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.

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February 2017

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Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
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Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
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Cost: $8/family, member; $12/family, nonmember

Where:
Raleigh-Cary Jewish Community Center
12804 Norwood Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27613
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Sponsor: Raleigh-Cary Jewish Community Center
Telephone: 919-676-6170
Contact Name: Jill Lokitz
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Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
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Cost: $25

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The Scrap Exchange
2050 Chapel Hill Rd.
Durham, NC  27707
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Sponsor: The Scrap Exchange
Telephone: 919-213-1278
Contact Name: Anna Graves
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Cost: Free

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Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Cost: $30-$89

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Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Carolina Ballet
Telephone: 919-719-0900
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Discover birds along the trails and pond. All ages. Meet at the Longleaf Shelter. Registration required.

Cost: $1/person

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Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-4342
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Join park staff in collecting data for the 20th annual Great Backyard Bird Count. We will look and listen for birds in a variety of habitats, and keep track of how many individuals of each species...

Cost: Free

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


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

More information

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Cost: $1/person

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-4342
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Cost: Free

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Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-4342
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Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Parkway
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
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Cost: Free

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946 Steeple Square Ct.
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Barnes & Noble
760 S.E Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
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Cost: Free

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East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Ct.
Knightdale, NC  27545
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Cost: Free

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Lake Wheeler Park
6404 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Cost: Free

Where:
East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Ct.
Knightdale, NC  27545
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Website »

More information

Babies enjoy stories.

Cost: Free

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


Website »

More information

Kids ages 12-18 interested in learning about the sport can get into boats and learn how to row. Students and parents can also meet the club's rowers and coaches. Novice and experienced...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Wheeler Park
6404 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Website »

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Cost: Free

Where:
East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Ct.
Knightdale, NC  27545
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Cost: Free

Where:
East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Ct.
Knightdale, NC  27545
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Walnut Creek Wetland Center
950 Peterson St.
Raleigh, NC  27610
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Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood
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Cost: Free

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East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Ct.
Knightdale, NC  27545
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Cost: Free

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Grow, The Family Boutique
2885 Jones Franklin Rd
Raleigh, NC  27606
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Telephone: 919-803-3521
Contact Name: Heather Dickens
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Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-4342
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Kids ages 12-18 interested in learning about the sport can get into boats and learn how to row. Students and parents can also meet the club's rowers and coaches. Novice and experienced...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Wheeler Park
6404 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Website »

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Cost: $5/child

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University
4415 Beryl Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Telephone: (919) 513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
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Join others for an easy paced hike around the greenway. Ages 3 and younger; older siblings, strollers and leashed pets welcome. Register online. Choose course #199059.

Cost: Free

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Center
950 Peterson Street
Raleigh, NC  27610
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Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood
Website »

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Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Pump It Up Raleigh
10700 World Trade Blvd, #112
Raleigh, NC  27617
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Sponsor: Pump it Up
Telephone: 919-828-3344
Contact Name: Owner/manager Kellie Paterson McHugh
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Wilkerson Nature Preserve
11408 Raven Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Telephone: 919-996-6764
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Kids ages 12-18 interested in learning about the sport can get into boats and learn how to row. Students and parents can also meet the club's rowers and coaches. Novice and experienced...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Wheeler Park
6404 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Website »

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Cost: $5 ages 1 and older

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Marbles Kids Museum
201 E. Hargett St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Cost: Free

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Athens Drive Community Library
1420 Athens Dr.
Raleigh, NC
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Kids ages 12-18 interested in learning about the sport can get into boats and learn how to row. Students and parents can also meet the club's rowers and coaches. Novice and experienced...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Wheeler Park
6404 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

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


Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

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

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Cost: Free

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Downtown Wake Forest
S. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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theCoderSchool
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Raleigh Memorial Auditorium
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC
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Cost: Free

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Davis Family Chiropractic
7901 Strickland Rd.
Ste 104
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: Davis Family Chiropractic
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Contact Name: Dr. Alisha Davis
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5 E. Edenton St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Chapel Hill Public Library
100 Library Dr.
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Take a magical journey through China's divine culture. Classical dance, music and storytelling highlight this live show. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $70-$150

Where:
Raleigh Memorial Auditorium
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC
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Website »

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GPS [Go. Play. See]

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