What Makes a Playground Great?


Published:

Photo courtesy of Maya Kruchankova/Shutterstock.com

What makes a great playground? I am on the hunt to find out.

My family and I recently traveled to Orlando, Florida. We visited Magic Kingdom, an aquarium, the hotel pool, Disney Springs and an indoor playground at the mall. I want to say that Magic Kingdom was a favorite. I really do. The amount of money and planning almost demand that Disney fulfill its promise of being the happiest place on earth.

But, I don’t know that I can.

During our trip, my children were 3 years old and 20 months. They both enjoyed Magic Kingdom, and the trip was not a wasted one. My 3-year-old was quite smitten over meeting Mickey Mouse. My baby laughed and babbled “It’s a Small World” through the ride They enjoyed the magic of flying with Dumbo. We danced with "The Incredibles." We watched a parade and ate a Mickey Mouse cookie.

So, yes, they did have fun.

However, I cannot say that was their favorite part of the trip. They both had a great time at the aquarium and at the hotel swimming pool. Disney Springs and eating at Rainforest Cafe? Top notch experiences. But the indoor mall playground was probably their favorite. It only cost me the price of the smoothie I drank while I was watching them.

So I am drinking my $4 smoothie and trying to figure out what was so great about this playground. We’ve been to very similar playgrounds at the malls here in Raleigh. I blog reviews of playgrounds, but I found myself asking the question: what makes a great playground?

The perfect playground probably does not exist, or at least it varies from family to family. Different playgrounds work better in different seasons. Your favorite shaded summer play spot is probably not so great in the winter.

There are a few practical things that make playgrounds great for parents, like fenced-in areas, access to restrooms and shade and park benches, although I don't get to use park benches very often!

But what makes a great playground for the child?

Playgrounds create an environment that encourages unstructured play time. Disney did not offer much of that. Our lives don’t offer much of that. But my kids need unstructured playtime like they need the air they breathe. I suspect yours do to. I think the main reason they had so much fun at the mall playground in Orlando is because I didn’t have to hold their hands. I didn’t tell them what to do or where to go. Our trip up to that point had been very structured and this was a chance to just be kids, to giggle, play and go down the slide 5,000 times.

Fortunately, almost any playground can provide this much needed outlet.

Playgrounds also foster imaginative play; some do more than others. Ever been to a playground with structures shaped like castles, boats or trains? Who can resist jumping right into the imaginary world of play. Just a little suggestion of something will have even small children riding trains and driving cars. Kids get lost in an imaginary world where they make the rules and everything makes sense, which is wonderful, since our adult world can be pretty overwhelming and confusing to them. Well, who am I kidding? It often feels that way to me too. As adults, we know we need times of escape, time to avoid reality ... even if for a moment. Certainly, our children must feel the same way.

Raleigh and the surrounding areas have tons of parks and playgrounds, it’s one of the things that drew us to the area. We love exploring and sharing our experiences with you.

Rachel Blackwood reviews local playgrounds, classes and children’s activities at her blog, www.raleightotspots.com.

Carolina Parent Family Fun Resources

Don't miss out on the latest cool places to play. Check out these links.

New Parks in the Triangle

5 Gated Playgrounds for Corralling Young Children in the Triangle

Cool Water Fun Places in the Triangle

Triangle Summer Movie Deals for Families

New Museum Expansions in the Triangle

8 Unique Ways to Have Family Fun in the Triangle

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Content

Entertaining Exhibits in Raleigh and Chapel Hill

Head to Triangle-area museums to learn about North Carolina's governors and view winning photographs from the 12th Annual "Wildlife in North Carolina" magazine photo competition, as well as clothing and mementos from the Miss North Carolina Scholarship Pageant.

What You Need to Know About This Summer’s Solar Eclipse

A compilation of events and viewing parties occurring within the path of totality.

The Acclaimed World of Sports: How Can Athletics Benefit Your Teen?

