Wheaton Regional Park

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 features
  • climbing walls
  • swings
  • bucket swings
  • sand pit
  • slides
  • merry-go-round substitutes
  • a very large climbing mound
  • climbable animal sculptures

Amenities:

  • water fountains
  • restrooms
  • picnic tables and shelters

Nearby:

  • miniature train
  • carousel
  • Brookside Gardens
  • numerous hiking trails

Pros:

  • Equipment geared toward older kids
  • Some exciting climbing features, including an interesting wall and a rope “spider”
  • A large space with two tiers
  • Close 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 in
  • Flimsy equipment that is already broken after just a couple months of use
  • Space that is difficult for younger children to navigate and possibly even dangerous (there are a couple of 6 foot drops) if they’re not watched closely

Farrar’s Review:

It’s 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.  I’m a fan of the rope “spiders” that you see more often in Europe.  This one isn’t huge, but it’s 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 there’s not much warning.  The fencing along the side looks nice, but then there’s 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 don’t 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 there’s little chance they’ll ever be consistently in working order.  Plus, I’m 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.  It’s a merry-go-round replacement, but because it’s installed so high, even my 7 year-olds need help to use it properly.  I’m against any equipment that requires parental help for school-aged children.

Overall, it’s a fun playground with some good points, but I can’t help miss the old one and the kids felt much the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ellsworth Park

This small park in Silver Spring just off Colesville Road is within walking distance of all the downtown attractions.

Features:

  • climbing features
  • swings
  • bucket swings
  • tire swing
  • slides

Amenities:

  • water fountains
  • game tables

Nearby:

  • Silver Spring Library (where bathrooms can also be found)
  • tennis courts
  • walking distance to downtown Silver Spring and all the businesses there

Pros:

  • lots of shade
  • lovely old wooden equipment
  • a great use of a relatively small space
  • convenient as a stopover playground for a variety of errands

Cons:

  • small space
  • nothing especially spectacular as it’s just a neighborhood park

Farrar’s Review

I admit it.  I have a bias toward the old wooden playgrounds, but just look at this place!  It’s 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 it’s easy for me to see why.

Clemyjontri Park

Clemyjontri is a huge playground in Virginia with a funny name that has special equipment for handicapped and differently abled kids.  It’s one of the larger playgrounds in the area that I would say is worth the trip.

Features

  • swings
  • bucket swings
  • tire swings
  • swings for handicapped children and a special swing for children in a wheelchair
  • climbing features
  • monkey bars
  • imaginative features, such as a fire truck, bus stop, rainbow, boat, etc.
  • slides
  • tunnels
  • maze
  • pretend road
  • musical play equipment
  • pretend “road” with signs that loops around the playground
  • handicapped accessible carousel (only operational at limited times)

Amenities:

  • bathrooms
  • water fountains
  • shaded picnic area

Nearby:

  • Claude Moore Colonial Farm

Pros:

  • a huge playground with a variety of equipment
  • handicapped accessibility and clear thinking about children of different abilities
  • some innovative features, such as the rocking ship
  • some great imaginative features such as the road with stop signs and parking spaces

Cons:

  • yet another new playground whose shade hasn’t grown in yet, though a few sun shades help compensate for this issue
  • a tiny parking lot that cannot accommodate the playground’s heavy use
  • an overflow lot that is not only far away, but requires people to cross at a road crossing that is the very definition of inaccessible
  • it’s very easy to lose a young child here and there’s a lack of any central place for parents to see the whole playground
  • some of the most unappealing looking equipment I’ve ever seen

Mushroom’s Review:

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 there’s a maze inside there and you can’t find the eggs in it.  We don’t think they’re there.

BalletBoy’s Review:

At this park, there’s this pretend street around.  The pretend street goes a car area that you can race on because there’s a racing course.  You can make it like you’re on an adventure there.  There’s 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!

