Monday, April 22, 2013

The Toy Place at Bellevue Art and Frame

13131 NE 20th St. Bellevue, WA 98005
800 843-6348
Monday through Saturday 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM Sunday 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM

Overall grade: A
High Points: art classes for two and up, tons of toys to demo, complimentary coffee, clean restrooms, helpful staff
Low Points: small children's book section, adult merchandise accessible to small hands, does not carry some of the low-brow staples (crayola crayons for example)

     Have you been to The Toy Place yet?  I am guessing probably not.  It is tucked in a strip with all these tile stores and insurance places, so I would guess it does not attract many people's attention, but it should definitely be your next outing with your little one.
     I love going to independent toy stores.  Granted, I understand that once kids hit a certain age going to a toy store is pretty much like going to the everybody-have-a-temper-tantrum room, but Amani and I are not there yet, so independent toy stores are a excellent way to mix up our regular routine.  (Please note: I say independent toy stores.  Huge corporate toy stores can be useful for an in and out trip, but generally they are notably un-fun, and often can overwhelm me to the point of nausea, so I just avoid them.)
     But The Toy Place is so much more than a just a toy store. Not only does it have THREE TRAIN TABLES AND A TODDLER TRAMPOLINE AND A DOLLHOUSE for kids to play with, (I know, you are already putting on your shoes to go there, right?) but they have FREE drop in art classes on Fridays for children two and up.  Joined with Bellevue Art and Frame, the place has all kinds of art classes for kids and adults, and Lego Wednesdays once a month, and they host birthday parties, so when I say it is more than a toy store, I am not just using a clever turn of phrase: the place is like a big creativity bath.
     Or, if your child is like mine, surrounded by all this creativity and opportunity for expression, as well as just killer-amazing toys right at his or her disposal, your child can spend nearly the entire hour-and-a-half venture spinning on the toddler-sized office chair.  So it has that going for it as well.

Monday, April 1, 2013

St. Edwards Park

14445 Juanita Dr NE, Kenmore, WA 98028
(425) 823-2992
High Points:  Lots of infant/toddler swings and toddler safe equipment, lots of open space, hiking trails, clean restrooms, beautiful views.
Low Points:  $10 for parking if you don't have a Discovery pass ($30 a year), little ones get pretty dirty between the mulch and the sandbox.

     We are so lucky to have had a beautiful past few days here in Seattle, which has given us the opportunity to visit pretty much every playground within a five mile radius.  However, taking Amani to the playground is like being in training for the circus, what with all the lifting, balancing and juggling.  That's when I noticed one of these babies:
     Ah.  Yup, that actually clarifies things quite a bit.  These signs are pretty much on every playground nowadays, giving insight into why the broad majority of playgrounds seem to require a fair number of death defying acts.  The slides seem too big for her because they are too big for her.  The gaps between the steps: yes, in fact, they are dangerous for a child who doesn't know how to use steps.  There are a limited number of baby swings because, well, most playgrounds aren't really made for babies.
     Toddler parks to the rescue!  There are a few toddler parks in the area that are specially made for children four and under, but the nicest, one hands down, is the playground at St. Edwards Park.  
     The playground at St. Edward Park is on the grounds of a former seminary that overlooks Lake Washington.  The people who built this playground really knew what they were doing.   There is a plaque claiming that it was designed by "the community" but I don't entirely buy that.  No community project has ever been this well designed or beautiful.  Made of wood, which is somehow splinter-free, the whole area is decorated with colorful nature imagery that makes you feel like you are in some kind of magical woodland castle.  Seriously, the central tree house in the big kids play area actually made Amani scream in delight.  I mean- she does that all the time, but I think this park probably makes MOST kids scream in delight.  It is pretty awesome.  The toddler area is wondrous as well; it includes a sandbox, lots of toddler swings, and a bouncing bridge, and a various other half-sized fixtures.  Plus, brilliantly, the toddler space is completely fenced, and separate from the playground for the older kids, so there isn't the constant fear of some rambunctious nine-year-old trampling my child while playing tag.  My favorite: No heaving a 25-pound, mulch-covered toddler over the edge of the slide 75 times in a row.  There are stairs any tot can manage that lead up to a short and not-too-steep slide.  Hooray!
This park is huge, around 360 acres, with hiking trails and open space, and supposedly swimming access, though I have not gotten to that area yet.  I would definitely plan to stay for at least a couple of hours, perhaps with a lunch if you have the time, because there is a lot of fun opportunity here and your little one is going to want to explore all the options before they go home.