Athletics is something I have seen teach necessary life values/lessons and, most importantly, is just plain fun.
Edit Module

About this Blog

Guest Bloggers

Guests share their thoughts and opinions


About This Blog

Read thoughts, opinions and ideas from parent bloggers and parenting experts in our region.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

June 2017

Bee populations are in decline in North America. Learn how to attract pollinators to your very own pollinator hotel. Discover why pollinator hotels are important and how to create pollinator...

Cost: $30 (Tuition + Materials)

Where:
The Scrap Exchange
2050 Chapel Hill Rd.
Durham, NC  27707
View map »


Sponsor: The Scrap Exchange
Telephone: 191-921-31278
Contact Name: Anna Graves
Website »

More information

Watch a brief slideshow and explore the inner workings of the mill. All ages. Online registration encouraged.

Cost: $5/adult, $3 ages 7-16. Free for ages 6 and younger

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

he Durham Bulls host a Touch A Truck event in conjunction with local public safety agencies. The event will precede the team’s game that evening at 5:05 p.m. Blackwell Street,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Durham Bulls Athletic Park
Blackwell St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Children with disabilities discover what's happening in nature on a stroll through Hemlock Bluffs. Ages 11 and older. Register online. Choose course #104850.

Cost: $2/resident, $3/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Take the family for a drop-in creative workshop for kids ages 5-10. Free with admission.

Cost: Free with admission. Free for ages 15 and younger

Where:
Nasher Museum of Art
2001 Campus Dr.
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Website »

More information

Learn how to help your baby excel in motor development. This class focuses on standing/walking and offers a variety of ways to help your baby master motor development. Register online.

Cost: $15

Where:
Baby + Co
226 Ashville Ave.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

More information

Ages 5-12 learn about healthy fruits and vegetables, kitchen and food safety, and enjoy a healthy snack. Meet in the bakery side of the cafe. Email sherry.thrasher@wholefoods.com to...

Cost: Free

Where:
Whole Foods North Raleigh
8710 Six Forks Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Telephone: 919-354-0350
Contact Name: Sherry Thrasher

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Ages 3-6 enjoy fun games and drills. Call to RSVP.  

Cost: $5/child

Where:
Fitness4Life
6701 Glenwood Ave.
Suite 103
Raleigh, NC  27612
View map »


Sponsor: Fitness4Life
Telephone: 919-787-2250
Contact Name: George Whitten
Website »

More information

Learn about rocks and soil by digging in the dirt. Find hidden rock treasures, make a mud painting, and plant a seed to take home and grow. Dress to get dirty. Ages 3-5 with an accompanying adult....

Cost: $5

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Wilkerson Nature Preserve
Website »

More information

Join others for an easy-paced walk along the greenway accompanied by a naturalist. Registration encouraged. Choose course #203541.

Cost: Free

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Park
950 Peterson St.
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Listen to nature-themed books and enjoy hands-on explorations in the garden. Ages 3-5 with caregiver. Register online.

Cost: $3/child

Where:
North Carolina Botanical Garden
100 Old Mason Farm Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27517
View map »


Sponsor: North Carolia Botanical Garden
Telephone: 919-537-3370
Contact Name: Elisha Taylor
Website »

More information

Ages 6-8 investigate the habitats and behaviors of some of the mammals that call the nature preserve “home.”  Dressed for outdoor fun.  Register online....

Cost: $5

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Wilkerson staff
Website »

More information

Parents of children ages 3-18 months learn how to prepare quick and easy meals for their little one, learn about weaning and when to transition into the next nutritional step....

Cost: Free

Where:
Guidepost Montessori at Spruce Tree
12600 Spruce Tree Way
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Sponsor: Guidepost Montessori at Spruce Tree
Telephone: (919) 825-1771
Contact Name: Holly Vincitorio
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Attend a private pop-up event with Songs for Seeds at SnickerDoodles. Enjoy a concert plus 30-minutes of private use of play space for all attendees. Ages infant-6. Call to...

