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.

Watermelon Magic Movie

Today we saw a sweet IMAX movie called Watermelon Magic. If you have a young child, and you like gardening or the outdoors or the forest kindergarten movement or like seeing five-year-old children who are empowered and supported in independent play and in pursuing a long-term project, you will like this movie.

Click on the trailer at the top of the post to get a sense of what the movie is like. Our son fell in love with this trailer when he was three years old, and it finally came to Seattle! (It’s at Pacific Science Center IMAX theater now: www.pacificsciencecenter.org/IMAX/watermelon-magic)

Audience: This is a movie aimed at the under 7 crowd. My son is four, and loved it. I talked to the mom of a two year old who enjoyed it though his mom said he was squirmy. The other 5 people in the theater were grandparents and an aunt… It was not high entertainment for the adults, but not annoying like some kid movies. It was an easy, relaxing, gentle and sweet movie.

Plot: It is a very simple story. The brief plot is: 5 year old Sylvia plants watermelon seeds, tends the garden, and sells them at a farmer’s market. There’s a little more to it than that, but that’s the big picture.There’s also very little dialogue – it’s show… not tell.

The parts I liked best were: Sylvia has a magic wand at the beginning and uses it to play some harmless tricks – it’s a fun little bit of fantasy at the start of the movie. Later, after the watermelon have begun to grow, her little brother keeps accidentally tromping on them, so she has the idea to build a fence. She gets the saw out, saws the bamboo, sets the bamboo posts, and ties the cross-beams on. By herself. Remember, this a 5-year-old who is doing the work. (Yes, I’m sure she had supervision, and had help when the camera wasn’t filming, but there’s no reason to think a 5-year-old couldn’t be taught to handle this project safely.)  She staffs her own stand at the farmer’s market and collects the money herself.

Mood: it’s sweet, gentle and slow-paced. Kind of like spending time outdoors in a garden.

Film: This is shot in time-lapse photography style. There’s lots of very cool scenes of plants growing, including close-ups of sprouts pushing up out of the soil. There’s some fun sunrise and sunset time-lapses and rainstorms. These are all pretty fabulous. But… my only complaint about the movie is that the whole thing is time-lapsed, and frankly it gets a little tiring to see the “stuttering” quality of that throughout the whole movie. There were times when Sylvia was talking with her mom where they slowed down the frame speed and would hold the image of each of them for longer… I liked that better. And although the time-lapse helped the movie feel “magical”, I wished some portions had just been done as video.

Possible activities you could do with your child before or after this movie, to extend the learning:

  • watch other time-lapse videos. there’s LOTS on YouTube
  • make a time-lapse video. We may try doing this… I don’t have the patience to do it with a growing plant, so I’m thinking it would be something that changes more quickly… maybe water beads going from their dried up form to fully grown, or the “Magic Grow Capsules” – those capsules where you put them in water, and the foam inside grows into a dinosaur or whatever. These changes happen over 8 – 20 hours, so my son is familiar with that process, and if we time-lapsed it and then played the video in 20 seconds, he’d get a better grasp of time-lapse, and then we could talk more about how the plants didn’t really grow as fast in reality as they did in the movie
  • you could plant watermelon seeds and tend them till you have watermelon (I say “you” because I know I’m not likely to do that… I’m not a gardener)
  • the next time we eat watermelon, we’ll talk about this movie
  • If you live somewhere watermelon grows, you may be able to find a you-pick watermelon farm
  • help your child come up with a big long-term project they would like to try

If you see the movie, let me know what you think!

Summer Outdoor Movies in King County

movieEach summer, I go through and make a list of all the options for outdoor movies… this year someone did it for me!

www.seattlemet.com/articles/2015/6/9/seattle-summer-outdoor-movie-guide-2015

I loved taking my older girls to outdoor movies every summer – the kids can run around near you and play, you can relax on your picnic blanket. They’re free or cheap. Lots of fun kid-appropriate summer movies. It’s all good!!

Sadly, our boy has been an early-to-bed child so far, and in Seattle summertime it doesn’t get dark enough to start an outdoor movie until after his bedtime. (I think in July, movies start at 9ish. In August, they start at 8:30 or so)  But, if you’ve got a child who stays up later, or a child who will curl up on a picnic blanket and fall asleep, they’re great!

If you’re interested in lots more fun (and inexpensive) things to do with your kids in King County, check out my Cheap Dates with Toddlers series. If you want to learn more about fun outdoor activities, and why they’re good for kids, I write a lot about nature play.

 

photo credit: watching the movie via photopin (license)

Cheap Dates with Toddlers: Nature’s Playgrounds

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Peter Kirk Park, Kirkland, WA. Click to enlarge photos

Sometimes, parks have to take out trees – they’re old, they’re damaged by insects or lightning or whatever. That’s always sad. But, when you’re really lucky, the park does this! At Peter Kirk Park in downtown Kirkland, when they took out a tree (or cluster of trees?) recently, they left the stumps behind, in a perfect toddler and kid playground adventure!

My three year old loves playing on these, but so do kids of all ages. Unlike modern playgrounds, they’re not standardized sizes and shapes, with the exact measured distance between objects and a scientifically designed surface beneath. They’re just four stumps, of different heights that you can climb up, perch on, jump off. Fabulous!

If you live in the area, come check them out (but be sure to park on the street or at the library – the shopping center says they’ll tow park users). If you’re not local look for similar lucky finds in your neighborhood!

We also found a great set of stumps at Bridle Trails Park in Bellevue, next to the arena.

Bridle Trails State Park, Bellevue, WA

Bridle Trails State Park, Bellevue, WA

To learn more about kids and nature, just click on ‘nature activities’ in the right hand side bar.

 

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.