by Jen #supermom
When I became a first time parent I distinctly remember being so confused by all of the different playground names. Mom friends would talk casually about Harmony, JJ Byrne or Vanderbilt Playgrounds, and I had absolutely no idea where these places were, although had been living here in Park Slope over 4 years (without child)! I had of course seen these playgrounds, walked by them countless times…but had never had any interest in them or what their names were until I had a baby. Now with a 3.5 year old (and a 4 month old), I’ve become quite the “playground hopper”! As weather is warming up, I thought it might be helpful to new parents or parents new to the neighborhood to share my favorite spots in Park Slope!
* JJ BYRNE: Just renovated a few years ago, this park on 5th Ave between 3rd and 4th St is pretty fantastic. I like the fact that it’s segmented into different play areas for different age groups, including a gated toddler area. Slides and swings galore, standing farm animals for kids to climb on, and my daughter’s favorite – the spinning chairs that go way too fast. Best feature of this park is surely the water play, from sprinklers and water pump to shoot and spray water cannons! Definitely a popular spot on those hot summer days. Downside: not crazy about the rock features in the middle of the park, be careful to watch your small child as they run on them (have seen some nasty spills)!
* VANDERBILT PLAYGROUND: Located in Prospect Park (just down the hill when walking from the 15th St entrance) lies this gem of a playground. Tunnels, a great twisty slide, lots of things for kids to spin on, water feature, bridges and ladders – this playground will not disappoint. I love that it’s just across from the lake, so you can pair up a trip to say hello to the swans and ducks with a visit to this play area. Downside: no bathroom.
* ZUCKER NATIONAL EXPLORATION AREA: Just down the hill in Prospect Park from Grand Army Plaza is Zucker Natural Exploration Area, truly my favorite of all of the playgrounds. New York Magazine must agree, as they recently voted this as one of the best of NY! Made by trees damaged by storms and other materials from within Prospect Park, this space encourages open, unstructured play. Uprooted trees for kids to climb on, a massive sand play area and a pump that pours water onto a log are some of the elements that make this space stand out. I love getting here really early, when the park is hushed and the morning sun has just rose – it’s truly a beautiful spot. Downside: no bathroom.
* GARFIELD TOT LOT : Located just inside the Garfield Place entrance, this playground caters exclusively to toddlers. There’s a mini-jungle gym and slide, and the lot is lined with trees and benches (which come in handy for diaper changes, feeding and snack breaks). A perfect place for the little ones, and typically a very quiet and relaxing spot. Downside: I would say no bathrooms, but most of the babies/toddlers I know under 2 aren’t potty trained, so this shouldn’t be an issue!
* HARMONY PLAYGROUND: This music-themed playground located near the Bandshell at 11th St in Prospect Park is AWESOME. Shaky bridge, wobbly bridge, tons of swings, slides (including a twisty slide), a toddler-friendly area, tunnels, large sandbox, and my favorite water feature of all the parks, an upside-down “U” shape mister that gently sprays water towards the ground – just gentle enough that your child can get a little spray or can hang out underneath for a full soak! Bathroom with changing table is a nice bonus as well! Downside: it’s rather large, so be prepared to do lots of chasing.
* THIRD STREET PLAYGROUND: Almost a hidden gem, this playground is located off 3rd Street and Prospect Park West. Less chaotic than Harmony and offering more shade, this bench-lined circle has several play structures, tire swings, a circle sandbox and water features. This playground is a preferred spot for playdates, as parents can hang out on a bench and easily watch their children (while having adult conversation – imagine that)! Kids can run through a huge red coil water feature to cool off, or chill out in the sandbox. Bathrooms are nearby at the Picnic House. Downside: Not sure I can think of one!
* IMAGINATION PLAYGROUND: This park is a bit further out, just over on the east side of Prospect Park (near Lefrak Center at Lakeside). A bit more creative in design, this park is inspired by children’s literature, featuring statues of characters from Ezra Jack Keat’s books, a bronze dragon with water flowing down it’s back, and animal masks for kids to hide behind. Three playhouses and an open stage help stimulate children’s imaginations and creativity. A nice break from the typical slides and swings! Downside: No bathrooms!
* SLOPE PARK: For those of us South Slopers, this local playground is very convenient AND happens to be located across the street from a very decent coffee shop, Southside Coffee. My favorite part of this park is the water feature, which includes a little wheel that kids can turn and subsequently water flows out. There are different water spray elements – both horizontal and vertical for children to jump in. It’s a bit more intimate than the larger parks, which is also a positive. Downside: stay away in afternoons when kids get out of school – this playground gets taken over by teenagers!
I know I am personally always looking for new places to explore. Hopefully there is a playground on this list that you haven’t had the chance to visit yet – so cheers to doing something new and exciting for you and your little one!