Adventure Playground on Mercer Island

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At Deane Children’s Park on Mercer Island (part of Island Crest Park – 5801 Island Crest Way) there’s an Adventure playground, where children are given hammers and nails, and encouraged to go build, play, explore, and discover. Here’s how Red Tricycle describes it:

an ever-changing carpentry wonderland that’s completely kid-built, poised to capture the imagination… What’s been created so far will surely inspire your lil’ builder to add her own touches or modify a current design. In fact, the organic, continually-evolving nature of this park is part of its cool-appeal. Each day the park is open, new structures pop up simply by adding, removing or connecting to the existing forts, bridges, ladders, ramps and swings.

This is a land where children build their own playground! They build tree forts, add makeshift slides and swings, and add in fun imaginative details like mailboxes and chairs. When they tire of building, they explore other structures, climbing up high on rickety bridges, ducking low into hideouts, and clambering across the hillside. It’s very fun!!!

There are lots of things I LOVE about the Adventure Playground, which I’ll share below. But, there are some definite safety risks there, and it’s not for a parent who is faint of heart. And it’s NOT appropriate for kids under 4. Be sure to read the cautions below.

When to Go

This Tuesday and Wednesday (Aug 30 & 31), they’re open 1 – 4 pm. Then they’re open on Sundays 9/11, 9/18, and 9/25 from 1 – 4 pm. Admission is free, but please donate! (JayMarc Homes is sponsoring the playground this year, but support from participants is important to showing Mercer Island parks that we appreciate this opportunity!) It can be closed for inclement weather.

What to Expect

It’s ESSENTIAL to wear good, solid, closed toe shoes with sturdy soles!! There are nails and other hazards everywhere you step. It would be best to wear long pants, probably – we were there on a high 80’s day but it’s very wooded, so it doesn’t get very hot. Bringing a water bottle would also be a good idea and many parents bring snacks.

When you arrive, the parent must sign a waiver. You’re given a copy of the rules: basically keep track of your tools, respect others, do not take down existing structures, be safe, and report injuries or emergencies. Kids 12 and under must be accompanied by an adult.

Then they check out a toolbox to your child. It contains items like a kid size hammer, a screwdriver, a level, safety glasses, nails, screws, a big pencil. and a measuring tape. Some might have a saw. You can also pick up a construction helmet. Wood scraps are scattered everywhere on the ground – you scavenge around for what you need. Occasionally there are specialty items: deck railings, bed frames, playground slides. When I went in 2015, I wished there were rope, because it really increases the building possibilities.  In 2016, we found some ropes we were able to use to make a swing.

In the future, I plan to bring an adult size hammer – sometimes we needed more leverage to pound or pull a nail than you can get with a kid size hammer. We could have also used a pocket knife to cut a rope with.

ToolBox

What you’ll Find

The playground opened July 5th, so at this point in the season, you’ll find lots of established structures that have been built by the kids who came before you. The photos below are from 2015 and 2016. Click on any photo for a larger view.

Some of the existing structures are quite impressive: solid, stable, serious pieces of construction:

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Some are a little more rickety and haphazard.

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Some kids have added warning signs, some label their creations, and some create whimsical details:

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My son loves running around and exploring what’s there – just like any playground he goes to, the first things he wants to do are: climb ladders, run up ramps, slide down slides, get as high up as he can, and swing on the swing. He was having a fabulous time just playing and exploring till we got to the swing… The existing swing he found was really a disappointment – it didn’t hang straight, and didn’t swing well. So, it was time to start building! We worked together to build a swing. (See a video of the swing here.)

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The Inspiration

The playground is inspired by free play advocates, and advocates for the benefits of risk-taking for kids and the benefits of allowing kids to tinker and build real things with their hands and real tools. There are several adventure playgrounds in England and Europe and the trend is moving to America. Learn more about the movement here:

What Kids Learn

There is so much to be learned in this environment!!

