Ashley Okland Star Playground – Real Reviews For Real Families

Ashley Okland Star Playground

5300 Indianola Ave.
Des Moines, Iowa

April 21, 2015

The Ashley Okland Star Playground is a park on the southeast side of Des Moines with equipment for all children. including those with physical and cognitive disabilities. Ashley Okland was a realtor that also did volunteer work with Variety before she was murdered in 2011. The park was created in her honor for the children she enjoyed working with and it is a park to be proud of. Goldy and I took four boys on this sunny but windy day and got four stellar reviews.

The playground is large and spread out with different and interesting equipment. It has a clean, rubberized surface, which I appreciate on muddy days like today. The kids can play with little concern of getting dirty. (You know this is not normally a concern of mine, but we have plans tonight!) There are also wide open grassy spaces and a lot of trees for us to check out another day. There is plenty of parking close to the playground and a bathroom up the hill. The women’s restroom smelled recently cleaned and looked tidy. This is a vast improvement over most area parks. There were even real toilets! I might be a little too excited about that, but have you ever tried to get a newly potty trained child to hover over an open hole? It’s frightening for everyone involved. There were two stalls but no changing station. (That’s what blankets on the grass are for, right?) If you want snacks or water bottles be sure to bring them with you. I packed a lunch and we stopped at a convenience store on the way. It’s not too far off of E. 14th, so there are plenty of places to stop, but I realize not everyone has a handy helper to wait in the car.

Here are some photos of Sharkboy, Little S and their play school friends enjoying Ashley Okland Star Playground. There is a lot more to see!

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

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Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden – Real Reviews For Real Families

Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden

909 Robert D. Ray Drive
Des Moines, IA  50309

ADMISSION

  • MembersFree
  • Adults$8.00
  • Senior Citizens (65+)$7.00
  • Military Personnel$7.00
  • Students (ages 4-17)$6.00
  • Children 3 and under Free

April 18, 2015

The Barkeep and I took the boys to the Botanical Garden on a rainy Saturday afternoon in April. The gift shop being right inside the door with no walls around it is a bit nerve-racking for me. My kids want to touch everything and it all looks so delicate and breakable. I try to hurry through the admissions process by having everything I need out and ready when I go in. We must have just missed a wedding as they were still there taking photographs, but it was not crowded at all. We went straight to the hallway where kids’ activities are usually kept and did some coloring and a rubbing activity. In the past we have done some cool art projects there and they often have sensory activities. For awhile there was dirt for digging in, with plastic bugs and other fun stuff hidden in it. After coloring we checked out the back room, a garden show house. This is usually my kids’ favorite area. It changes frequently and has small, interesting details to notice.

Before checking out the rest of the garden The Barkeep took Little S to the bathroom. They went to a family restroom so he did not check for a changing table in the men’s room. He said the bathrooms were clean. Little S was able to reach everything easily but there was no stool available. (This is an important detail to me, as LS likes to do everything himself.)

The gardens get very wet when it rains. Running is always prohibited in the gardens but be very careful to talk to the kids about using their walking feet when it is wet. The stones get slippery. We did not spend much time in the main indoor area but we did check out the waterfall and the stone stairs in the very back. My kids enjoy watching the fish swim under the bridges but I did not notice any on this trip.

There is a cafe, but other than popping in to buy a Fresca, I have never eaten there. The website says menu is locally sourced and plant inspired, so I think it would be cool to check out. We have always brought a snack lunch, which I discovered today on the website is not allowed. Oops. I’ve been bringing in food for over a decade and eating on the indoor balcony without ever being questioned. Sorry staff!

Outside is where the real fun begins. The entire outdoor area was dug up and remodeled last year. I went to the grand opening and was unimpressed at the time, but hopeful that spring would bring more changes. Wow, did it ever! I did not take many pictures to share because I want you to visit and see it for yourself. I’ll tell you this, it’s much bigger now and there is a waterfall you can go under without getting wet. There isn’t much shade out there right now so don’t forget a hat. The whole area is enclosed now, but it is huge, so it is possible to lose sight of a fast runner.

Brother Love

Brotherly Love

Other things to note: There were umbrellas available right outside the door to the outdoor gardens. Nice touch! The website says their on some strollers available on a first come, first serve basis. Other than the open floor plan of the gift shop there are no other “snack traps” or areas selling junk toys. We love the toys available in the gift shop but many are a bit out of my price range. You can get small books of stickers or stencils and a low price if you want a souvenir. Parking is free and plentiful and the staff is polite, happy to see the kids and helpful when needed.

We are members of Reiman Gardens in Ames so our trip to the Botanical Garden was free. As the boys ran around the paths outside I tried to assess how I would feel about the trip if we had paid the $22 to get in. I would not be disappointed, but I would probably not return again for quite awhile. As members we decided to return at least once a month to see the changes in the gardens as they grow. (This is our plan at Reiman Gardens, as well.) I highly recommend a membership if you like to take family outings. I bought the “supporter” membership for $55 and get myself, The Barkeep and all minor children in to both gardens FREE. There is also a list of other gardens across the country where you can get free or reduced admission. We have not taken advantage of this yet. If a membership is out of your price range be sure to drop hints to family members around Christmas and birthday time!

