NYC Playgrounds for Children with Special Needs
There is certainly no shortage of wonderful playgrounds and parks in New York City. And as a mom of three (soon to be four), I've explored quite a few of them in my time—some with a fine-tooth comb. But when you add a child with special needs into the mix, the selection of truly great playgrounds suddenly seems much smaller.
Happily, many NYC playgrounds meet or exceed the Americans with Disabilities Act standards. Some also include accessible JennSwings, those big plastic swings that offer full-body positioning support for kids up to 125 pounds. But the adaptive swing doesn't appeal to my tween with special needs, so there need to be other attractions for a playground to be cool in his book.
There are literally hundreds of special needs-friendly playgrounds throughout NYC. I'm spotlighting seven of my family's personal favorites. Not only are they accessible (half the battle), they're fun for all of my kids, currently ages 1 to 11, with and without special needs. Plus I've got the scoop on how you can easily find the best playground for your own kids with special needs.
The Parks Department's website has a list of Accessible Playground Definitions, so when you search through its comprehensive list of playgrounds, you can easily identify which ones will be best suited for your children. For example, playgrounds classified as Level 1, or “Playgrounds for All Children,” are designed to provide recreation for children of all ages and abilities, with ramped play equipment, ground-level play features, and wheelchair-accessible tables and drinking fountains. Levels 2, 3 and 4 provide different types of accessible equipment. All of the playgrounds I mention below are of varying levels.
Bloomingdale Park Playground – Staten Island
We've only been here once but had a blast. There are tons of neat features for kids of all ages and abilities, but the most unique attraction is the Sway Fun, a wheelchair accessible glider.
Catbird Playground – Upper East Side
While this playground in Carl Schurz Park is almost too expansive for my taste (I can't ever seem to see all of my kids at once), there is definitely something for everyone. My three-year-old prefers the more challenging monkey bars, but both toddlers love the slide made of rolling steel bars. My oldest prefers the ground-level play features and the shady sandbox. I also like that there's only one entrance and bathrooms on-site.
Dinosaur Playground – Upper West Side
This wheelchair-accessible playground in Riverside Park has lots of cool attractions: an extra-large enclosed sprinkler area, bathrooms on-site, and plenty of climbing structures for toddlers and big kids alike. Hint: If you sit by the sandboxes, you can see all the way from the sprinklers on one end to the monkey bars on the other (my kids tend to spread out for maximum playground intensity).
Playground for All Children – Corona
Whenever we go to the Queens Zoo in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, we hit this playground on our way back. A Boundless Playground, it has everything from playhouses to slides to sprinklers. With its spacious, wheelchair-accessible layout, brightly colored equipment and ample amounts of shade, it's worth checking out when you're in the area.
Owl's Head Park Playground – Bay Ridge
We just recently discovered this park and playground since moving to Bay Ridge. My kids spent over an hour practicing on the miniature fireman's pole, which finally gave my oldest the confidence to try a big one! Shady seating areas and bathrooms nearby make this especially convenient, and the ample grass surrounding the playground allows for another family favorite: picnicking.
Matthew P. Sapolin Playground – Upper West Side
Formerly known as Playground 70, this 100% accessible playground is one of our favorites. It includes a children’s garden with accessible bridges running across it. My oldest loves reading (loudly) from the colorful map of the U.S. There are musical instruments built into the play space and even adjustable basketball backstops for players in wheelchairs.
Tarr Family Playground – Upper West Side
Even without bathrooms nearby (something very important for potty-training toddlers and pregnant moms!), we still take weekly trips to this awesome Central Park playground. My children love sandboxes so the fact that half of the space is covered in soft sand makes it irresistible. Other attractions include a really neat mist/sprinkler area, tunnels, ladders and rock-climbing structures that lead to the slides, and climbing areas that seem awfully tall but are easy enough for my two-year-old to handle. You can see why my kids beg to go here whenever they hear the word "playground."
Read about other awesome NYC play spots in our Parks & Playgrounds Guide.