Swings, a slide and a large climbing structure are the basics of nearly any playground. However, if you ask a 5-year-old, they’ll tell you these objects are much more.
The swings blast off like rocket ships and the ladder to the tower will lead to a secret headquarters that can only be escaped by facing fears and swishing down the slide.
Playgrounds are more than just fun. They are an essential element as children play, grow and imagine. From mastering the monkey bars to learning how to pump their own legs to propel a swing these motor skills help a child’s physical well-being as well as build their confidence.
In the preschool program at St. Charles Park District, children have ample time for free-choice play on Pottawatomie Park’s playground equipment and on the nature play area at Hickory Knolls Discovery Center, explained Kara Guizzetti-Reif, Early Childhood & Preschool Supervisor for the St. Charles Park District.
“Play is a valuable time for children to learn, imagine, take chances and make mistakes,” Guizzetti-Reif said.
Using a climbing structure helps a child build self-confidence and physical strength, navigate relationships with peers, practice problem solving and relieve stress, she said.
Keeping playgrounds in safe, working order is a priority for the St. Charles Park District, said Superintendent of Parks and Planning Laura Rudow. Twice a month facility staff, who are certified playground inspectors, visit each playground in the park district as well as the school playgrounds located within the park district’s boundaries.
The park district and St. Charles Community Unit School District 303 share resources to care for the playgrounds, Rudow said. Within the park district’s capital plan, which maps out the next three years, the park district sets goals for playground improvements and replacements. This year the park district supported improvements to the playground at Munhall Elementary School and replaced equipment at Kehoe, Timber Trails, Red Gate and Delnor parks. The old equipment at Delnor Park was donated to a village in Kenya through the program Kids Around the World, Rudow said.
Rudow, who grew up in Aurora and graduated from Rosary High School, attended college to study agriculture and business, but it was her work in the local park district that led her to a career working for local park districts for more than 20 years. One of her favorite aspects to the role is when the park district initiates the plans for playground renovations and the architects present the first concept drawings. The park district hosts meetings to collect public comment and Rudow said some of the best feedback comes from children as they look over the drawings.
“I love getting the kids’ perspective,” she said, adding how the children are quick to recognize a favorite piece from another playground or ask questions about the colors.
Feedback from local parents helped her direct the improvement to enclose Kehoe Park, affectionally called the “Rocket Park” with fencing. Rudow said parents wanted a playground where children could use equipment and parents wouldn’t have the worry about a child leaving the area. Rudow said the fencing has been well-received with positive feedback.
Rudow and her team are always seeking the best options for the ground cover in playgrounds. While some residents like the poured in place surface, which is in place at playgrounds in Pottawatomie Park and Mt. St. Mary Park, Rudow said it is quite expensive and it requires more frequent replacement. Woodchips inhibit accessibility in addition to the annoyance of having pieces get into shoes. This year the park district is trying a new surface with a synthetic turf at Timber Trails Playground.
“It’s a nice, clean look,” Rudow said. “The turf will function much better than mulch for accessibility too.”
Accessibility is important as well, with an inclusive playground including a full wheelchair swing at Pottawatomie Park as well as high-back swings at Baker Field Park and Fairview Park.
And of course, the main objective is fun. Discover the kid-size zip line at Haseltine Park. The Mighty Dragon at Taly Park is a local favorite. Outside of Hickory Knolls Discovery Center visitors love to explore Hickory Hideout where you can hop among the tree stumps, balance across a wooden log or climb a boulder.