One of my favorite things about summer is taking my son, Triple A, to the playground. As soon as a play structure is in sight he chimes a resounding chorus of “Hooray, play, hooray!” I can hardly get Triple A out of his car seat fast enough… a scene many of you are familiar with I’m sure.
My boy and I are now playground connoisseurs. As wonderful as the playground can be, not all playgrounds are created equal, especially when you’re taking a toddler. While a baby swing can be great fun it’s good to visit play structures that encourage little ones to explore, develop gross motor skills, and practice some independence without compromising on safety. Here are my favorite toddler-friendly playground features.
Tunnel– Tunnels are wonderful because they are a great place for social play. Triple A loves, I mean loves, peak-a-boo and a tunnel is the perfect place to play peak-a-boo on the playground. At first tunnels presented a modest challenge because it took Triple A some time to muster up the courage to go through and then he needed to figure out he had to crawl and not walk through the tunnels. Now the tunnel one of his favorite spots on the playground especially when there are other kids to play with.
Angled-Ladder I confess, I’m a mama who has to keep her “mom goggles” in check. When first getting onto the playground this spring, even as I was there spotting him, watching Triple A traverse a ladder made me so nervous. Still, I know it’s important to let him take risks and challenge himself. That’s why I love angled ladders, they are challenging yet manageable. Triple A just turned two and he is almost to the point where he no longer needs a spotter on angled ladders.
The Right Slide Slides can make or break a playground for me. I was amazed by how many skills a toddler needs to do something as simple as independently go down a slide. Sliding down on one’s bottom requires balance, core strength, and maintaining control without dragging one’s feet. When looking for a good toddler slide I consider three things: angle, edges, and the landing area. You want the angle to be steep enough so a foot-dragger will still slide down but not too steep to be scary. For toddlers I like slides with higher edges and a longer landing area at the bottom.
Spring Riders Triple A is drawn to these riders because mounting them presents a manageable climbing challenge and he loves rocking on the various animals or trucks. A fall off one of these would be an opportunity to learn about gravity without causing too much harm. Spring riders are a great place on the playground for toddlers to safely explore balance and coordination.
Variety If we’re making a trip to the playground I want to be sure we’re headed to a place that will maintain Triple A’s interest. Variety is the key to interest. Now variety doesn’t necessarily mean the playground has to be huge, it just has to encourage creative play and/or have multiple toddler-friendly play options.
My favorite local park is Kiwanis Park in Iowa City. This park incorporates natural features alongside the play structures. There are rocks, bushes, and little trails weaving through the playground area. Watching my son and other kids on this park I’ve noticed that the natural elements strongly encourage open-ended creative play. A rock can be a table, a chair, a mountain to climb, or an imaginary friend. The options seem to be endless when nature is involved.
After visiting a couple of different parks you’ll soon discover your child’s favorite playground features. The playground is a great place for both mom and child to grow. Mom’s learn about when to step in and when to step back. On the playground children build confidence, develop coordination, and learn about limits. The most important thing is to get out with your toddler and enjoy the playgrounds in your area.
Wife, work at home mom, and bassoonist, Laura Ankrum lives in Iowa City, Iowa. Prior to the arrival of her two children Laura taught elementary music and band in the Boston area. Now her home is her classroom and music studio. Laura is passionate about education, encouraging other moms, and eco-friendly living. She is the social media coordinator at Thirsties Inc.