Jester Park Natural Playscape – Real Reviews For Real Families

Jester Park Natural Playscape

11407 NW Jester Park Dr, Granger, IA 50109

FREE

Jester Park is not a long drive from Des Moines, but once you hit the front entrance it feels like another 20 minutes until you find the playscape. It’s a lovely drive, though, so just keep going and follow the speed limit. My kids like to sing songs from Into The Woods while we drive through the heavily wooded area. Do not go towards the playground, which is also nice, keep going towards the elk and bison, you will find the playscape.

A natural playscape is not a typical playground. There is no plastic or metal or rubberized surfaces. There are wood chips and rocks, dirt and weeds.  Kids need nature and they are not being exposed to nature the way we were growing up. I use “we” assuming that if you have a family you probably grew up with skinned knees and wet shoes in the summer, but I’m not exactly sure when they started paving and padding everything. Goldy and Beauty were lucky to have a playground and a pond directly behind our apartments most of their childhood, so we didn’t frequent other parks very much so I didn’t notice the change until it happened.  I love the exciting, modern playgrounds that I have previously written about, and they play a wonderful part in making sure our kids are moving and not spending too much time with screens in their faces, but if you want a true outdoor experience with all the comforts of a playground you can’t beat a playscape.

There are 3 playscapes in the area, currently, that I am aware of, and another going in right in our neighborhood at our favorite splash pad, McHenry Park. I am always looking for more. (Hint hint leave a comment if you know of one!) Jester is probably our favorite because it is closer than Brenton Arboretum, which I will write about next, and the water feature is more fun than Sargent Park.

There is always plenty of parking fairly close to the play area. The bathroom is in the parking area, just a small building with an outhouse toilet and plastic urinal, but they keep it clean and provide antibacterial soap. There is also a water fountain but I recommend bringing your own water bottles. There is not much shade anymore. They cut down our favorite shade tree that we usually sat under to eat lunch. There is a lot to do but my kids always go straight for the water. If it gets crowded or unruly we go down the hill to the sandbox. There are also wood blocks, a prairie grass maze, and prairie animals to view. There are no picnic tables at the playscape but you can lay out a blanket or drive to the nearby picnic areas within the park. There are benches and one by the water that even provides a little shade. I imagine it would be a handy place to breastfeed a younger child while an older sibling played in the water. The website says this play are is best for children over 5, but mine have been having fun their since they could toddle. When it gets busy you may want to take little ones to the sand box.

For the love of all things pink and sparkly, though, please watch your children of all ages. My sister in law and I witnessed several little boys throwing large rocks into the water while other kids were playing. The adults responsible for them sat under a shady awning, ignoring them. When one little boy got a rock to the scalp and was gushing blood, his mother patched him up. They told the kids not to throw rocks and went right back to their shady hideaway. The kids continued throwing rocks into the crowded water area, and slowly other families began to leave. I think I have mentioned that I dislike trendy names for parenting types, helicopter moms and free range parents. I think we need a new trend. Common sense. If all the other parents at the play area have to make their kids leave the water because yours are being unruly, you need to hover a little more. That doesn’t make you a helicopter parent. It makes you and your child decent people. If your child is throwing rocks into a crowded play area they are showing you they are not ready to be left alone there yet.

I don’t want to give you the impression this is a dangerous play area. Far from it! Kids can and do throw rocks anywhere. We go to Jester Park several times a year and have only had this one incident.

My family has been picnicking at Jester Park since before Beauty was born. I know because we have pictures of her there in utero. There are several nice shelters you can just show up and use as long as there isn’t a reserved sign, or you can reserve them for an event. There is a large modern playground with modern bathrooms and showers across the street, an equestrian center, an amphitheater, a golf course, camping, fishing and more. There is also a lodge for events and they hold classes there, as well. If your family loves nature or needs more time in nature you must check it out.

We had a great time and I hope you do, too!

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An elk was watching us dig in the sand.

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The boys are playing with the wood blocks under a somewhat shady awning.

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Sharkboy and his cousin, playing in the water.

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This is the elk and bison viewing area.

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Little S is playing in the sand.

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Ankeny Miracle Park – Real Reviews For Real Families

Ankeny Miracle Park

300 NW School St.
Ankeny, Iowa

The Miracle Park in Ankeny is another inclusive playground, meaning it is suitable for children with physical and cognitive disabilities. From the website:

More than 3,500 children with special needs between the ages of 5 and 15 live in Polk, Boone, Dallas and Story counties and more than 800 attend Ankeny Community Schools. Today, there is a lack of recreational facilities to meet the needs of our young special needs population as accessible playgrounds and the ability to participate in sports leagues are virtually non-existent.