  • Creativity. As a child plays and explores what is already there, they learn about the range of possibilities, and start creating their own vision of what they would like to see in this world, and then set about making that vision a reality.
  • Construction skills. Kids learn about hammers, nails, saws. They learn about measuring, rope tying, adding in shims to stabilize something. So many skills that they discover the need for in the moment of building.
  • Safety assessment. They learn to test their work to see if it’s stable and safe, and re-build as needed.
  • Failure and trying again in a new way. Not everything they attempt works! I was watching a mom and daughter try to fit a bed railing in between two existing uprights. It kept tipping backwards, so they added support boards behind it. But then it was tipping forwards, so they added more boards, and it still tipped, so they had to figure out how to build a better stabilizer to hold it in place.
  • Teamwork. When installing an 8 foot long plank on a 4 foot tall platform, you need help. You can’t do it alone. So, you ask for help, you explain what you’re trying to do. You work together with someone. If they have different ideas, you might need to learn some conflict resolution skills.
  • Satisfaction in a job well done. The kids had just even more fun playing here than they would in any regular playground, but beyond that, they had a whole other layer of pride, sense of competence, and boosted confidence. They all left the playground bragging about what they had created together.

Read more about what kids learn here, where I share more photos, and stories from our trip.

Safety Issues

There are definite safety issues. Many of the ramps are shaky, there are lots of high platforms without rails, and narrow wobbly bridges several feet in the air. There’s lots of potential for falls. Also, the kids are working with hammers, nails, and saws. Some have clearly gotten safety coaching. Others have clearly not.

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When I was there in 2015, if my memory is correct, most of the wood was stacked up in a wood pile near the front gate. This year, the wood was randomly scattered EVERYWHERE across the site. This made it much easier to build… when you had an inspiration, you just searched the ground nearby and you’d find a board you needed, or a branch or a rope. But this means you better pay close attention when you walk! And if you fell, you’d be as likely to land on a board as on the soft ground of the woods. And most boards on the ground have nails sticking up out of them. (Remember those sturdy shoes!)

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There were also LOTS of loose nails on the ground. This is what I picked up just from under the platform where we built our handrail and swing.

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Another issue is that there’s LOTS of places where kids pounded a 3 – 4 inch nail through a 1 – 2 inch thick board, and that means there’s a section of nail sticking out on the other side… so watch out for protruding nails on the backs of ladders and on the bottoms of platforms.

I believe kids can stay safe there, but only if you emphasize to your child the importance of caution. An article in Seattle’s Child says that there have been few injuries, and most of those have been adults, because the kids are being more cautious.

I certainly taught my child how to be careful there!  I let him explore, but I made sure he knew to watch the ground when he walked (no running), test to be sure something is stable before going on it, check to be sure there’s no nails poking out before you put your hand there, and so on.

I LOVE the free play aspect of this playground, but I also think that with great freedom should come great responsibility. I wish that all parents would give their kids some basic education on the way in, not just about how to move safely through the playground and how to use tools safely, but how to be responsible for keeping it safe for others. I wish they were taught to be sure their structures were as stable as possible before walking away and leaving them for other kids to play on. I wish kids were encouraged to stack all their scrap wood in tidy piles, near worksites, but not directly in the range or where someone could fall. I wish they were encouraged to pick up any nails they drop, and to also scan their worksite for any hazards before leaving for the day. I wish that when kids or parents noticed nails sticking out on the back of a handrail, they take out their hammer and quickly pound it down to keep others safe.

I’m definitely a product of a girl scout / boy scout childhood, and have firmly engrained the idea of “leave the site cleaner than you found it.” I feel the users of the playground could use that message, though maybe here it’s “leave the playground safer than you found it.”

Age Guidelines

I personally would not take any child under the age of four here. I think it would be hard to keep them safe. If you have a little one, it’s much better to stick to the traditional safety-tested playground and Deane park has four fabulous play areas not counting the adventure playground! (Read my full review here.)

I took my son last year when he was four. (And I should note, we spend LOTS of time at playgrounds and hiking outdoors and climbing rocks and climbing trees, so he has a lot of physical skills and learned caution from those environments.) I kept a very close eye on him the whole time as he played, and actively educated him about how to stay safe and we didn’t attempt to build anything because I didn’t want to get distracted. We did carry a hammer around with us, and did pound in some loose nails we found.

This year, he’s five, and my husband came too, so we had two sets of eyes to make sure he was safe. So, this year we were able to balance building and supervising him. But I didn’t really have any “sit down and relax” time.

We observed other parents and grandparents with a range of ages, and definitely the 6 – 9 year olds had an adult working closely with them. For the 10-12 year olds, a few parents would sit on a log and read while keeping a vague eye on the kids and calling out suggestions. There weren’t any kids there alone that I noticed, but 12 and ups are allowed to be there without an adult.

