The Playground Review | Reviewing DC Area Playgrounds and Play SpacesTime 2021-10-16 15:06:48
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Wheaton Regional Park is a large playground centrally located on the northern side of Silver Spring. It was a well-loved playground for many years and has recently reopened with a complete redesign and brand new equipment.
Features:climbing featuresclimbing wallsswingsbucket swingssand pitslidesmerry-go-round substitutesa very large climbing moundclimbable animal sculptures
Amenities:water fountainsrestroomspicnic tables and shelters
Nearby:miniature traincarouselBrookside Gardensnumerous hiking trails
Pros:Equipment geared toward older kidsSome exciting climbing features, including an interesting wall and a rope spiderA large space with two tiersClose to other exciting things like the train and carousel
Cons:A lack of shade in most of the park and no prospects for trees to grow inFlimsy equipment that is already broken after just a couple months of useSpace that is difficult for younger children to navigate and possibly even dangerous (there are a couple of 6 foot drops) if theyre not watched closely
Its hard not to begin by comparing this new playground to its former self. The old playground was a bit larger, with mostly wooden equipment that was more accessible to a wider range of kids. There were more features to list which have now disappeared, including tire swings and towers. There was also more shade available and a much more organic feel to the space.
Some of the new equipment is exciting. Im a fan of the rope spiders that you see more often in Europe. This one isnt huge, but its nice to see a reasonably sized one around here. The mound is an excellent feature. Kids climb to the top for secret conferences and roll down the sides with abandon. The cement climbing features that take kids up to the higher tier are also neat and give kids the sense of special entryways.
However, those climbing walls are also a problem for younger kids. The drop off is pretty big and theres not much warning. The fencing along the side looks nice, but then theres also unattractive chain link fencing on the extremely long (many, many yards!) handicapped accessible ramp that runs from the path. The two tiers also means that parents who dont feel like climbing have a bit of a hike to get around. All that is small though when you consider that the slides have already broken with a scant month of use. They just look flimsy and theres little chance theyll ever be consistently in working order. Plus, Im simply not a fan of a lot of the commercial equipment they installed here. Some of it is fine, but the piece called a mushroom by my kids is especially annoying to me. Its a merry-go-round replacement, but because its installed so high, even my 7 year-olds need help to use it properly. Im against any equipment that requires parental help for school-aged children.
Overall, its a fun playground with some good points, but I cant help miss the old one and the kids felt much the same.
This small park in Silver Spring just off Colesville Road is within walking distance of all the downtown attractions.
Features:climbing featuresswingsbucket swingstire swingslides
Amenities:water fountainsgame tables
Nearby:Silver Spring Library (where bathrooms can also be found)tennis courtswalking distance to downtown Silver Spring and all the businesses there
Pros:lots of shadelovely old wooden equipmenta great use of a relatively small spaceconvenient as a stopover playground for a variety of errands
Cons:small spacenothing especially spectacular as its just a neighborhood park
I admit it. I have a bias toward the old wooden playgrounds, but just look at this place! Its not more than a small, shady neighborhood space, but just look at those crazy configurations of wooden posts. They rise out of the ground into little cubic mounds like an old video game and thick planks criss-cross the landscape making it perfect for an old fashioned game of dirt, but low rise enough for intrepid preschoolers to enjoy. The layout of the space is in an L-shape. In the middle, the wooden theme is continued with little rings around a small garden space and a plaza of game tables and some benches. The other arm of the L is more traditional, but older metal and plastic commercial equipment with some standard tunnels and slides. A tiny grove of trees on the far end makes for a nice spot of secret spaces. Both my kids love this place and its easy for me to see why.
Clemyjontri is a huge playground in Virginia with a funny name that has special equipment for handicapped and differently abled kids. Its one of the larger playgrounds in the area that I would say is worth the trip.
Featuresswingsbucket swingstire swingsswings for handicapped children and a special swing for children in a wheelchairclimbing featuresmonkey barsimaginative features, such as a fire truck, bus stop, rainbow, boat, etc.slidestunnelsmazepretend roadmusical play equipmentpretend road with signs that loops around the playgroundhandicapped accessible carousel (only operational at limited times)
Amenities:bathroomswater fountainsshaded picnic area
Nearby:Claude Moore Colonial Farm
Pros:a huge playground with a variety of equipmenthandicapped accessibility and clear thinking about children of different abilitiessome innovative features, such as the rocking shipsome great imaginative features such as the road with stop signs and parking spaces
Cons:yet another new playground whose shade hasnt grown in yet, though a few sun shades help compensate for this issuea tiny parking lot that cannot accommodate the playgrounds heavy usean overflow lot that is not only far away, but requires people to cross at a road crossing that is the very definition of inaccessibleits very easy to lose a young child here and theres a lack of any central place for parents to see the whole playgroundsome of the most unappealing looking equipment Ive ever seen
We like playing on the road and next to the stop signs. It goes almost all the way around the park. One of the best things there is that theres a maze inside there and you cant find the eggs in it. We dont think theyre there.
