By Heather Skolnick
The Play’s the Thing!
What is the one place where everyone has fun (besides Disney)? The playground! What could be better than good, old fashioned fun outside?
Playgrounds offer an opportunity for children to be children. Playgrounds are one of the few places left where no batteries are needed, there is nary an iPad, iPhone, or Playstation in sight. Kids can run around to their hearts’ content and can use their imagination to create play scenarios. My own kids love to pretend that the clubhouse in the playground is the lookout point where they can watch out for pirates.
While often the site for playdates, playgrounds offer more than a place to just play. For moms and caretakers, they are a place to meet others. New resident Nikki Cosentino has been using playgrounds as one way to meet other moms within the community. She comes with her two daughters and lets them play safely in an enclosed environment while she socializes. Nikki says, “We have moved twice since I had my first daughter, and I always head to the local playground right away to connect with other moms. The park was our first stop here after move-in day in April. Sure enough, I was able to chat with a local mom and get some inside tips on our new town while our kids played together.” Nannies, too, enjoy the social benefits of the playground. When my nanny started, she used the playground as a place to meet people caring for kids in the same age range.
Playgrounds also serve as a place where children can develop and hone social skills. The playground is a place where children interact with other children, whether on a playdate or just mingling with other kids there. Special Educator Janet Weingarden works with children in many of our local schools. She often uses the playground as a forum for learning. She said, “The way we learn social skills is through practice and watching others. Being in a playground is a particularly effective place to do both of those things.” She continued, the playground “offers opportunities for sharing, turn taking, collaborating, cooperating and a fantastic opportunity to build empathy. There’s also an opportunity to practice social scripts…as well as problem solving skills.” It’s no wonder Janet often goes there with her students!
From a physical standpoint, the playground offers all kinds of opportunities to strengthen gross motor skills. Climbing up a wall, for example, requires the muscle strength to accomplish it. It also requires the motor planning needed to reach the top of the wall. Both can be practiced at the playground. Play structures are also filled with opportunities to improve some sensory and vestibular sensitivities. Swinging on a tire swing provides all kinds of vestibular input to help increase the ability to process movement. Jumping is an example of “heavy work” which many teachers and therapists have found to improve attention and calmness for hours afterwards. Physical activity also increases arousal level which can help raise confidence. All in all, the learning opportunities on the playground could rival the classroom!
Hide and Go Seek an Old or New Favorite Spot or Two
Now that we know all the benefits of our playgrounds, where can we find them within our community? Specifically in North Castle, there are several playgrounds from which to choose. According to the 2010 census, the Town of North Castle has an approximate population of 12,000 people, 30% of which are under the age of 18. With about 3,600 kids to keep busy, it’s no wonder that the Town has a plethora of exciting playgrounds! Armonk resident Megan Elkowitz has a four-year-old and a two-year-old and, as a result, knows the area’s parks well. She shared that each of the community’s parks offers something different for her–and while she frequents all of them, she finds that she chooses the park based on what she’s looking for that day.
John Lombardi Park is a great all around park that offers basketball courts, tennis courts and a great playground. The playground area includes swings, a climbing wall and large playground structure with all the standard fixings–twisty slides, bouncy bridges, poles to slide down, etc. What else could a child want? There’s a large, covered gazebo with picnic tables for snacks and taking periodic breaks from the sun. In addition, John Lombardi Park also has clean bathroom facilities just off the path from the playground. This is an important feature for the potty training set.
Formally listed as the North Castle Community Park on the Town’s website (but informally known as IBM Park) is a tucked away, hidden enclave for those in the know. If someone doesn’t tell you it’s there, you’d never know. In fact, one mom recently said that she took classes at Equinox with her toddler son and never even knew it was there! It offers something for everyone with very well maintained recreational options including a track, tennis courts, baseball and soccer fields as well as a playground. The playground itself offers two separate playstructures, one a bit smaller in scale than the other for younger kids. The larger one is filled with great activities to keep kids entertained and having fun. Mother of two Lauren Schecter recently had a playdate at IBM Park. The park had been recommended to her by two Armonk moms and this was her first visit there. She said, “I can’t believe I never even knew this park existed! This is a great playground; the equipment is current, there are lots of activities and most importantly, my son is having fun!”
Another fun option is Winkler Park on Bedford Banksville Rd. Donated to the Town in the 1970’s, it was recently renovated in 2013. The play structure was updated to meet all safety regulations. Winkler Park now also offers a new fishing dock as well as newly resurfaced tennis and basketball courts.
Clove Road Park outside the Community Center is another great option offering two unique play structures with lots of activities for kids. This is one that works well for older kids as well as younger kids with lots of different activities to engage kids of all ages. Baseball fields are next door and the proximity to the Community Center is an asset as well.
Lastly, Quarry Park off Old Orchard Street also has a playground. With so many options, how is one to choose?? So while the weather is nice, have the kids put down the electronics, get outside and head to the playground!!
Heather Skolnick, her husband and three young children are often found at one of our neighborhood playgrounds. When not swinging from the monkey bars, Heather works for a major retailer designing their Omnichannel process