Playgrounds are essential to a child's development. According to a 2009 report published by the national non-profit dedicated to saving play, Kaboom, playing lets kids use their imagination while improving their dexterity, physical strength, emotional strength and cognitive skills.
Fortunately, South Jersey is rich with public playgrounds, from the seemingly cookie-cutter to the one of a kind. Kids will love any chance to play on any of these playgrounds, but it is obvious - by how many times a child requests to return- some stand out among the rest.
According to Kaboom, there are several factors that make a playground great:
- Encourages movement
- Incorporates nature
- Looks interesting
- Overhead elements (monkey bars)
- Balance elements
- Multi-generational elements (shade, seating, picnic area)
- Allows friendly competition
- Cushioning groundcover
The Top 5 list planned became a Top 6 list due to too close average score ranks. A couple of the playgrounds are accessible, allowing children with a variety of abilities- even wheelchair bound- to play together. Many have special themes that encourage make-believe.
Three playgrounds were also added as honorable mentions for special memorable features.
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1. Fort Medford
Bob Meyer Memorial Park
2 Commonwealth Drive, Medford
In 2010, Fort Medford - the playground filled with tee-pees and totem poles- got the addition of Samost Playground, the first fully accessible playground Burlington County. Today, although the original portion built in 1995 is starting to show its age, the playground as a whole is still visually and actively stimulating for any child.
2. Jake's Place
All of Challenge Grove Park is accessible, so it was the perfect location for Camden County's first playground for all abilities. Jake's Place opened in 2011, and hasn't had a break since. The bright primary colors draw children in to the equipment that challenges balance and arm strength, while encouraging movement and competitive play.
3. Pennington Park
Creek Road, Delanco
Kids love climbing on the animal statues - a turtle, turkey, rabbit and beaver, to be exact- at Pennington Park. A more challenging climb can be found beside the barn/silo structure (labeled for 2-5 year olds) on the spider web climb. When they are done climbing, kids can race each other on dueling curved monkey bars, swing or even walk along the nature trails in the park to find real animals.
4. Zelley Playground
Fullerton Memorial Park
Zelley Avenue, Moorestown
Rebuilt in 2011, the playground at Fullerton Park, commonly referred to as Zelley, includes the imaginations of Moorestown children who were consulted for the new design. First, a castle theme greets visitors. Younger children can go on to the Tot Lot with a train feature. Older children can go as far as outer space via a rock wall then back down in slide built into a rocket ship. Monkey bars and rings are available at two height levels, eliminating the need for a parental lift.
5. Knight Park
Park and Collings Avenues, Collingswood
Any child who wants to battle dragons or dreams of being a princess will love Knight Park. Kids can climb through a castle and even slide down a dragon's tail. Even crawlers have a rock wall for a challenge. Kids who love spinning have several options from sitting in a group to standing.
Timber Creek Park
Chews Landing Road, Gloucester Township
Timber Creek Park is commonly known as the dog park. But, hidden in the trees is a small Treehouse playground which even lets a child in a wheelchair reach the highest point. All elements are made to look like they are part of the woods from the log steps to the rock wall. Even the younger ones get to climb up a small rock to get to the top of a slide.
Honorable Mention: Lions Den
New York Avenue, Cherry Hill
Nestled in a neighborhood behind the Ellisburg Circle is a very well shaded playground with a unique feature. It's the Infinity Climber. The blue twisted ring has holes that allow kids to climb below, above and around. When they aren't trying to beat the challenge, there's always the traditional equipment on either side of the climber.
Honorable Mention: Wood Park
Riverton Road, Cinnaminson
Wood Park's playground mixes old with new. It has the spinning roundabout parents may remember running around and jumping on for the ride as well as a few see-saws. But then, it also has a play structure with a more modern, unique design that is just as much an exercise for the mind as the body.
Honorable Mention: Saratoga Park
Saratoga Road, Stratford
Many playgrounds nowadays have a rock wall. But, how many have a rock wall structure like the one at Stratford? It has six sides, allowing six kids at once to climb fairly identical walls. Meanwhile, parents can get their own exercise on the track that encircles the playground.