If you’d like a building adventure, check it out soon! They’ll dismantle this year’s constructions on September 25th.

 

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Carillon Woods Park – Kirkland

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Carillon Woods, at 5429 106th Ave NE is a lovely wooded park with nice play equipment and plenty of trails through the woods. It’s tucked away in a neighborhood about a quarter mile east of Carillon Point, and just west of Northwest College.

The sign shown above is in the midst of the butterfly garden which had lots of bees gathering pollen and some butterflies on the day we were there. It also has an interpretive sign about the butterfly life cycle.

The play structure is a nice one for ages 3 – 9. It’s got lots of ways to climb up: regular stairs, two ladders up the centers of each tower, a climbing rock, tricky stairs (the fourth picture below), and loop ladders up the sides. For ways down, it has a pair of toddler size slides, and a mid-size slide. There’s a long “bridge” connecting the two towers.

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The playground was partially in the sun partially in the shade at 11 am. It was a fairly hot day, but all the dense greenery of the park helped the shady areas feel quite cool.

Around the corner, you’ll find a nice climbing rock with some comfy benches to sit on and watch your child climb. It’s an artificial rock, and you can definitely tell by the hollow sounds it makes when you climb on it, but with several years of moss and dirt on it, it looks surprisingly realistic. The wood chips around it are deep and soft – as my husband walked on it, you could see the chips sink down an inch or so, and slowly raise back up as he moved on.

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Around the corner from there are swings. They’re both kid style swings – no toddler bucket. The climbing rock and swings are very shady, so good for a hot day.

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Then there are the trails – there’s a short paved loop (plenty long enough for a tricycle outing) that takes you around the play equipment and back to this interpretive sign about water, and a bench.

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Then there’s lots of other trails through the woods. We wandered along some of them, but didn’t fully investigate. The park is almost 9 acres, and the developed area with the play equipment is maybe an acre of that, so there’s lots more to explore. (2 acres is off limits to the public as it’s an unstable slope, and contains a pump house and active wells.)

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There are no bathrooms at the park.

We were there from about 10:30 – 12:30 on a sunny Tuesday, and saw one man walking his dogs, one grandma with a toddler, and one other family arrived just as we were leaving. I don’t know if that’s typical usage or not. If you’re looking for a busy park packed with kids, this may not be it.

But, if you’re looking for a quiet and really lovely park, where you’re surrounded by lush green foliage, this is a great park for you!

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Note: this park is not as well maintained as we’re used to in Kirkland. The playground could really use a pressure washing (especially where the moss is growing on the roof) and there’s lots of weeding to be done. But there’s no trash or anything – so the users keep it tidy.

More info at: Kirkland Views (a great write-up), Active Rain, and My Parks

Reservoir Park – Kirkland

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In the Norkirk neighborhood, around the corner from Van Aalst Park, you’ll find Reservoir Park at 1501 3rd St. It’s a small neighborhood park with a fun playground.

It’s got a good-sized climbing structure, best for ages 4 – 8. It includes a tall tube slide, two mid-size flat slides, and a short wobbly slide, plus a climbing “rock” zone and some low-ish platforms to peer out from.

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It has one of those sit and spin / stand and spins.

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And swings. (2 kid, 2 toddler buckets)

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No bathrooms. Partially shady.

Just one other family came by on the warm Wednesday afternoon when we were there. Not sure if that’s typical usage.

More details and pictures at: Active Rain and My Parks.

Learn more about other parks in Kirkland / Juanita: Tot Lot, Finn Hill, OO Denny, St. Edwards, and Van Aalst Park

Tot Lot Park – Kirkland

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I’ve heard about Tot Lot for years and finally made it there… its claim to fame is that it’s a fully fenced park, so it’s easy to sit and relax while your tots have fairly free run of the space. (Another fully fenced park is Phyllis Needy, in southern Kirkland.) It’s also flat, so there’s not the walking challenge for new walkers that some of our hilly parks pose.

The main climbing structure is pictured above, and is good for the 2 – 6 year old crowd.

There are three swings: a kids’ swing, a toddler bucket swing, and an ADA swing.

