Freelance writer, mum and lover of all things Melbourne :)
Published June 14th 2012
One of the best locations to meet up for a 'play date' is a playground, and if you ask me, a good playground is like a good kids movie. Whilst we understand the main point is a quality experience for the kids, recognition the parents are watching too is a big bonus.
I'm giving bonus points for any playground that has a place for parents to sit down and have some chill out time, somewhere that's safe and secure enough for the kids to play without having to be super vigilant, and super bonus points for anywhere that has a coffee within easy reach.
Like any parent with a child under school age, I have become somewhat of a playground connoisseur. Any playground can have the standard swing, slide and seesaw. I like to see something different that provides more of an adventure play area with something unique to amuse the kids as well (child amusement level also assists when we're talking playdates - if you are actually interested in talking to the other child's parent).
With all this in mind, I can suggest three top playgrounds for play dates:
1. Beckett Park, Parring Road, Balwyn
The entrance into this park is at the end of Parring Road, just drive through the gates and there is a carpark at the top of the hill. In terms of play date meet-ups, the carpark position is great, it means you can park the car nearby, out of traffic and get prams or kids straight out and into play-time.
The next thing you'll likely notice about this park is that it's a proper old-school adventure playground. No plastic, uninspired, basic equipment here. There's sandpits and towers, mazes and sculptures, and plenty of trees and greenspace too. It's great watching the imagination that comes to life in kids playing here.
The big pluses for parents on play-dates are that it's fully enclosed, nowhere near the road, and there's loads of seating for you to watch nearby whilst enjoying some coffee and chat time.
This park has similar attributes to Beckett Park, it has unique equipment which will keep the kids well entertained, and loads of seating. As well as that, there are lots of other features, which means you can take some time away from the playground to enjoy a walk/bike/scooter around the lake or heritage walking trail, bushland and creek and fern gully walk. There's also picnic shelters and barbecues if you wanted to have a proper lunch break.
We took my daughter's new scooter out for a test drive around the playground and park, it was a great location for that sort of thing. 3. Phoenix Park, Rob Roy Road, Malvern East
Phoenix Park has what the other two don't - the very nearby availability of coffee and snacks at the Phoenix Park Cafe and it gets a special mention for this. We met a fairly big group here and were all accommodated for in the playground and cafe. It's great too, because the park is enclosed with a fence, you know the kids are safe while you're sitting having coffee and watching from the sidelines.
The playground itself is well maintained and has a good range of different equipment, even the non-parent 'adults' had fun in this playground. There's also the public library very close by, so there's another activity lined up before or after the playground time for kids and coffee time for parents.
All of these playgrounds offer that little bit extra for a play date out. Whether you are catching up with one of your friends (who just happens to have kids now), or one of your children's friends (whose parents you could possibly now also be friends with), one of these parks are guaranteed to make an enjoyable and worthwhile trip.
If there are any other playgrounds worth a mention for play dates, let us know.
Caulfield Park, cnr Hawtorn and Balaclava Roads is another winner. Apart from the mixed-age, mixed-skills playgrounds (there's one for tiny tots at the Inkerman Street end, one for older kids at the Balaclava Road end), it has two large bbqs, a large undercover spot where parties can be -- and are -- held, and plenty of benches for, not only parents, but also grandparents to sit comfortably. A short walk will get you to the pond where a variety of our feathered friends splash and waddle around. AND, it's accessible by public transport -- the number 16 and 64 trams.