What Makes a Playground Great?


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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

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April 2017

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2209 Fairview Rd.
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Cost: $17/adult, $11 ages 12 and younger

Where:
Raleigh Little Theatre
301 Pogue St.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
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Sponsor: Reedy Creek Elementary School
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When James is sent by his conniving aunts to chop down their old fruit tree, he discovers a magic potion, which results in a tremendous peach. The peach launches James on a journey of enormous...

Cost: $17/adult, $11 ages 12 and younger

Where:
Raleigh Little Theatre
301 Pogue St.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

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Crowder District Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
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View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

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Where:
Course begins at Glenwood Elementary School
2 Prestwick Rd.
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Sponsor: SKJAJA
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Cost: $35/person

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Cost: Free

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Seagroves Park Pond
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Website »

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Cost: Free

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Bond Park
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Website »

More information

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Cost: $25

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Sponsor: Girls on the Run of the Triangle
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Cost: Free

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Where:
Booth Amphitheatre
8003 Regency Pkwy.
Cary, NC  27518
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Website »

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Cost: Free

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Green Road Park
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Raleigh, NC  27604
View map »


Sponsor: Safe Kids Wake County
Telephone: 919-350-8364
Contact Name: Christina Carmichael
Website »

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Cost: Free

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East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Ct.
Knightdale, NC  27545
View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

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


Website »

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Cost: Free

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Northgate Mall
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Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Sponsor: Durham County Library and Book Harvest NC
Website »

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Cost: $10-$12

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New Hope Valley Railway
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View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

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Blue Jay Point County Park
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View map »


Website »

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Cost: Free

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752 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd.
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View map »


Sponsor: Flyleaf Books
Telephone: 919-942-7373
Website »

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Cost: $17/adult, $11 ages 12 and younger

Where:
Raleigh Little Theatre
301 Pogue St.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

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Rebus Works
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Ste. 2
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View map »


Website »

More information

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Fletcher Theater
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Website »

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Follow a stream channel in the park to find out how water moves and who lives there. Ages 6-8. Register online. Choose course code #198889.

Cost: $3

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Wilkerson staff
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Meet pre-screened (interviewed, references checked, background checked, CPR and First Aid certified) babysitters and nannies who are available for part-time, full-time, or on demand as needed...

Cost: Free

Where:
Snickerdoodles Play Cafe
3721 Lynn Rd #112
Raleigh, NC  27613
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Sponsor: Select Sitters
Telephone: 919-561-6233
Contact Name: Kara Varnell
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Buy native plants from the garden and local vendors. Enjoy food trucks, music, kids' activities and more. 

Cost: Free

Where:
N.C. Botanical Garden
100 Old Mason Farm Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
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When James is sent by his conniving aunts to chop down their old fruit tree, he discovers a magic potion, which results in a tremendous peach. The peach launches James on a journey of enormous...

Cost: $17/adult, $11 ages 12 and younger

Where:
Raleigh Little Theatre
301 Pogue St.
Raleigh, NC  27607
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Take a night hike with staff to search for nocturnal wildlife. Ages 10-13. Registration required.

Cost: $12/resident, $16/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Walk with a park naturalist to look and listen for wildlife in the woods and fields as daylight transitions to night. Ages 4 yrs and older; children must be accompanied by an adult. Register...

Cost: $2

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

Enjoy a perfromance featuring original ballet, modern, jazz, swing and hip hop dances by  students as well as Jennifer Tarrazi-Scully - Choreographer.

Cost: Free

Where:
NCSSM Community Dance Concert
1219 Broad St.
Durham, NC  27705
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Annual Guides

GPS [Go. Play. See]

GPS, soon to be replaced by The Triangle Go-To Guide, connects you to all the Triangle has to offer, from museum expansions to new parks and schools to youth sports and family fun. Plus, discover our 2016 Readers' Favorites.

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

The Triangle Go-To Guide will replace the GPS in 2017 and continue to connect you to family fun resources across the Triangle. Plus, find out who our 2017 Readers' Favorites are.