Those monkey bars we all played on as tykes might have been working wonders for our muscles, but they weren’t doing enough for our gray matter. Recent research suggests that multifaceted playground equipment (which children can interact with in many different ways) can spur greater cognitive development in young people. Which is partly why these three new local play areas plan to implement structures that will help kids better their brains as well as their bodies.

Tuning In

At more than 15 years old, the outdated play structures at Paco Sanchez Park have needed an upgrade for a while. They’ll get it when Denver Parks and Recreation debuts the first phase of Paco Sanchez’s “Re-Imagine Play” initiative this month. The playground’s inventive design features fun elements such as a climbing area and a complex, 30-foot-tall slide system that resembles a vintage microphone, paying homage to the park’s namesake, who was a radio host and activist. Look for even more creative equipment next summer when the second stage of construction wraps up.

Photo courtesy of Matrix Design Group & Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds

Second Nature

Many new playgrounds nationwide feature natural elements like trees because kids tend to spend more time engaging with them. Westminster Station Park is one of those play spaces. When it opens in the fall near the B Line light-rail station, the play area’s two acres will hold giant boulders, treehouses, and logs repurposed from ash and honey locust trees that needed to be removed from existing green spaces or other parts of the city.

Photo courtesy of Davis Partnership Architects

Inclusive Space

The first time Lucia “LuBird” Dawkins—who uses a wheelchair because of a rare genetic disorder—swayed in a supportive swing, her face broke into a wide grin. Knowing that few Denver-area playgrounds boast such equipment, her parents created LuBird’s Light Foundation to build special-needs-targeted play spaces. Its first playground, at Stanley Marketplace, will feature a rubber surface that allows kids in wheelchairs to travel smoothly across the ground—and easily reach LuBird’s favorite swings.

This article was originally published in 5280 May 2018.
Shane Monaghan
Shane Monaghan
Shane Monaghan is the former digital editor of and teaches journalism at Regis Jesuit High School.