At this park, theres this pretend street around. The pretend street goes a car area that you can race on because theres a racing course. You can make it like youre on an adventure there. Theres this big pretend helicopter that you climb on the end of it. We sat on the end of it. Mushroom stood up on top of the end!
Oh, oh. I have such mixed feelings about this well-loved playground. On the one hand, I dont know of any playgrounds with this much accessibility for handicapped children anywhere. From the huge wheelchair ramps on the equipment to the braille and sign language signs, the designers of this playground thought of the kids that no one thinks of in playground design. Not only that, but oversized, low to the ground equipment like the short monkey bars and the giant ramps are fun for typically abled kids too, especially younger, short kids. What a unique and amazing playground this is.
I just wish all that accessibility didnt also come with some of the most hideous commercial equipment Ive ever seen. From the mad primary color scheme to the nonsensical images in the maze to the look of almost everything here, it just hurts my eyes its so darn ugly. There are a few exceptions. The rainbow arch and the subdued pretend road with its signs are just fine. However, almost everything else just feels cheap and flat, which is the exact opposite of what you want when youre trying to inspire kids. Not only that, but sometimes it is cheap. The tire swings are so lightweight they can only take a gentle ride or they tip and jump. The new musical equipment features a bunch of different molded plastic percussion instruments that all make the same sound, something I would have thought physically impossible of differently sized drums, but there you have it.
Overall, though, children adore this space and its easy to see why. There are a lot of great things about it and I give a lot of credit to the designers for including so many different sorts of things. In particular, while Im not fond of the images that set it up (and Mushroom and BalletBoy complain every time that the dinosaur egg youre supposed to find isnt even there!) the maze is one of the most simple and well used features of the playground, one that would surely be affordable and easy for any large playground to add. The road is also a great feature that would be simple for designers to include in a large playground. And the rocking boat (which Ive seen a few places) is a great modern answer to the seesaw or other pieces of equipment that are disappearing in that it is fun and slightly wild feeling, but safe and requires cooperation, unlike so many of the single user pieces of equipment out there.
Cabin John Regional Park in Rockville, Maryland is one of the larger playgrounds in Montgomery County, with a sprawling play area and a variety of equipment.
Features:swingsbucket swingsslidesclimbing structurestoddler play areasmusical play equipment
Amenities:bathroomssheltered picnic areas
Nearby:miniature traindog parkice rinkathletic fields and complexwalking trailsLocust Grove Nature Center
Pros:The shade and tree filled landscape make this playground inviting.The size of the play area is very large.The good location not far from the intersection of I-495 and I-270, plus all the nearby fun things, like the miniature train, make this a well used park.Plenty of good picnic spots are available.
Cons:Watch out for your toddlers as theres no boundaries to the large play area. Its easy to lose a small child here.Thanks to all the snacking, the central picnic area is often full of yellowjackets.Theres no central design to the playground.Despite the scale of a playground for older children, most of the equipment is intended for younger children.
I wish it was like the pictures I saw on the computer. I think, it was a lot better back then. Apparently they shut it all down. This park is for little kids. There is a big slide that was okay.
I liked the park. It wasnt as good as I expected though. I thought it would be wooden. I liked the slides there. I only did them one time though.
We had not visited this playground in years, so we took a trip up to reevaluate it. After all, I hear constantly from parents that this is a great playground. It has even won polls in local magazines. Unfortunately, we all found it really disappointing. The landscape of the playground is excellent. The trees, the hilly atmosphere and the size of the area make you initially excited. However, the equipment is just so dull overall, that theres not really a reason to make this a destination play spot. If you live nearby, then Im sure its a fine place to play, but for a space with so much potential, its almost painful to see how theyve wasted it. From a design point of view, theres absolutely no unifying feature. Equipment from multiple corporations, bought and installed at various times is scattered around with no real sense of flow. Mushroom and BalletBoy wandered from one piece to the next, but they never got inspired by the space, which is unusual for them. From the images, you can probably get the sense that these pieces of equipment are relatively widely spaced, which might have worked, but didnt seem to do much for my kids.