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There’s also a cement turtle sculpture kids can climb on that’s surrounded by wood chips. (Many people call this “the turtle park.”)

There’s a car built of pipes you can climb in to and on to.

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There’s a fun sandbox area. Families have left lots of sand toys to play with. (There’s also lots of ride-upon toys scattered freely about the grass.)

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When we were there in early June, there was a GREAT old slide, but it’s slated to be replaced sometime this summer, and I’m not sure when that’s happening. (It may have already happened). It’s an old style metal slide, with three bumps. They’re big enough bumps that our 42 pound kid “catches air” going over them. He’d say “ouch, ouch, ouch” on the way down as he went over each bump, but he continued to ride the slide over and over, so I think he liked it.

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There’s a fair amount of shade at the park. There’s a couple picnic tables in the shade for snack time or for parents to sit and socialize at. There’s a trash can just outside the gate – they ask that you pack your stuff out if possible, but if not, please use the trashcan, don’t leave your trash! There is a porta-potty there.

There’s also a pea patch program at Tot Lot.

More info at: Active Rain; My Parks and Recreation.

The park is at 111 9th Ave, just north of downtown Kirkland.

For reviews of more local parks, click on the words Seattle area in the right sidebar (on desktops – or scroll to the bottom on mobile devices). Or click on toddler dates for ideas for cheap fun things to do with toddlers

Van Aalst Park in Kirkland

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Van Aalst Park in the Norkirk area of Kirkland has just opened a brand new playground. We went there today to check it out. It has some fun, unique items I have not seen before in another playground.

Teeter Totter (Seesaw)

My favorite is this teeter totter (Note: click on any image for a larger photo)

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From the pictures, you can tell one of the cool things about it: it has a ring in the center where a child can sit and be rocked back and forth. But even cooler – this is one of the best kinesthetic seesaw experiences I’ve seen / had. On a typical seesaw, it’s just a plank, and you sit behind a handle on one end. If you have two kids on there who are completely different weights, you have to balance it by putting one on the end behind the handle, and one sits somewhere on the other side between the handle and the center, like in this picture. (photo credit: P6141315 via photopin (license))  But they pretty much have to sit still in that place. And only a few people can ride at once.

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On this one, it’s big enough that 3 – 4 kids can fit on each side (plus the kid in the middle makes up to 9 kids of varying ages and weights!) If there’s only a few kids, they have a lot of room to move back and forth on their side to find the sweet spot for balance. In the first two photos, you can see a team of three boys who had it figured out… the solo kid would scoot all the way back while the other two ran in and leaned in till it tipped. Then the pair would walk toward the end until it teetered their way. There was lots of giggling and shrieking involved!

I could teeter totter with my son, who weighs 40% what I weigh, and I could also teeter totter with my husband who weighs 170% what I weigh. This sometimes involved one person perched out on the VERY end of one side leaning outward, while the other person stood in the center, leaning inward over the center piece. But you could do it!

Merry-go-Bounce. From the picture, you might think this is a merry-go-round, which spins. But, it doesn’t turn at all – it’s mounted on springs and it bounces up and down when you walk and jump on it. We saw kids playing alone on it, moms and kids, and group of five middle school girls.

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Washboard Slide. This slide has two sections in it that have little spinning rods (kind of like the conveyor belt in airport security lines where your carry-on and bins get rolled along.) It’s a fun novelty. My son said it felt a little different (more “rumbly-bumpy” than a typical slide.) I tried it out and agreed – it wasn’t crazy different, but it was interesting. When climbing up the slide, don’t put  your feet on the washboard!

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Climbing ramps / belts: There were four rubber ramps on each side of the climber. The 3 – 4 year olds would scale them using their hands and feet. My five year old could walk up. The big boys would run up one side and down the other. They’re an interesting challenge, just because you have to walk a little differently on a flexible ramp that has a little “give.”

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Balance Beam: The ramps lead up to a narrow beam, for balancing on, with a rope above to hold onto to steady yourself.

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Mini Swings: Under the balance beam were these little mini-swings / seats – they don’t swing much, but my son liked them.

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Swings: They were installing the new swings while we were there. It took a REALLY long time. But it looks like there will be one kid swing and one toddler/bucket swing. When we left, the kid swing was hung really high – the perfect height for an adult male!

