Mattapan's Hunt Almont Playground has tricky ladders, balancing toys, and other colorful equipment to swing (and splash) on. Photo by Ed Wonsek
Mattapan's Hunt Almont Playground has tricky ladders, balancing toys, and other colorful equipment to swing (and splash) on. Photo by Ed Wonsek

11 Outside-the-Box, Brain-Boosting Boston Playgrounds Where Kids Learn as They Play

Playgrounds just aren’t what they used to be, and that's a good thing. As more attention is being paid to playground design concepts, the scorching metal slides and concrete jungle gyms of our childhood are giving way to nature-inspired layouts, brain-boosting equipment, and wheelchair-accessible structures that promote—and model for kids—inclusivity. These new-school playgrounds—two of which are also on our "destination playgrounds" list—are beautiful, safe spaces for kids of all ages and abilities to entertain and challenge themselves, so parents can watch from a distance as kids do what they were born to do: play.

Can you say, "dodecahedron?" After a visit to Chinatown Park, your children might be able to. Photo courtesy of Playworld

1. Chinatown Park—Boston
Along with its lovely River Stream Fountain for cooling off tired toes in the summertime, the focus of Chinatown Park is its Playcubes, which originally came to the park as a temporary exhibit and has stayed put due to overwhelming popularity. Kids love figuring their way into and out of these shapes—dodecahedrons, to be specific—and playing peekaboo with pals.

2. Mayor Thomas M. Menino Park—Charlestown
Thomas M. Menino Park is right next to the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in the Navy Yard, with an exciting view of Boston’s waterfront. The playground was designed in the wake of the Marathon bombings, and is another inclusive playground. The Park has a wheelchair-accessible merry-go-round, a ramped play structure, and embankment slides and climbers. Also notable: access to the hospital’s bathrooms, which is always important.

3. Jackson Square Park—Jamaica Plain
Jackson Square Park is just behind the Jackson Square T station on the Orange Line. Its focus is a 16-foot-tall “Wall-holla,” which is an enormous orange kid-sized climbing structure. The inclusive playground also offers zip lines, balance-based toys and structures that provide access to kids with limited mobility. If the playground isn’t exciting enough, there are also basketball courts and swings.

Experience the pirate ship at Alexander W. Kemp Playground. Photo courtesy of the playground

4. Alexander W. Kemp Playground—Cambridge
Headed to Harvard Square? Don’t miss my kids’ favorite playground, at the far end of Cambridge Common. The playground has a variety of activities for kids of various ages, including hills and valleys, with embankment slides, swings, a crank-powered water feature, and a ground-level merry-go-round designed to provide wheelchair access. Due to its woodland adventure theme, much of the playground is made of beautifully carved wood, so there are many wide benches for parents. The ground is made of sand, so be aware going in that you might have some sandy kids at the end of the day.

5. Esplanade Playground—Boston
The Esplanade Playground is another recent addition to the Boston playground scene, located along the Charles River. Its central climbing structure looks like an enormous spider web, with a blue slide leading down from the top. Kids will also enjoy the other features, like climbing structures, zip lines, and swings. There are also two disc rides: a merry-go-round and a disc swing.

Paris Street Park is a newly-designed park that has solar system-inspired structures Photo by Ed Wonsek for CBA Architects

6. Paris Street Park—East Boston
Paris Street Park is a newly designed playground created to replace its heavily used predecessor. Located between a public pool and a community center, the park gets lots of use, and its redesign focused on safety and sustainability. With a solar system theme, the playground has a splash pad, a climbing structure, and an enormous hopscotch board. It also has a basketball court and a painted maze for kids to explore. Also noteworthy: the benches are USB solar powered, for days when your phone needs a little juice.

7. Chuckie Harris Park—Somerville
Chuckie Harris is yet another new, inclusive playground designed to bring joy to kids of all ages. Its signature feature is a giant pipe that looks like a football goalpost that rains water down on sweaty kids and doubles as a movie screen. Two slides are built into the hills at the park, designed to be handicapped-accessible. The slides have two sizes—one medium and one wide, so that multiple kids can ride down the larger one together. There are four swings, with two set higher than usual for teenagers or adults to use. The toddler area has a smaller slide with bouncy cars and a shelter, and the park is surrounded by more than 70 trees to offer shade on those scorching summer days.

Fallon Field's amazing slide will thrill the kids! Photo courtesy of Roslindale Playgrounds

8. Fallon Field—Roslindale
Fallon Field is famous for its slide, which is said to be the biggest in Boston. To reach it, kids scale a pyramid rope to the top, where a cage-like area is perched, leading to an enormous blue and yellow tunnel slide. For the intimidated, the park offers a smaller embankment slide, as well as two basketball courts, a baseball field, and swings. 

9. Sweeney Playground—South Boston
Southie’s Sweeney Playground has a stunning ropes course that distinguishes it from other Boston playgrounds, winding throughout the playground in different configurations. The half-acre park has a bright synthetic surface that rolls across hills and valleys. Kids can hop on and off the yellow blocks or splash in the water feature in the summer. For older kids, there are also basketball courts.

The half-acre Sweeney Playground features a unique ropes course for kids to navigate. Photo courtesy of Stoss Landscape Urbanism

10. Hunt Almont Playground—Mattapan
United by a colorful web of nets and climbers and unusual looking play structures that draw curious kids, the recently renovated Hunt Playground and its adjacent tot lot encourage lots of open-ended play. There's a splash pad for summertime cool-offs, too.

11. Little Scobie Park—Roxbury 
Broken into two different areas, Dudley Square’s Little Scobie Park has something for everyone. Split into a toddler space and an area for older kids, Little Scobie has a skateboard park and basketball for older kids, as well as a dome-shaped rope climbing structure, an embankment slide, disc swings, and a dinosaur-shaped climbing spot. With plenty of shade, it’s a great spot to hang out.

Alexander Kemp Playground
36 Waterhouse St
Cambridge, MA

Mayor Thomas Menino Park
300 First Ave.
Charlestown, MA

Jackson Square Park
1516 Columbus Ave.
Jamaica Plain, MA

Paris Street Playground
115 Paris St.
East Boston, MA

Esplanade Playground
Boston, MA

Chuckie Harris Park
3-17 Cross St E
Somerville, MA

Fallon Field
81 Roberts St.
Roslindale, MA

Sweeney Park
177 West Fifth St.
South Boston, MA

Little Scobie Park
42 Copeland St.
Roxbury, MA

Hunt Almont Playground
Almont Street and Orlando Street
Boston, MA 02126

Chinatown Park
John F. Fitzgerald Surface Road
Boston, MA 02111
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