There’s a movement afoot in our country to restore play to the lives of children. And no, we don’t mean PlayStation or other computer games. We’re thinking the kind of imaginative games and “make-believe” that seem to have gone the way of the dinosaur in our high-tech age. Proponents argue that unstructured play teaches children crucial life skills, including problem-solving and impulse control.
For decades playgrounds were the go-to place to have fun, but starting in the 1970s, playgrounds of all variations disappeared from the landscape. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control found that only one in five children in the U.S. now lives within a half-mile of a park or playground. Luckily, organizations like KaBOOM! — a national nonprofit dedicated to helping communities build playgrounds — is working to reverse those numbers. In partnership with New York-based architect David Rockwell, its first Imagination Playground opened to the public in southern Manhattan two and a half years ago. The concept promotes free play and safe materials and surfaces.
Happily, there are also dedicated parents and nonprofit groups throughout the Hudson Valley that are organizing to build their own innovative playgrounds.
The Wee Play Tot Park in Beacon draws the under-six crowd (and their parents) from all around the region. “I’ve been checking out lots of different playgrounds recently, looking for inspiration and ideas,” says Kundi Clark, president of the Wee Play Community Project and director of the playground. “And we really do have one of the coolest playgrounds around. It’s super toddler-friendly.” Sure is. The fenced-in playground is crammed full of donated toys and also has toddler swings, slides, a sandbox and a soft ground cover.
The playground, which opened in late 2005, was the brainchild of several Beacon moms who put together a grassroots group that focused on nonstop fund-raising — $100,000 in the first few years — and working with the City of Beacon recreation department. Today, the active organization continues to raise money with its annual Ree-Play Sale (held the last weekend in April), where they sell gently used donated kids clothes and supplies; the money is funneled back to the tot park and other Beacon playgrounds for maintenance, cleanup, and new projects. Next on the agenda? Building a structure to get some shade — and to be inspired. “I was just down in Central Park and saw a beautiful cement tunnel,” says Clark.
Other playgrounds of note:
Bowdoin Park, Wappingers Falls
Year after year our readers vote this 300-acre Dutchess County spread as the best park in the region. With unobstructed views of the Hudson River, this hilly park has a nature center, hiking trails, rental cabins, numerous picnic spots, a summer concert series at the band shell — and an award-winning, handicapped-accessible playground with swings, slides, tunnels, and climbing apparatus. But the highlight is clearly the water play area, where three large turtles spout water high into the air.
Thomas Bull Memorial Park, Montgomery
Sally’s Dream Playground, which opened in 2003, is just one of the play areas in this large Orange County park. Nestled into the 20-acre picnic grove and surrounded by oak trees, this beautiful handicapped-accessible playground has shade as well as picnic tables, a sandbox, swings (including one saucer swing), and instruments to bang.
Hasbrouck Park, New Paltz
Here, the fenced-in playground with wood-chip ground cover features a large sandbox, slides, climbing apparatus, and swings for different ages. While there are nooks and crannies to climb, it’s the wooden castle-style structure that allows kids of any age to pretend they’re royal for a little while.