6 York County places to hang out with a 5-year-old. Both of you will learn a lot, too.
In the late 1800s, workers installed playground equipment in America’s parks and schools.
It didn’t amount to much more than a pile of sand. In fact, a pile of sand it was.
These were the days before swing sets and monkey bars – and today’s colorful, multilevel playgrounds.
Yet these Boston-area sand gardens encouraged creativity. They came from the ideas of German kindergarten inventor Freidrich Froebel, specifically the outside component – or garden part – of kindergarten.
The headlines on the digital site Slate sum up that the creative advantages enjoyed by playing children and those piles of sand: “An Intellectual History of the Sandbox, Since 1885, it’s been a place for children—and ideas—to flourish.”
I had just listened to a discussion of these early playgrounds – “Froebel’s Gifts” on the podcast 99 Percent Invisible – when I visited the Springettsbury Township playground behind the Mount Zion Road police station with my 5-year-old grandson. I learned there’s much thought that goes into these modern parks – and a lot of history behind that thinking.
That elaborate Springettsbury community park rises far higher than any pile of sand – maybe 30 feet.
In fact, Springetts Castle Park is a state-of-the-art facility that far surpasses the four S’s common to most 20th- and 21st-century playgrounds: sandboxes, seesaws, swings and slides. Actually, the playground incorporates modern versions of four S’s. For example, the sand that covers the ground of many playgrounds is replaced in Springetts by a spongy synthetic surface that also ends that nagging problem of skinned knees.
This park also supersedes what must have been the world’s cleverest playground – a 10-foot-high fort made of telephone poles or logs up the hill at Rocky Ridge Park. (That simple, but popular play area was dismantled. Kids kept getting their heads stuck between the poles.)
And this Castle playground replaces the first true Springetts community park on that site in the early 1990s. That playground earned community status because it was built by volunteers over a matter of days.
Castle Park also sports the geometric shapes that were the “gifts” in Froebel’s kindergartens. These triangles, rectangles and circles are featured on ground level displays as exercises for youngsters who can touch, crank and flip things.
You’ll also find these at Chick-fil-A and other modern playgrounds. The best example of the 1800s geometries meeting shapes in 2019 is a board of textures at the Cousler Park playground in Manchester Township.
Castle Park promotes social health
But there’s more to Castle Park than fun and exercise for kids.
You could say the best thing about Castle Park is the development of social skills.
First, it’s unsupervised, so children – and parents – must figure things out.
Second, the kids who play there are racially diverse – a wonderful and instructive thing. Some days, it’s a suburban majority-minority playground – those playing are less than 50% white, or at maybe it’s 50-50.
Thus, the interactions and experiences among diverse youngsters in Springetts prepare those at a young age to live, work and play in a world filled with people of different cultures and races.
Interracial play and interactions is not new in this part of the county. The basketball courts, just south of the playground, have long been a place where integrated teams of white and black players faced off.
One could argue that this piece of suburban real estate is one of the most consistently integrated public places in York County.
Fortunately, Springettsburg Township gets this.
“The social and physical health that such a playground promotes,” the township’s website states, “is vital to the development of children of all abilities.”
5 other great places for a 5-year-old to hang out
Perrydell Farm Dairy: This attraction goes beyond what arguably is the best ice cream in York County. The owners of this working York Township farm are generous in making its farming and dairy operation available as a type of walking tour.
Brown’s Orchards: In the past 15 years, Brown’s of Loganville has developed its grounds with outdoor attractions – a modern playground, a garden with indigenous plants and a Honey House with observation bee hive. Of course, there’s ice cream at the pavilion, in season.
Nixon Park: A great place to go when bad weather threatens, this county park offers indoor and outdoor activities. Its hands-on exhibits and mounted animals are key attractions indoors and walking trails with interpretive information enrich the outside experience.
Agricultural and Industrial Museum: This West Princess Street museum in York is an underrated place for youngsters to hang out. The sheer size of the machinery in the exhibits captivates kids, and several of the big exhibits – a locomotive switcher, for example – offer physical exercises.
Chick-fil-A: This restaurant chain has wisely retained its indoor playgrounds, with their own Froebel-inspired geometries. And like Springetts, the youngsters crawling up and down the various levels are often quite diverse, offering social interactions that will prepare them for a changing world – present and future.