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Safe play spaces for young toddlers (and some for older ones)

May 18, 2015

I thought that once we were past the first year, we would be over the hardest stuff.

Nobody ever tells you the truth:  what used to be hard gets easier, but other hard stuff crops up.

When our kiddos started walking, I was initiated into a whole new realm of parenting fear:  the playground.  My babies wanted to toddle, climb, explore…but often the playgrounds were too crowded with big kids running and swinging and sliding, and the playground equipment wasn’t always good for our sized kids.  It felt like every sweet moment of “Look at my baby climb those big steps!” was immediately succeeded by “…to the PRECIPICE OF DEATH!”

Now I see my friends with 18-month-olds, wondering where they can go with their kids that lets them explore the world while being safe enough to prevent the perma-panic in a parental heart.  If you live around north Seattle, here’s what we’ve found:  certainly not an exhaustive list, but what we have tried and liked.

Inside Options:

Bookstore storytimes (free!):

Mockingbird Books at Green Lake, daily (except Sundays), 11-11:30 am
Third Place Books in Ravenna:  Fridays and Saturdays, 11-11:30 am

Seattle Public Library has (free!):

  • great storytimes (many available; check out the Library website and search Events by audience:  children).
  • Kaleidoscope Play and Learn:  Mondays Northgate, 10:30-12 pm, and Tuesdays 10-11:30 am, Lake City Branch.

Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park hosts (free!) Kaleidoscope Play and Learn on Thursdays, 10 – 11:30 am.

Wonderland Development Center also hosts (free!) Play and Learn sessions:

  • Mondays 10-11 am, Meridian Park Elementary, Shoreline
  • Tuesdays 10-11 am, North City Learning Center, Shoreline
  • Wednesdays 10:30-11:30 am, Broadview Library, Seattle

Shoreline Children’s Center:

  • Family Center Room 1, 9 am – noon (on school schedule)
  • Play and Learn (free!):
    Shoreline Children’s Center, Room 1, Wednesdays 9:30-11 am
    Highland Terrace, Fridays, 9:15-10:45 am
    Lake Forest Park, Tuesdays, 9:15-10:45 am

Play Areas near Shops or Cafes:

Many malls have play areas; Northgate, Alderwood, University Village (which also has free Village Play Days on Tuesdays at 10 am), and others.

Cafes:

  • Mosaic (Wallingford):  free enclosed play space for parents to eat/drink/chat and kids to play.  Since it’s run by a church, food and drink are by donation.
  • Third Place Books (Ravenna or Lake Forest Park):  right next to the food court.
  • PlayHappy Cafe (Lynnwood):  enclosed play spaces for babies and for bigger kids.  $9 first kid, $6 for siblings.  Decent food at decent prices.
  • Playdate SEA (South Lake Union):  a smaller room for smaller kids, but the bigger play space scared my 2.5-year-olds.  And it’s LOUD.  Weekdays $5/under 3; $10 4 and up.  Weekends and holidays $8/under 3; $15 4 and up.

Indoor Play Spaces:

  • OmTots at OmCulture (Wallingford):  a yoga/dance space converted to kid playspace with some gymnastics equipment 3 days/week.  Getting a pass is far cheaper–they used to offer a great multiples discount, but alas, no more.
  • Zoomazium at Woodland Park Zoo:  a great enclosed space for the 0-2 crowd; lots of activities, climbing, and exploring for the 3+ crowd.  A daily Creature Feature at 10:30 am.  Worth it to get a zoo membership just for this.
  • Seattle Aquarium Toddler Time:  a two-hour drop-in session a few times a month in fall and winter.  They turn a multi-purpose room upstairs into toddler heaven:  painting (with completely wash-out paints–trust me), coloring, reading nook with stuffed animals, a play boat, a mini-touch-tank, water table…
  • Seattle Children’s Museum:  an enclosed space for 0-2-year-olds; if you’re bringing multiple children, figure out how to stay together when so many exciting rooms beckon.
  • Spartan Recreation Center Indoor Playground (Shoreline):  $2.50 per kid for non-Shoreline residents gets you a huge basketball gym filled with kid toys:  ride-ons, balls, mats with slides, play kitchen, etc.  Open during school year, 5 days/week, 9:30-11:30 am.
  • KiDiMu (Bainbridge Island):  for a bigger outing, complete with ferry ride, check out this small but fun children’s museum.

Seattle Community Center indoor play spaces:  $3/kid.  Check open times and days by going to the Toddler Time link on the right-hand side of any participating community center.  Here are the ones we’ve been to:

Toddler Rooms:  Enclosed rooms full of mats, toys, some inside play structures.

  • Ballard (pretty small, even for my three small ones)
  • Greenlake (the biggest, and open most often)
  • Laurelhurst
  • Magnuson
  • Ravenna-Eckstein

Toddler Gyms:  like Spartan Recreation Center, a huge basketball court filled with toys.

  • Ballard
  • Bitter Lake
  • Magnuson
  • Northgate
  • Ravenna-Eckstein

Other activities:

Mountlake Terrace Pool Leisure Swim:  $3/person.  They have a fantastic warm, shallow area for little kids, with pool toys, life jackets, fountains…a wonderful way to give little ones water experience without paying for Mommy and Me swim classes.

Music classes:  options abound.  We took our kids from 9 months to 2.5 years to Chickadee Music Together with Mary Anne, who is fabulous and was born to be a children’s music teacher.

Gymnastics classes:  Gymboree, The Little Gym, and Seattle Gymnastics Academy all offer a free trial class.  We took a trial class at all three.

Outside Stuff:

Beach Naturalist Days (various days at various Seattle-area beaches):  volunteers from the Seattle Aquarium offer education about our beaches to visitors–the volunteers are so awesome, and now I know how to find crabs, sea stars, and other fun facts.

Seattle Playgrounds / Parks:  We went to many parks that were not appropriate for my kids’ age at the time–though how can you know?  The bolded ones below have smaller play structures where I felt safer taking my early walkers / toddlers.  The others are ones we’ve been to–clearly we need to check out more of Seattle!

Alki Playground
Ballard Playground (outside Ballard CC)
Bitter Lake CC playground
Bryant Neighborhood Park
Cal Anderson Park
Carkeek Park
Cowen Park
Dahl Playfield
Discovery Park
Froula Park
Gas Works Park
Golden Gardens Park
Green Lake Park
Greenwood Park
Laurelhurst Playfield
Licton Springs Park
Magnolia Playfield
Magnuson Park
Maple Leaf Park
Matthews Beach Park
Meadowbrook Playfield
Meridian Park
Northacres Park
Northgate Park
Pinehurst Park
Ravenna Park
Ravenna-Eckstein (comm center)
Ross Playground
Sandel Playground
Seward Park
View Ridge Playfield
Volunteer Park
Wallingford Playfield
West Queen Anne Playfield

As your kids get older, here are some of our recent favorites:

And in case you need more ideas

Happy Exploring!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. rayaless permalink
    May 23, 2015 12:10 am

    Michelle, This is a wonderfully, comprehensive list! I intend to share with others, hold onto for ourselves, and bear in mind when family and friends with young children visit. Thank you, thank you 🙂

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