Tag Archives: park

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.

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Nature Connection Pyramid

pyramidi like this infographic from the Nature Kids’ Institute, which gives “recommended daily allowances” style of recommendations for getting your child outside. (They have a free five part series of short videos on “Let’s Bring Childhood Back Outside.”)

They talk about free, unstructured outdoor play once a day. This is about the little stuff, like finding some tree stumps in your neighborhood to climb and jump off of, or stopping at a local plant nursery, going on an autumn leaf hunt or a scavenger hunt in your neighborhood, or walking to the store, or playing in the backyard, or weeding the garden or digging in a sandbox. In the video, they say the best thing is an empty outdoor space with no toys or obvious activities so children get creative and invent their own play.

They suggest that once a week, you make a plan for a nature outing, like a trip to the dog park (whether or not you have a dog), a visit to a farm park or petting zoo, a hike to search for wildlife. You could even just visit the same woods or park every week, and make friends with a tree. At this time of year, try the pumpkin patch.

Once a month, check out a regional, state or national park. Here are some new favorites we found this summer. And once a year, go somewhere wild.

If you find yourself making excuses for why you “just can’t go outside today”, check out my post on overcoming the barriers to outside play.

Why do this? There are so many benefits to outdoor play! Increased creativity and self-direction, decrease in ADHD symptoms, large motor development, lower obesity rates, better vision, and more… As winter sets in, you’ll often feel like your child is “bouncing off the walls” inside. Bundle them up, take them outside, and let them play!

Have you gotten your recommended dose of nature today?

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.