Since 2007, Ankeny Parks & Recreation and the Ankeny Kiwanis Club have partnered to offer “Super Kids,” a series of programs designed for our special needs community. We’ve joined together again to create and construct a Miracle Field & All-Inclusive Playground facility specifically designed for children with disabilities. The Miracle League Field & All-Inclusive Playground will be co-located in Hawkeye Park in Ankeny and will provide children with special needs and their families:

  • A non-competitive co-ed baseball league
  • A custom field made of cushioned, rubberized turf that is flat and free from obstacles
  • A network of “Buddies” to teach, assist and protect players during play
  • A 100% accessible playground on a rubberized surface
  • A playground that focuses on maximum “play value” with an emphasis on inclusive play
  • A sensory rich playground experience catering to kids with physical, cognitive and sensory disabilities

As you can see, there was a real need for this in the greater Des Moines area and I am happy to see those needs being met. These are the only two inclusive playgrounds I am aware of, but if you know of others, please comment. I’m sure there are families that would love to hear about them.

Ankeny is a quick drive for us, but I used my navigation to find the park, taking us 20 minutes out of our way. It is by an elementary school and other ball fields, just off Ankeny Blvd. I don’t really know my way around Ankeny, but it was a simple drive with the right directions. There are giant baseballs on top of it so if you get in the right area you can’t miss it. I was told to park in the school parking lot and did not see any other parking. I’m sure it has a parking lot… right? I’ll look next time we go because we will definitely go back. Walking across the playground was not an issue but I did feel a bit weird when the kids came out for recess and clearly wanted to play on the equipment. Several hovered near the edge, waiting to see if the adults would notice, but no one actually broke the invisible barrier to join us. They did have two nice play sets of their own to play on, which will be an added bonus in the summer.

Unfortunately, the bathrooms were closed and Little S had to pee on a tree. He has gotten really good at aiming but stood a little too close to the tree. I think outdoor peeing is an essential skill that should be taught to kids at a young age, but not having a penis of my own I am still learning a few things, too. Back up. Guessing from the size of the building I expect comfortable restrooms with real toilets. I’ll let ya know.

I did not see a place for snacks, but that is another thing we will look for when we return. There may be a concession stand for the ball field. There is a shelter for shade up the hill from the playground and there are awnings over the equipment. I’ve heard several complaints about the lack of shady trees near newer play sets so I feel the need to point out the obvious. Trees bring birds and birds poop on slides. Most park developers are hesitant of too many trees, though, because they have to knock them down to build. Some newer playgrounds have planted trees, but they don’t provide much shade yet. You might want to wear a hat and bring extra sunscreen. I had a pop up tent for my kids that I bought at Goodwill, but I never used it. It was similar to this one, found on Amazon.

There are two playgrounds at Miracle Park, one meant for kids ages 2-5 and another for kids 5-12, as well as a long row of swings for all ages and abilities. I had Sharkboy, Little S and their cousin R with me, ages 3-5, and they all chose the big playground for most of the visit. I’m going to try to describe this to you, but you might need to see it and walk around it to understand. It was a bit like a maze. You can get all the way to the top using ramps and once you are in there doing it it is less confusing, but there are tubes and interesting things to climb on and ramps going in every direction. At least it felt that way to me. The kids had no problem getting around and Goldy caught on quicker than I did. Maybe you have to be under 12 to get around in there.

I don’t like parenting labels like “free range” and “helicopter” because I feel they divide us even more and unnecessarily, but I will say if you are an anxious, hovering parent you will not want to let kids under 5 play on the big play set. I saw young toddlers checking it out and they were fine, but I’m not sure my own heart could take that. There are some very tall slides, an open net for climbing across and some pretty high drop offs. There are also monkey bars at the perfect height for young kids, though, and a lot of fun spinning and climbing toys. There was so much more and I will show some of it in the photographs, but you’ll have to check it out yourself to see everything.

We had a great time and I hope you do, too!

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If you notice the parents to the left it will give you an idea how tall the slides on the right are.

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Little S, age 3, on the monkey bars.

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This is a like a rope bridge, only more rope and less bridge. There is nothing beyond their own skill to keep them from slipping through the net. Of course it was Sharkboy’s favorite place to climb around.

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We had no idea how this was meant to be used so we tried several ideas, including tread mill style.

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Like a regular slide, only noisier.