Who: Globe columnist Joanna Weiss and her kids, Ava, 8, and Jesse, 3
What: Cavorting on the new playground
Where: Franklin Park Zoo
There are plenty of reasons to take kids to the zoo: zebras, wandering peacocks, the thrill of seeing gorilla poop. But on a recent visit to the Franklin Park Zoo, I overheard a lot of parents saying the same thing: They’re going to come back just for the playground.
In the past, the playground wasn’t one of the Franklin Park Zoo’s strongest selling points; it was a serviceable spot with old structures shaped like trains, good for wee ones, devoid of thrills. Then, in June — a few months before its 100th anniverary — the zoo unveiled a 10,000-square-foot playground, sponsored by the Play 2 Dream Foundation. It features a rubberized surface, climbing structures shaped like elephants and fish, rocking frogs on springs, enormous slides shaped like animals. To kids, it’s irresistible. And it turns out, kids were also involved in the design: Last March and April, students at local schools had the chance to vote on which features they liked best.
They made some good choices, especially when it comes to the biggest slide of all, a long tube decorated to look like a giraffe’s neck. My son Jesse, 3, has fallen in love with it. With great determination, he climbs the stairs and ladders that take him to the top. With patience, he waits his turn. And then — because I think he hears the other kids doing it — he screams giddily all the way down. When he finally appears at the bottom, his hair is standing up on end, he’s wearing an enormous grin, and he jumps off and races for the ladder again. It’s hard to tear him away.
And, yes, the playground has become a giant lure, for kids and parents alike, on our return visits. On the other hand, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that my kids also love to crawl around the long, low branches of trees near the bird house, where Ava practices her footwork and Jesse pretends to be a baby bird. State-of-the-art is great, but nature has a way of creating its own equipment.