Before my son could walk, playgrounds would tantalize us with their bright colors and promise of a joyful public realm just beyond our reach. Now that my son is a bonafide toddler, we are free to begin exploring the glorious array of playgrounds on offer in greater Atlanta. Future posts will highlight special places we go out of our way to visit, but this first post will outline our go-to playgrounds guaranteed to provide at least an hour of diversion for the two of us in Decatur. Next post will cover some of the Atlanta playgrounds we've visited thus far.
1) The Decatur Toy Park is owned by First Christian Church of Decatur. Although it is not technically a public park, it is free to enter and enjoy and is a frequent haunt of stay-at-home moms and dads, babysitters and nannies with babies and toddlers in tow. Although its centerpiece is a traditional playground and swing set most likely rated for 2-5 year olds, the park is the final resting place for every Little Tikes, Fisher Price, and off-brand plastic playhouse, kitchen, riding tractor, push-mower, and mini-slide you can imagine. The etiquette of the park ensures that "everything belongs to everyone" and children must learn to share as best they can, refereed by adults on the spectrum of checked-in to checked-out. The park is a proving ground that kids don't mind second-hand toys and that our cultural tendency toward gendering ("kitchens" for girls and "workshops" for boys) is rendered meaningless when toddlers are given a chance to explore all options.
- Ground cover: sod, blacktop, and mulch.
- Play structure: plastic slides with metal steps and platforms
- Swings: two big and two baby/toddler
- Other features: plastic toddler toys and riding toys scattered throughout
- Setting: Part shade/part sun
- Ideal age range: 1-5
2) Although not a traditional playground, the Wylde Center Oakhurst Garden on Oakview Road, has a play area featuring a sandbox with digger toys and slides, and a unique Cobb playhouse made from earth and fitted with attractive nooks and crannies. The garden also features a pond home to frogs, a chicken coop with very friendly residents, and beehives. This is a peaceful destination for parents and young children offering many features to explore with few opportunities for real trouble.
- Ground cover: sod, mulch, sand
- Play structure: Cobb playhouse and two old plastic slides (close supervision for the youngest children recommended)
- Other features: many different plants and animals. Natural trails to explore in addition to raised garden beds.
- Setting: Part shade/part sun
- Ideal age range: all
3) Scott Park is located in downtown Decatur, right next to the library and right behind the recreation center. This park is compact, located in a beautiful setting and very convenient to downtown. The play structure has bars that encourage young climbers to hold on tight as they ascend (and especially descend) the steps. The play structure also features musical drums and bells which are very popular with kids of all ages. There is a medium-sized slide just right for beginners and a higher tandem slide. There is also a great oval track around the whole park and picnic area that makes for a great place to stroll a sleeping baby until he/she wakes up.
- Ground cover: mulch, blacktop, sod on the outskirts
- Play structure: metal and plastic. On the safer side for a new walker but with a few nerve-wracking precipices.
- Other features: Beautiful gardens maintained by master gardeners and community volunteers, tennis courts, picnic tables
- Setting: Mostly shade
- Ideal age range: 1-12
4) Adair Park on the west side of Decatur has a reasonably nice playground and a large playing field, but it doesn't have anything special to offer the youngest user. The playground is probably better suited for a slightly older child, and the location, between busy College/Howard Avenues and Ponce de Leon, is not ideal for someone walking from another neighborhood. Worth an occasional visit, but probably not a go-to local park for us.
- Ground cover: mulch, sod
- Play structure: metal and plastic. Oriented toward a slightly order set of children
- Other features: off-leash area for dog owners
- Setting: Some shade, some sun, depending on time of day
- Ideal age range: 2-12
5) Mead Road Park is a great place to practice walking on multiple surfaces. The landscape architecture is a little bit unusual with a large round mulched plaza for the two baby/toddler swings, a sunken playground, and a raised structure with picnic tables and trellises. Unfortunately for parents of toddlers, this park gets very crowded with rambunctious elementary school kids during the late afternoon. It can be a challenge to share the play structure with these older kids who often play fast-paced games of tag. This park is a reasonable place to explore, but can be a bit dangerous without very close supervision.
- Ground cover: mulch, sidewalk, blacktop
- Play structure: metal and plastic. Rated for 5-12 most likely, not 2-5
- Other features: Interesting topography. Adjacent to Oakhurst Elementary school
- Setting: Some shade, some sun
- Ideal age range: 5-12 most likely, but can go younger with supervision.