More details to help you plan a visit

Note: there is no shade over the playground, so not the best place on a hot day. You MIGHT be able to find a spot of shade away from the playground to sit for a snack. This playground is not fenced at all and has neighborhood roads on three sides. It’s built on a hill, and at the top of the hill is a basketball court, but really the basketball court and playground are the only attractions. No bathrooms.

I have been to this park three times in the past few years, all on BEAUTIFUL sunny spring days, and been the only family there. My son was disappointed each time to not have anyone to play with. Today it was busier – a couple people came to check out the new equipment. Then, since it was Wednesday early dismissal, lots of kids stopped by on their way home from the nearby elementary school – some with parents, some on their own.

The park is at 335 13th Avenue. The parks department website includes a few details including a link to a map / directions. There’s also a review on the Parks of Kirkland website (which is a great resource on local parks!!) but lots of their details are out of date with the old playground structure gone and this new one installed.

Check it out and comment to let me know what you thought!

For reviews of more local parks, click on the words Seattle area in the right sidebar (on desktops – or scroll to the bottom on mobile devices). Or click on toddler dates for ideas for cheap fun things to do with toddlers.

Deane Children’s Park on Mercer Island

One of the joys of living in King County is our parks departments… even after 25 years of living here, and 21 years of parenting, which leads me to park after park, I am still discovering truly fabulous new-to-me parks. Today’s discovery was Deane Children’s Park on Mercer Island.

This morning, I turned to a trusty resource: ParentMap. Specifically, this article on the most adventurous playgrounds around Seattle. They pointed to Deane’s as having one of the best climbing wall playgrounds. (A few weeks ago, we checked out Jefferson Park in south Seattle, which was also mentioned in this article. Jefferson Park is fabulous! Our son loved the zip line and the really tall, really fast slide.)

Deane Children’s Park is located at Island Crest Park, 5500 Island Crest Way on Mercer Island, just south of Island Park school. It is the same park that hosts the Adventure Playground (more on that below.)

Here’s what we found at Deane’s (click on any photo to see a bigger version of it):

The climbing wall playground:

IMG_20150807_111756466The big playground:

IMG_20150807_111823990The castle playground:

Picture1And the dragon playground:

Picture2Yes, that’s four separate fabulous playground areas, all within spitting distance of each other! All of which are good enough on their own to justify a trip to Mercer Island. And that’s not counting the two areas with swings, or the climbing sculpture by the entrance. Or the little hikes through the woods, or the xylophone, or cool little details on the playgrounds like the abacus. (Note: the xylophone is dedicated to Judy Witmer, who has been lead teacher at Mercer Island Learning Lab – a program of Bellevue College Parent Education – for about 30 years.) The dragon playground has a fun history – the original dragon was built in 1965. By 2013, it was in poor condition. The arts coordinators on Mercer Island went searching for the original sculptor – they found him, now an 81 year old artist living in Montana. Here’s the story of how he created the new dragon.

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And… there’s also the Adventure Playground. Where they hand kids hammers, nails, safety goggles, and wood, and let them build whatever they want! Read my post on it here.

If you have a child who is five or over who likes to build, check it out!

IMG_20150807_111731160So, lots of great play areas in one park. And, as you can see from the photos, plenty of shade for hot summer days. We had a fabulous time there today, ending with bagels from Einstein’s on our way home.

Read about more local parks: St. Edward’s, OO Denny and Big Finn Hill in Juanita; Farm Parks in Bellevue and Redmond; the dog park at Marymoor. Or check out ParentMap for lots more park reviews.

Cheap Dates: Explore New Parks

St. Edward's State Park - Kenmore, WA. Click on photo to enlarge

St. Edward’s State Park – Kenmore, WA. Click on photo to enlarge

Summer is a great time to try something you haven’t tried before! Is there a park near you that you’ve heard people talk about, but never actually gone to? Have you ever driven down a road that has a sign saying that there’s a park that-a-way, but never followed the arrow to check it out? Have you looked on a map, and said “there’s a park in that neighborhood? I never knew!” Now is your chance to check them out!

To find out more about your local parks, search online on the websites for your city, your county, your state, and national parks websites. (Or look on an old-fashioned paper map!) Most will have directories of camps, with listings of what amenities are available at each park. You can also check Yelp and other online review sites for reviews of local options.