Cost: $15 per child and $10 for each additional sibling

Where:
SnickerDoodles
3721 Lynn Road, #112
Raleigh, NC  27613
View map »


Sponsor: songs for seeds
Telephone: 984.219.2022
Website »

More information

Learn about beetles with a craft, games, stories and a guided walk through the wetland. Ages 2-6. Register online. Choose course #203552. 

Cost: $3

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Park
950 Peterson St.
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood
Website »

More information

A wonderfully kid-paced hour featuring music, play and dancing with toddler stars singing on the mic at Cotton's gently amplified & participatory music show. Children delight in...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Pump It Up Raleigh
10700 World Trade Blvd, #112
Raleigh, NC  27617
View map »


Sponsor: Pump it Up
Telephone: 919-828-3344
Contact Name: Owner/manager Kellie Paterson McHugh
Website »

More information

Kids hike, make projects and engage in nature activities. Ages 5-8. Register online.

Cost: $12/resident, $16/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Hear the Grammy-winning band based in the North Carolina mountains take to the stage with the North Carolina Symphony.  Purchase tickets online. Kids 12 and younger admitted free on...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Booth Amphitheatre
8003 Regency Pkwy.
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Join bird enthusiast, Vernon, for an easy walk while looking and listening for our feathered friends. Discover different types of birds and their habitats.​ Meet at the Waterwise Garden.

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Parkway
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
Website »

More information

The 38th Annual Festival for the Eno features over 65 music performances, a juried craft show, interactive arts, environmental and backyard farming demonstrations, a wide variety of local food...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
West Point on the Eno
5101 N Roxboro Road
Durham, NC  27712
View map »


Website »

More information

Summerfest Celebration features an autograph session, inflatables, games, free giveaways, guest speakers from the Hurricanes, appearances by Stormy and the Pepsi Storm Squad, discounted...

Cost: Free

Where:
PNC Arena
1400 Edwards Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy storytime with a community farm member, a book swap via Little Free Library, and free play in a natural playground.   

Cost: Free

Where:
The Community Farm at Camp Chestnut Ridge
2902 Mount Willing Rd.
Efland, NC  27243
View map »


Contact Name: Sandy Straw
Website »

More information

Celebrate the wonderful world of exotic animals and reptiles. Enjoy live specimens, presentations, raffles, vendors and much more. Purchase tickets online.  

Cost: $12 ages 13 and older, $5 ages 5-12.

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds, Kerr Scott Building
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

In this new book from acclaimed author Ryan T. Higgins, all Rupert the Mouse wants is to star in a beautiful, wordless picture book. He has plenty of ideas about what makes a great book, but his...

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble Cary
760 S.E. Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Telephone: 919-467-3866
Website »

More information

American Dance Festival favorite Pilobolus returns. "On the Nature of Things" explores the birth of desire and its intertwined connection to shame and revenge....

Cost: $16/person

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian Street
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Sponsor: American Dance Festival
Telephone: 919-684-6402
Contact Name: Mollie O'Reilly
Website »

More information

Explore the historic nature of Leigh Farm Park with a friendly guide. Venture inside the historic farmhouse while being captivated by tales about life at Leigh Farm throughout the years.

Cost: Free

Where:
Leigh Farm Park
370 Leigh Farm Rd.
Durham, NC  27707
View map »


Sponsor: Durham Parks and Recreation
Telephone: 919-560-1116
Contact Name: Natalya Buckel
Website »

More information

Hear the music of U2 performed by the North Carolina Symphony. Purchase tickets online. Kids 12 and younger admitted free on the lawn. 

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Booth Amphitheatre
8003 Regency Pkwy.
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit Module

Magazine

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Directories

Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Annual Guides

Education Guide

The 2016-17 Education Guide offers 643 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our debut Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. Plus, find out who our 2017 Readers' Favorites are.