To make matters worse (and explain Mushroom and BalletBoys reviews!), if you click on the website for the playground youll find three small images at the top of the page. The first one shows toddler equipment thats still at the playground. The second two show the old Cabin John playground, a large wooden structure that made use of the hilly landscape to give the slides some extra height and seemed to have tire features and long passages from one part of the playground to the next. Thats all gone. Only a small wooden gazebo-like space is left of the old playground. Having seen those pictures as I grabbed directions before we left, the kids spent most of their time sulking that the playground was such a letdown. Where were the old wooden parts, they wanted to know. Me too, kids.
Worst of all, this makes me depressed about the outlook for the Wheaton Regional redesign, slated to open next month (if its still on time). Clearly Montgomery County can show at least some creative thinking with a playground like South Germantown Regional Parks, but will the Wheaton redesign be decent like that or as half-baked as Cabin John? It looks like there will be some excellent big slides, but will there be anything else?
This is a playable sculpture on the grounds of the historical Maury School, which is now the Arlington Art Center. You can see the art marker that explains it below.
bathrooms and water fountains available inside the art center during open hoursNearby:
Arlington Art Centertennis courtsVirginia Square Metro station is about a block awayFarrars Review:
This is a wonderful playable sculpture, of a sort that there arent many of in this area. Many of the features are similar to more commercial playground equipment, but with a twist. A steering wheel turns out to turn a tall spinning piece. A spyglass up above turns out to be a kaleidoscope. This piece is designed not just to be fun, but also to look appealing and imaginative. Its a small play space so its easy to overlook it. However, its unique style is such a rarity here that I wish it would be an inspiration for other small playgrounds.
Not that long ago, the city of Greenbelt, land of micro-sized community playgrounds, removed all their merry-go-rounds. Alas! Yet another place intimidated by lawsuits and safety concerns. I personally love a good merry-go-round.
Proponents of merry-go-round removal seem to think that the individual standing and bucket spinners that are everywhere now somehow replace the traditional merry-go-round. Theyre so wrong. Some of them are fun, I suppose, but they work on a totally different principle because they are purposefully unbalanced, allowing them to spin with very little initial force from the kid. In fact, a childs weight can often start them spinning without any push. The one that replaced the one in Greenbelt is an innovative example where kids have to grab hold above to spin around. However, the installation means that kids as old as nine or ten years old may be too short to reach and use the equipment without help. Merry-go-rounds, on the other hand, need co-operation and encourage kids to work together and think of the group, including younger kids and older ones. Theyve gotten a lot safer than the old one shown above (theyre not allowed to have any holes inside, for one thing!).
Im not aware of any at any DC, Prince Georges County or Virginia playgrounds, but there are several in Montgomery County. If you need a place to learn about the joys and dangers of centrifugal force, here are three that Im aware of:Martin Luther King Park in Silver Spring, on Jackson RoadLynbrook Park in Bethesda next to the Lynbrook Rec CenterAyrlawn Park in Bethesda, off Old Georgetown RoadDo you know of any others? Please, please, let us know!
Lafayette Park, in Chevy Chase, DC (not to be confused with the small protest-filled green space across from the White House) is constantly in use and has almost everything one might expect in a play area. Weve been many, many times and my children attended summer camp through DCPR there when they were younger.
Features:SwingsBucket swingsTire swingsSeparate fenced toddler and unfenced big kid play areasSlidesClimbing featuresClimbing wallMonkey bars and ringsSpring based ridersSand pitMusical play equipmentWater sprinklerAmenities:BathroomsWater fountainsSmall Rec CenterNearby:Two more playgrounds attached to adjacent Lafayette Elementary SchoolTennis courtsBaseball fieldGazebosLarge open grassy spaceBasketball courts attached to adjacent Lafayette Elementary SchoolThe Broad Branch Market, which sells sandwiches and treats among other things is across the street from Lafayette ElementaryPros:While its not a huge playground, a feeling of sprawl helps this playground system immensely.While many of the old trees have recently had to be removed, there is still a lot of shade to be found in both the big kid and toddler playgrounds.Lots of room for kids on wheels.Nearly everything one would want out of a traditional playground. Its rightfully a neighborhood mecca.Cons:Theres not a sense of one playground. Especially when you incorporate the school playgrounds on the weekends, if youre the sort of parent who follows their kids, you can begin to feel like youre trailing from adjacent playground to adjacent playground.The equipment or overall design isnt especially creative.Mushrooms Review:This park is very good because stepping on the logs is a very fun thing to do. Because you like to jump over the lily pads and all the other stuff with holes inside it. Also, their tire swing is very, very good. One time, it went too high and I actually bumped my head! And the water splash thing is fun in summer. Its shaped like a flower.BalletBoys Review:At Lafayette Park, you can pretend the ground is water and try to not touch the water with your feet. I like to go on the monkey bars to get across the river. The tire swing is great too! This park reminds me of the time we played there with our friends who moved away.
