Tag Archives: Playground

Van Aalst Park in Kirkland


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.


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!


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.”


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


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.

Cheap Dates with Toddlers: More “Natural” Playgrounds

Woodland Park playground by landscape structures

Woodland Park playground by landscape structures – click to enlarge pictures

Proponents of outdoor play and nature play know that one of the benefits of outdoor play is the range of physical skills used when playing outdoors: balancing on logs and climbing up trees requires kids to continually adapt their movement – reaching farther for some toe-holds than others… moving slower on slippery moss. Some modern playground manufacturers are starting to try to incorporate some of this variability and adventure in their playgrounds, while still making sure they meet all the safety requirements.
We recently checked out the playground at Woodland Park in Seattle (at 59th and Phinney Ave, by the north parking lot at the zoo). They have a new playground which has got some really cool features:

  • Ladders with uneven steps… challenge kids to pay attention and to adapt their movements to the variable heights of each step
  • “Rock climbing” ladders… kids scale uneven “rocks” to get to the slide
  • this rope dome thing that has no clear obvious way up, so kids have to get inventive to find their way up

Landscapes Structures is a national company. You can search for a Landscapes Structures playground near you: www.playlsi.com/

(I do have to say though, that just because it’s Landscape Structures won’t mean it’s this cool…. this is one of their newest designs I think – we’ve been to some parks with older equipment by them and they don’t have these organic features, though they’re still always nice.)

And also, I recommend getting your child out in nature, or in “found nature playgrounds” in your urban area.


Cheap Dates with Toddlers – Winter Outings to the Playground


During the summer, the most obvious place to take your toddler is on an outing to a playground.

But in the winter, parents hesitate to go.

Playgrounds are just as fun in the winter – you just need to plan ahead!

Bundle up your child for the weather – gloves and hats help a lot. Even more important for your enjoyment is to bundle up yourself! Your child will be kept warm and distracted by running around – you’re the one more likely to get cold. Bring along an old towel or two to wipe down wet slides and wet swings to keep your child’s bottom dry. And bring an extra set of clothes, just in case!

I keep our rain boots in the car to allow for spontaneous outings in the winter. Some day I’ll remember to keep old towels in the car so I always have one available. (Instead, I’m the one whose kid gets soaked pants every time we go – good thing I always have extra clothes in the diaper bag!)

For lots more ideas for fun, cheap outings with a toddler, click on the category Toddler Date on the right…

Cheap Dates for Toddlers: Indoor Playgrounds


[Every Friday, I post a “toddler date” idea for something fun and simple to do with your toddler. My general rules are: The big picture ideas apply to any locale, but the specific examples will be for the Eastside of Seattle. But for this idea, I honestly don’t know if this is a Seattle area thing or whether parks departments across the country do it. Please comment if these exist in your area!!)

Indoor playgrounds (also called Open Gym, or Toddler Play Time, or… ) are held at almost all community centers, from September through May. They are open play sessions, where you can drop in anytime during the session, and you can leave whenever your child is tired. They’re a great opportunity for rambunctious, loud, energy-burning large-motor play on cold, wet days.

The community center staff sets out: balls, hula hoops, toy cars and other ride-upons, slides, and more big motor play options in the gym. The equipment ranges a little from site to site, as does the typical number of attendees, and the typical noise level. Our favorite site is Issaquah Community Center because they’re open Monday through Friday from 8 – noon, and I like having somewhere to go early in the day. But, on Jazzercise days, it gets really loud, as the Jazzercise class happens in another part of the gym right next to indoor play.

Attendance varies by site, but also varies a lot day by day, since these are all drop-in groups. I would say typical attendance on the Eastside is 5 – 10 families. Some weeks you’ll find yourself at a very busy playtime with 15 to twenty families running around, I’ve been to one that had only one other family, and one where my son and I were the only ones in attendance, but we had a fabulous time with the basketball, and he ran off lots of energy before we headed off to library story time.

Indoor playgrounds typically cost $2 – 4. If you’re there at the end of the session, the staff generally asks parents to help with clean up.(And sometimes the staff hasn’t set up at the beginning, and they just encourage you to pull out any toys your child wants to play with.)

For more info: