This Mama’s Take on Park Design


If I had to guess, I’d say that most parks are designed by non-parents. To be clear here, I’m not saying someone without children can’t design a lovely park. I’m just thinking that most parks don’t have enough input from in-the-trenches moms, as there are few simple, overlooked necessities (and safety concerns) I’d like to throw out there.

With three kiddos 6 and under, we spend a lot of time in the parks system and really are grateful that we, in fact, do have just that – a system of options to choose from. But here’s my two cents for the Leslie Knopes out there of what should stay, what should go, and what we need more of.


All parks NEED shade.

Can I get an amen? There are many parks that we have to avoid if there is even a glimmer of sun in the sky as the play equipment is simply too hot to touch. With kids being more sensitive to UV rays anyway and it being nearly impossible to coach little humans away from what’s metal vs. not, we will drive past these parks with tears streaming. There are some really great shades that are geometrical and moveable. Or heck, when building a new park, can we just incorporate trees always?! They’re good for the environment I hear.

Sand sucks. Especially sand at parks that ALSO have water.

The gift that keeps on giving, sand is something I absolutely loathe. Kids just don’t seem to understand the concept of brushing it off them, or not throwing it in hair. And I’m the mom wondering what animal has used it as a super large litter box or burial ground for their most recent find. So let’s just ditch the sand, ok? And, if there is water in the same playground, it literally should be completely banned.


Climbing structures need to have only one route for falls (so mama bear can be ready).

Some parks, like the West Fork Park, has a two-and-a-half-story-high structure with an actual cage all the way around it. You can only fall off by falling down the ladder, which will only drop you down one level, not both. And while I love climbing in general and think it’s great for kids to get that little bit of adventure, my instincts catch me from having as much fun and keep me on edge when it seems we are a misplaced foot away from the ER.

barefoot rock climbing

Cubbies, lockers or something?

Even if not locked, but instead just an open front structure to drop off our water bottles and keys and what not, some sort of cubby system would be incredible at the park. We mamas schlep everything around, trying to chase our kids with backpacks and purses and gummy snacks for later to prevent them from melting in the car. Now I’m dreaming, but what if these cubbies were low lying and were, in fact, a long bench that can double as a changing table. #LifeChanging #JustSaying

Bathrooms. EVERY park needs one.

Little people who are potty training or who are just not clear enough yet about how long they may have to hold it need access. So, unless you want them using the bushes, let’s make sure there’s always a spot we can jump into. I know this is a big ask, but even if it’s a unisex stall somewhere, can we try?

Help me keep my runner safe.

So far, there is just one park that I can go to alone with my kids, as I simply can’t keep them safe anywhere else. And what’s the differentiator you ask? It has a fence all the way around it. A fence that I can close the lock, and then wrap a couple luggage straps around it, high enough that my kids can’t open them up. This allows them to run free without their helicopter mom circling, giving them independence and space. Any other park I go to, I need to bring reinforcements as one of my twins is a runner.

Can we get some space for moms and dads to move?

In other parts of the U.S. and around the globe, there are calisthenics and simple movement machines along the way to work, and next to playgrounds so that we adults can move, too. If we can make the playgrounds more fun and interesting, we can join in the fun with our kids. Or expand the natural spaces like Highfield Discovery Garden or Summit Park’s natural outdoor playscape, so more can enjoy these!

If your park is going through a redesign, incorporate cool, new concepts!

So, there’s this show, American Ninja Warrior – you may have heard of it? Yeah, climbing things that resemble things from the show is pretty fun. And how about adaptive equipment, or the swings where moms can sit and face their baby in their swing and swing together?

If you need help finding your perfect “go-to” park, check out our

Cincinnati & NKY guide to Parks & Playgrounds



  1. Amen to all of the above! I’m so glad I’m not the only one that stresses about the open spots to fall! So what’s your go-to park when it’s just you with the kids? I score every park with a “I would do this alone” … or not.

    • My go to is just the park at my son’s school – Sherwood Elementary. There’s another in Mariemont that we have visited with a fence, but there’s two entrances with a lot of woods behind the one, so we have to be careful!

  2. Nice! I had a runner and have always thought “why are there multiple ins and outs!?!” Just one – that way they can run and I am not panicking.

    • Exactly – I don’t want to be a helicopter mom, but I can’t take my eyes off of him. Too many stories of toddlers running off, being near traffic, etc.and I don’t want to be one of them!

  3. Love this! I hope City of Cincinnati takes a read so some changes can be made. As much as I love Westfork…i hate the fact that its not closed in. May i also add that we need more splash pads!


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