There are also lots more playgrounds that aren’t listed on maps and directories: playgrounds at your public elementary school, playgrounds in new neighborhood developments (some of those may be officially limited to neighbor kids only, but really, who’s going to check?)

For my readers in the Seattle area, here are some of our new discoveries:

St. Edward’s State Park

For YEARS, I have heard about the playground here. (See pictures above and this article) It was built in 2003, just when my daughter’s were growing out of playground age. It was a community project – kids from 7 elementary schools and some scout troops dreamed up ideas, and adults worked together to design it and make it happen. They built it with all volunteer hours and donated funds from individuals and companies. I’ve heard for years about how great it was, and we finally went.

My son LOVED it. He ran through every square inch of the playground, played on the slides, explored the sandbox, played on the marimba, and so on. Very big, diverse, interesting playground, well worth going back to.

Only strike? It’s big, and there’s lots of places in it where it’s hard to see your child. If you had multiple children, there’s no one place you could sit and keep an eye on them everywhere. So, this is definitely a play-with-your-kid or follow-your-kid playground, not an “I’ll just sit here and read Facebook while you play” playground.

There are also hiking trails and waterfront here… we’ll have to check those out the next time we go.

St. Edward’s is a state park. It’s $10 to park your car there, unless you have a Discovery Pass ($30 per year – we use it here, at Bridle Trails State Park, Lake Sammamish State park, so get our money’s worth from that, but the other day I looked up Washington State parks in King County and it turns out there’s LOTS of them. They’re next on our list to check out!)

O.O. Denny Park, Kirkland. Photo: http://www.lakewaparks.com/2011/06/o-o-denny-park/

O.O. Denny Park, Kirkland. Photo: http://www.lakewaparks.com/2011/06/o-o-denny-park/

O.O. Denny Park

On our way out of St. Edward’s park, I noticed again the signs I have noticed for years for “Denny Park.” We decided that the next time we wanted to go to a park to check it out. When we returned, we went on the hiking trails which was a nice and slightly challenging hike – the three year old wasn’t with us, but I think he would have struggled a bit with a couple of the hills. After the hike, we walked along the water. This is a Kirkland beach park with shade by the water (!) and without crowds. It’s nice to know there’s this option for the hot sunny days when you know Juanita Beach and Marina Park will be mobbed.

If you read reviews (like on Yelp), they’ll say there’s no playground and that the second parking lot is a potholed dirt lot. Neither of these is true now. There is a new playground there, which is pretty good (not as good as St. Edward’s…) and the back lot is now paved.

Note: O.O. Denny Park was willed to the City of Seattle in the early 1900’s. It appears to now be operated by City of Kirkland and/or the Finn Hill Neighborhood Alliance.

Big Finn Hill Park, Kirkland / Juanita. source: http://finnhillalliance.org/2013/10/a-walk-in-the-park/

Big Finn Hill Park, Kirkland / Juanita. source: http://finnhillalliance.org/2013/10/a-walk-in-the-park/

Big Finn Hill Park

Then on the way home from Denny, we saw the signs for Big Finn Hill (a King County park), which again, we’ve seen the signs for years and never gone. So, this was next on our list. We planned a hike in the woods on a hot day. We didn’t realize there was a playground till we got there, but of course our son had to try it out before (and after) the hike. We followed the trail maps and it was a great opportunity to practice Left and Right skills with our son, asking him “we need to turn left, which way is left” Nice trail, very manageable for a 3 year old. Nice range of plant life, lots of animal dens, and one baby bunny spotted.

Big Finn Hill playground Kirkland / Juanita

Big Finn Hill playground Kirkland / Juanita

Toddlers and preschool age kids are happy to return to the same park over and over again, but for me as an adult, it’s nice to discover something new…   So, check out some new parks in your neighborhood!

Here’s links to posts I’ve written about other local parks: farm parks – Farrell McWhirter in Redmond and Kelsey Creek in Bellevue, dog parks at Marymoor, Robinswood and KDOG; turtle watching at Juanita Bay Park, stumps to climb on at Peter Kirk and Bridle Trails, Woodland Park in Seattle, and wading at Everest Park in Kirkland.

To get more ideas for “cheap dates with toddlers” (most have specific details for Seattle area folks, but hopefully there’s useful ideas there for non-locals too) just click on “toddler dates” in the right hand sidebar of the page.