Farrars ReviewOther than just the shade, one of the things I love about this playground is the sense of secret spaces. The hills that separate the playground and grassy field, as well as the newly cut down trees help give kids the sense that theyre lost in a big park, despite the fact that its not really that large. The play equipment is mostly pretty traditional. Its a mix of old fashioned wooden structures and prefab plastic and colorful metal. The toddler playground is even more conventional, but it is fenced and well used. However, Im a sucker for a decent tire swing and a climbable tree, both of which can be found here. I also really appreciate when playgrounds have musical features. The wooden posts that ring the big kids playground also provide a nice way for kids to walk around the playground and Ive seen kids play an informal follow the leader on them many times. Its nothing stellar, but overall its a solid neighborhood playground and even worth the trip from other spots around northwest.Not to confuse you too much, but the pictures below are of the adjacent school playground, which is accessible on weekends and late afternoons.
South Germantown Recreational Park is one of Montgomery Countys larger park facilities, located just off I-270. There are a couple of small satellite playgrounds there, and a large Adventure Playground. First up, if youre familiar with the term Adventure Playground then I have to point out that its a misnomer in this case. As disappointing as that is if you were hoping to find a little leftover bit of the 70s in Germantown (when put that way, it does seem rather unlikely, doesnt it?), its a large playground thats worth the trip if youre in the area.
Features:swingsbucket swingshandicapped swingslidesclimbing featuresmusical play equipmentlarge climbing wallclimbing statuesspring seesawsconcrete and hard surface play spacesAmenities:bathroomssheltered picnic areasNearby:splash parkmini-golfdriving rangeindoor swim centernearly every kind of sports field and court you can imaginearchery rangea small dairy museumwalking trailsPros:The scale of the playground is very large. Not only is it a large space, but they used it to install large imaginative structures, in particular a tall castle with multiple slides and rope bridges and a sprawling ship.Plenty of adult seating well-placed to take advantage of the shade.One interesting feature I havent seen elsewhere, which is the giant disk swings.A ton of room for kids on wheels, both around the playgrounds blue moat path and on the concrete spots around.Plenty of mowed green space all around, including a shady area for old-fashioned picnic blankets.For the size of the playground, its practically empty sometimes. Weekend or weekday, its always in use, but Ive never seen it really crowded.Cons:The landscaping is still growing in, so the structures themselves dont get much shade. Theyre mostly wooden, so they can handle it better, but in summer, be sure the kids have sunscreen.A relatively minor quibble to most, but the design has some random elements (a tiny bulldozer? an elephant?) that doesnt fit in with the rest and seems wasted in this space.BalletBoys Review:I like this playground because you have a lot of adventures here. Theres a whole big map thats just a big space for showing where you traveled. And its good because its mostly an imagination park. You can pretend youre in a castle and having an adventure or you could have an adventure in the Amazon and you can find that on the map thats on the ground. I also like pretending Im in a labyrinth on the bricks and Im trying to escape from the castle.
Farrars Review:Theres much to recommend this park, and not just its proximity to the popular splash park or your local soccer game. First and foremost, the scale of the castle and the ship are of the sort you dont see at most playgrounds. Theres some great attention to detail, such as the chess style benches in front of the castle, and the giant throne style ones in back, not to mention the blue moat that goes around it. More play structures should have rope bridges and both tall and secret underneath spaces like the castle here does. I also really like the concrete animal sculptures and the old molded concrete benches which are most likely salvaged from an older playground. Theyre super comfortable. My biggest quibble is that they didnt take some of it far enough. Why have a separate climbing wall? Why not extend the castle and let kids climb the side (maybe with long Rapunzel braids painted on)? Why not turn the bricked area behind the castle into a sort of castle courtyard with an enclosed feel? While I appreciate that most of the features are cooperative play features (no single little bouncy, turny things for individual kids to wait in line to use) and the use of wooden structures, theres still a lot of pre-fab play items, which isnt my personal taste. Still, if youre going to have a traditional playground with conventional equipment, this is the way to do it, with scale and a little imagination. This playground is a pretty long haul for us, but we make it up there a couple times a year at least because its worth the trip.
Upshur Parks playground was recently completely overhauled and has only opened within the last couple of months. It has clearly been well used already, but it hasnt yet lost its brand new feel. We watched the progress every time we drove past on 14th St. NW. We went and checked it out for a little while on a sweltering weekend afternoon.
