn't necessarily take something new and expensive to make a unique park feature, though. A really great hill to run down, a small creek or pond, nooks and crannies to get a good game of hide and seek going, something challenging to climb or balance on—any of these features can add a new element of play and interest."

Says floridamom: "Although most playgrounds are 'recommended' for up to 12 years old, it hadn't occurred to me that my oldest is now 11! His feet touch the ground while holding most monkey bars, which he thought was funny. Luckily he hasn't completely lost interest yet, but as he continues to 'grow up' both physically and emotionally, I know that spending summers together at playgrounds will eventually come to an end. Maybe I can revise it to find basketball-court-a-day."

See more reflections from our Park-A-Day Challengers.

parent perspective, advocacy, risk, summer challenge, joint use agreement, summer