Do you have fond memories of playing in playgrounds from when you were a child? I sure do. Maybe you have a favorite playground, a neighborhood playground you walked to as a child, maybe a playground that your family drove to for special occasions, or a playground far away in a relative’s town. Since you became an adult do you still visit playgrounds? I bet if you are a childcare provider, a parent, or a grandparent you still do. I’m a grandparent of Charlie who will be three in March and Samantha who is six months at the end of December. My husband Tom and I love taking the children to the playground. Charlie likes us to join in on the fun by going down slides, swinging, and looking for sticks for imagination play.
The first playground I can remember is when I was around six years old. There was an elementary school that had a playground two blocks from my grandparents’ home in Mahoningtown, Pennsylvania. My brother and sisters and I were allowed to go there on our own to play. I can visualize the tall straight slide that I loved to go down over and over. There were swings and a half basketball court. I think there was a merry-go-round, but I am not sure. I loved the freedom of being able to walk to that playground and play.
When I was nine years old, my family lived in New Brighton, Pennsylvania. My father was a teacher and football coach during the school year and helped run the playground program in the summer. In the summer of 1967, I remember having my one and only tennis lesson as a child. There was a tennis court next to a playground and a tennis instructor offered to give me a tennis lesson. I hit the ball over the fence and into a creek. I took off my shoes and socks to go in the creek to pick up the ball and a piece of glass cut the side of my foot. Next thing I knew blood was squirting everywhere. My father tied his belt around my leg to try to stop the bleeding, borrowed someone’s motor scooter, and drove me to the hospital.
From the age of ten, my family regularly visited my Aunt Phil in Washington, DC. The Hearst playground was about five blocks from my aunt’s house. There is still an elementary school next to the now-renovated playground. Hearst had basketball hoops that were somewhere between six and eight feet tall. I remember trying to jump up and touch the rim and trying to dunk basketballs and tennis balls. There is still a large field and now two tennis courts there. On several visits, I would hit tennis balls with my dad. Years later when I became a physical education teacher and tennis coach for the Washington International School, I would use these same tennis courts for teaching students and for practice with my tennis teams. I always loved the setting of these courts. Three sides of the fence are surrounded by large trees and the fourth side had a backboard. The traffic is minimal there, so it can be a relaxing quiet setting to play. There is now a small public pool built next to the two tennis courts.
Dr. Marcy Guddemi is one of my play heroes. Marcy wrote the article, “The Healing Powers of Play” I love this quote by Marcy...
Play is the means to healing both for your child and you.
Tom and I became parents when we had Alex in 1985. We were then living at graduate housing for the University of Maryland. Tom was working on his Ph.D., and I had just completed my MA from George Washington University two months before. Graduate housing had two playgrounds. Both had swings for children and a covered swing adults could sit on and face each other. Alex loved swings as a young child. One of the playgrounds had a sandbox where he spent hours playing in the sand. One benefit of the graduate housing playgrounds was the number of children that were around. You could almost always count on other children coming out to play.
A couple of years later in 1988, our daughter Sarah was born. We had moved to Takoma Park, Maryland, and had plenty of playgrounds to visit. We were also very lucky because my father-in-law offered to build the children a playground in the backyard. The kids loved playing on their own there. We had two swings and a climbing area. I could look out the kitchen window and watch them play. In 1992 we moved into the house where we live now. We dug up the playground set and put it in our backyard until the kids outgrew it. Our children sure we're fortunate to have their own playground built by their grandfather Jack.
There was a playground called Jequie Park (renamed Belle Ziegler Park) within walking distance of our house when the children were young. When Alex turned seven years old, he wanted to have a baseball birthday party. So, we got a permit for the park since there are a small baseball field and a pavilion with picnic tables. Alex’s love for baseball is still with him today. He is a baseball coach for the Maret School in Washington, DC. Alex also has a huge collection of baseball cards.
Sarah wanted to do whatever her brother was doing when she was young. She wanted to go down a swirly slide when she was around the age of two. I went with her several times and realized she could do it by herself. I was standing off to the side when Sarah was going down the swirly slide when a lady yelled, “who is watching that baby?” I answered, “me.” I told the lady I had gone down with Sarah several times and I felt Sarah could go down on her own.
When I take my playful walks around Takoma Park I smile and think of Sarah going down that swirly slide and Alex having fun at his baseball birthday party.
Rae Pica, an early childhood play advocate I highly admire, is known for this quote:
I shouldn’t have to defend play for children anymore than I should have to defend their eating, sleeping, and breathing.”
During the summer of 2018, my husband Tom and I traveled to California. I recall looking up playgrounds in the San Jose area and we ended up walking to RotaryPlay Garden. I have fond memories of this playground. Children were enjoying many of the latest playground activities that have been designed in the last couple of years. Also, this playground was handicapped accessible, spacious, and fun for all ages.
Takoma Park, Maryland has several playgrounds, half of which are maintained by our City’s Public Works Department and the other half by Montgomery County. Our nonprofit Let’s Play America created a Guide to Takoma Park Playgrounds. If your community does not have a map of playgrounds with a description of equipment, I urge you to create one or contact your city government to encourage having a guide made. Many parents and adults have thanked me for creating this guide. Several people have told me they would not have known about some of the playgrounds without this guide.
I would love to hear from you about your memories at playgrounds. Where was your favorite playground? What did you enjoy playing when you went to the playground? Who did you play with when you went to the playground? Readers, I hope you continue to visit and play at playgrounds. Give yourself some more playful memories. I often stop and swing when I am out for a walk when I pass through a playground. My daughter and I still go down the slides. Remember you are never too old to play.
- If you are looking for ways to add play in your community or maybe just for you and your family, then check out our Play Day Handbook.
- The photographs for my first children’s book, “Let’s Play at the Playground,” were taken at the Washington International School Primary campus playground. My good friend Daniel Nakamura, a talented photographer, took the photos. Daniel is also the co-founder of Let’s Play America with me. If you are interested in a signed copy of the book, feel free to reach out to me, [email protected] You can see the cover of the book on the link below and watch the voice trailer for our latest book, “Let’s Play Outside” on our website.
- Our nonprofit Let’s Play America is now offering a Shop & Play section on their website.