Features:Climbing WallsSwingsBucket SwingsSand pitSlidesSpinnersSpring based ridersEnclosed tot areaRubber surfacing throughoutAmenities:Water fountainsBathroomsSmall Rec CenterNearby:Upshur PoolCAPCSs playground on the top of the hill (fenced, but well known that you can sneak in after school hours)Pros:Great landscaping around the playground, including stone walls that can be fun to play on.Three distinct areas for play: an older kids area with abstract climbing features, a fenced toddler sand area with small equipment, and a young kids area with slides and lower climbing features.Lots of hills all around the playground for running down and even a section with tiny mounds under the rubber surfacing for running over!Cons:A total lack of shade (though trees planted should pay off in about a decade, so at least they thought of the future).A few interesting pieces of equipment, but its the same old commercial equipment as every other playground.Its definitely a great neighborhood park, but despite some creative landscaping, its too small and uncreative to really be a destination spot.BalletBoys Review:The park was good because most of it was fun. One of the kind of swings there is different than the usual swings. The first time it was really fun, but the second time it plunged me around and I had to get out to stand up!Mushrooms Review:This playground was good because a lot of what I saw there was new to me. I also was amazed with their climbing wall. I couldnt climb up it at all except for one step.Farrars ReviewA lot of thought clearly went into this playground, with its three tiers of play areas (big, medium and small kids all welcome). A central striped color scheme on the rubber surfacing unites all three areas. The stone walls are especially inspired and I love the way they begin and end, including one artful ending into the grass on one side. Its a minor quibble, but the sand pit probably needed more containment as the sand has already spilled out all over. A bigger issue I have is just the dullness that is commercial play equipment. The hex-cubed climbing feature was clearly inspired by older, climbable art but its still neat (though without any shade, it was very difficult for the kids to climb without getting burned). The whole playground comes from the company Kompany, which seems to be the source for most of the recent playground installations all over the city (meaning that the sense that theres anything unique here will fade quickly). They make some decent stuff as prefab equipment goes, but the little houses with slides on the medium kids play area are very boring. Most importantly, theres nothing Im less enamored of in a playground than a flat surface with a sprinkling of individual mini-play structures, which this playground had two entire sections of. The unusual swing (which apparently flipped BalletBoy upside down!) was sort of cool, but its still an uncooperative play feature, meant for use by one or maybe two kids.Overall, though, Id like to give props to the tiny mounds under the rubber surfacing, which at least showed some out of the box thinking. I also applaud the general atmosphere of this playground surrounded by hills, which is much improved from its former self. This is just outside our walking realm, but if we lived just up the street, I would be satisfied by having this playground. So its not worth the trip unless you live in the neighborhood, but its not a bad addition to the area either.
I dont know when I got interested in playground design exactly. Maybe it was when I was little and my grandparents introduced me to all the amazing urban playgrounds of New Orleans. Maybe around high school when I remember seeking out old merry-go-rounds. Or maybe not until I had kids and found myself spending so much time sitting around in playgrounds. All I know is, I find myself thinking about it a lot.
The thing I think about most is how completely boring and cookie cutter the vast majority of our playgrounds are. Instead of actual differences between playspaces, we only get different manufacturers of the equipment. Worst of all, when I talk to people it feels like no one sees it as an issue. Talking to other parents about playground design pretty much makes me feel like a freak. Theres a lack of any critical eye among many of the parents I talk to about play spaces. No one seems to question the basic paradigm of the playgrounds weve got.
So, to vent my thoughts, Im starting this blog. Its part just plain old playground review, if there is such a thing. If youre looking for a playground, I hope to slowly cover the DC areas biggest, most popular, and most unique spots. Each review will give the basic lowdown about the playspace and my own thoughts as well as some occasional kid reviews as well. Sometimes Ill post about other local playground issues.
If you check out the links over to the side, there are a couple I cant recommend highly enough. First is the blog Playscapes, which will pretty much blow your mind if youve never spent much time thinking about playgrounds outside the box. Second is the blog Kid Friendly DC, which is a great little summary of whats going on in the DC area for families and kids, updated extremely regularly.Recent Posts Wheaton Regional Park Ellsworth Park Clemyjontri Park Cabin John RegionalPark Spielschiff DC Local Blogs and Links DC BlogsDCistFree in DCNew to DC If You Have Kids In DC, You Must Know These Resources Kid Friendly DCOur Kids Local Parks Alexandria RecreationArlington Parks and RecreationDC Parks and RecreationFairfax County ParksMaryland State ParksMontgomery County ParksNational Parks in DCPrince Georges County ParksRock Creek ParkVirginia State Parks Playground Links Design With PlayPlayborhoodPlaygroundologyPlayscapesTop Play Resources Loading Comments...
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