Farrar’s Review:
Oh, oh.  I have such mixed feelings about this well-loved playground.  On the one hand, I don’t 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 didn’t also come with some of the most hideous commercial equipment I’ve 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 it’s 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 you’re 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 it’s 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 I’m not fond of the images that set it up (and Mushroom and BalletBoy complain every time that the dinosaur egg you’re supposed to find isn’t 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 I’ve 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

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:

  • swings
  • bucket swings
  • slides
  • climbing structures
  • toddler play areas
  • musical play equipment

Amenities:

  • bathrooms
  • sheltered picnic areas

Nearby:

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 there’s no boundaries to the large play area.  It’s easy to lose a small child here.
  • Thanks to all the snacking, the central picnic area is often full of yellowjackets.
  • There’s no central design to the playground.
  • Despite the scale of a playground for older children, most of the equipment is intended for younger children.

Mushroom’s Review

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.

BalletBoy’s Review

I liked the park.  It wasn’t as good as I expected though.  I thought it would be wooden.  I liked the slides there.  I only did them one time though.

Farrar’s Review

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 there’s not really a reason to make this a destination play spot.  If you live nearby, then I’m sure it’s a fine place to play, but for a space with so much potential, it’s almost painful to see how they’ve wasted it.  From a design point of view, there’s 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 didn’t seem to do much for my kids.

To make matters worse (and explain Mushroom and BalletBoy’s reviews!), if you click on the website for the playground you’ll find three small images at the top of the page.  The first one shows toddler equipment that’s 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.  That’s 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 it’s still on time).  Clearly Montgomery County can show at least some creative thinking with a playground like South Germantown Regional Park’s, 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?

Spielschiff

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.

Features:

  • moveable pieces, including a sort of small merry-go-round
  • kaleidoscopes
  • climbing structures
Amenities:

  • bathrooms and water fountains available inside the art center during open hours
Nearby:

  • Arlington Art Center
  • tennis courts
  • Virginia Square Metro station is about a block away
Farrar’s Review:
This is a wonderful playable sculpture, of a sort that there aren’t 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.  It’s a small play space so it’s 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.

Find Me a Merry-Go-Round!

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.

Photo attribution: Kayaker1204 from Flickr's Creative Commons

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.  They’re 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 child’s 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.  They’ve gotten a lot safer than the old one shown above (they’re not allowed to have any holes inside, for one thing!).

I’m 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 I’m aware of:

  • Martin Luther King Park in Silver Spring, on Jackson Road
  • Lynbrook Park in Bethesda next to the Lynbrook Rec Center
  • Ayrlawn Park in Bethesda, off Old Georgetown Road
Do you know of any others?  Please, please, let us know!

Lafayette Park

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.  We’ve been many, many times and my children attended summer camp through DCPR there when they were younger.

Features:

  • Swings
  • Bucket swings
  • Tire swings
  • Separate fenced toddler and unfenced big kid play areas
  • Slides
  • Climbing features
  • Climbing wall
  • Monkey bars and rings
  • Spring based riders
  • Sand pit
  • Musical play equipment
  • Water sprinkler
Amenities:
  • Bathrooms
  • Water fountains
  • Small Rec Center
Nearby:
  • Two more playgrounds attached to adjacent Lafayette Elementary School
  • Tennis courts
  • Baseball field
  • Gazebos
  • Large open grassy space
  • Basketball courts attached to adjacent Lafayette Elementary School
  • The Broad Branch Market, which sells sandwiches and treats among other things is across the street from Lafayette Elementary
Pros:
  • While it’s 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.  It’s rightfully a neighborhood mecca.
Cons:
  • There’s not a sense of one playground.  Especially when you incorporate the school playgrounds on the weekends, if you’re the sort of parent who follows their kids, you can begin to feel like you’re trailing from adjacent playground to adjacent playground.
  • The equipment or overall design isn’t especially creative.

 

Mushroom’s 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.  It’s shaped like a flower.

 

BalletBoy’s 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.


Farrar’s Review
Other 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 they’re lost in a big park, despite the fact that it’s not really that large.  The play equipment is mostly pretty traditional.  It’s 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, I’m 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 I’ve seen kids play an informal follow the leader on them many times.  It’s nothing stellar, but overall it’s 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.