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

Des Moines Art Center – Real Reviews For Real Families

Des Moines Art Center

  • 4700 GRAND AVE
  • DES MOINES, IOWA
  • 515.277.4405
  • FREE

April 16, 2015

We are currently studying the arts in play school and I thought it would be fun beneficial for the kids to visit a real art center. I wanted them to see all the different types of art and the many mediums and styles used by accomplished artists. I was also a tiny bit terrified about taking four kids, 5 and younger, to an art gallery. I’d like to give a shout out to the awesome Facebook group Des Moines – Beyond 4 Walls for their help in making the decision. I decided to go and bring Goldy to assist.

Before we left I read the kids books about visiting an art museum and made sure to emphasize the parts about not touching the art and other rules. I also prepped them all the way there, “hands to yourself, walking feet, museum voices”, being careful not to use the words I didn’t want them to pick up. If you say, “don’t touch” kids are more likely to touch. Try it sometime.

We were greeted at the entrance by a woman behind the desk and a “guide”. I’m putting guide in quotes because they turned out to be more like guards. Both were very pleasant, though, and not at all put off by the kids. Off to a good start. We were offered a map and after a quick appraisal of the boys ages she also directed us to the restroom, where we went immediately. Smart thinking, lady. The bathroom has several stalls, 3 sinks, and a stool. Everything was easy to reach and use for older kids. (I’ll be highlighting words like bathroom in these reviews so if people want to skim for key points, they can.) Back upstairs, we started our self guided tour. The kids all touched the first sculpture we encountered, but quickly pulled back when reminded to keep their hands by their bodies. I was very impressed by how well they listened! We walked around, constantly herding the boys into one small group so they were easier to watch. They are not used to this method. On most trips I let them spread out and check things out at their pace, but I had warned them this was a different kind of trip. I asked them questions about what they liked about certain pieces, what they thought the people in pictures were feeling, and what they though the artist used to make it.

I’d like to say it was a fun learning experience, but it was also very tense. I realize the guides are there to protect the artwork and they probably see a lot of unruly kids and unconcerned parents, but it is very uncomfortable to have someone follow you like a shadow, especially when your kids are behaving so well. I know he was doing his job, so this is not a complaint, just something you should be prepared for if you take children. We were followed very closely and if the kids got close enough to actually see something the first guide barked, “don’t touch” and they all jumped out of their skin. And of course Sharkboy and Little S immediately felt a strong urge to touch something, luckily it was just the wall. The farther we went into the building the less concerned the guards seemed and the more we enjoyed ourselves. The kids did amazing. They did not run or yell or touch. This is a group of boys that normally wrestle, jump, shriek and climb. If they can do it, your kids can do it. I recommend a ratio of one adult for every two kids unless you have a naturally calm group.

We spent less than an hour inside but saw almost everything. I could see that the kids had reached the limit of their restraint. They were starting to move a little faster, talk a little louder and get a little closer to the art. Too often adults ignore these clues and the results are unpleasant. Leave while everyone is happy and can remember the trip fondly.

We went outside to the rose garden but it is mid-April so there wasn’t much to see yet. Instead I had the kids race from tree to tree using different movements, flapping their arms like birds, swimming, skipping, galloping. It was a relief to move and touch and explore after following such strict rules for so long.

Overall I would recommend the experience. I think it is important for kids to be exposed to art. Be prepared for a shadow guide and make sure your children know the rules in advance. If you are overly anxious you may want to wait until they are older or take them while they are still young enough to be work in a carrier or pushed in a stroller. We had a great day and I hope you do, too.

Thoughts form the kids:

Sharkboy: I liked the face pictures and going outside. I like to look at abstract art and make real art.

Little S: I liked all the pictures and the gold trophy statue. I didn’t like the persons there. I didn’t like the steps that didn’t have the stuff right here on them. (Indicating stairs that had open backs. I forgot about that, none of the kids like that. Glad I asked for their input!)

Friend 1: The guy just said, “stay on the carpet!” The statue was thinking about his Mommy.

Friend 2: (Not much of a talker, simply said yes when asked if he liked the trip.)

EDITED TO ADD:
A few things people have asked about since this was posted, great questions!
There was ample free parking on a weekday at opening time. There is also overflow parking, I would assume used more for events. We were able to park in the center row, with a sidewalk down the middle. I wish every parking lot had spaces like this!

There was a changing table in the women’s room. I did not see a family restroom or check the men’s room for a changing table. Men, if you are not provided a changing table change your baby at the front desk. I think they will file your suggestion faster that way!

The gift shop is located off of the atrium and we did not even go near it. There were no other snacks or toys sold throughout the center. We dd not check out the cafe and I believe outside snacks are prohibited. We ate before entering and had lunch as soon as we left. I recommend keeping the visit short if you had a snacker. There were seats throughout the gallery but I did not see a specific place for breastfeeding. I will keep my eyes open on future visits, as I know that is important to many parents.

Thanks for the suggestions. I will try to add these elements to future reviews.