Back before it snowed we visited the Alexander Kemp playground in Cambridge, and it was so much fun that you can see pictures from the trip in two of the last three posts here. It's a good playground.
Of course, there are many good playgrounds in the world, and a playground has to be really bad to not be worth visiting at all. The one we call our own here in town is absolutely nothing special, but we've still enjoyed endless hours of entertainment on it. But most playgrounds have an essential problem: their features are either boring or scary.
When you build a playground out of metal or wood, it seems like you need to design a path through it—to plan out how it's going to be used. If it's low, it's for little kids; to interest the bigger ones you build it up high. But to keep the little ones safe up high you build sides, except where there are slides or ladders. Kids are meant to go up the stairs (or ladders or climbing walls) and down the slides (or fire-poles). Big kids figure them out, and little kids can't do them at all (or can, and terrify their parents).
A notable feature of the Kemp Playground, just inside the gate, is a big concrete hill. There's a rope webbing up one side and logs embedded on another; some parts are steep and some less so. And there's a slide, but that hardly matters, because with a little sand the concrete itself is wonderfully slippery.
And the best part of it is there doesn't need to be any walls. Sure, kids can get hurt—two toddlers slipped and bonked their heads in the hour and a half we were there—but when they do it's a problem of technique rather than design. You can't fall far off a hill, so I felt totally confident letting Lijah go up and down by himself all he wanted. And the whole playground is like that, full of imaginative spaces that can be used lots of different ways—so they can be interesting without being too dangerous.
The other nice thing about the Kemp Playground is the way it sets up opportunities for kids to play together. There's a merry-go-round (set into the ground for sleekness and safety!), and the fun of a merry-go-round increases exponentially with the number of kids involved. And there are machines for moving water (closed in the winter, naturally) and sand.
After an hour of wild running and sliding, there's nothing like a half-hour of work with the sand to balance out the day!
The Kemp Playground is on Cambridge Common, right by Harvard Square. If you have kids, live in Eastern Massachusetts, and haven't been yet.. you totally should check it out.