A Playground Just for Your Imagination at South Street Seaport

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New York City kid’s are known for having schedules super jam-packed with brain-boosting activities (think Mandarin and Suzuki Method music classes). But, it may be time for some unstructured play – research indicates that’s what children really need to maximize brain, social and emotional development. And while you can practice this skill almost anywhere, South Street Seaport’s Imagination Playground is one awesome spot to do it. Read on to learn why you should visit this unique NYC playground.

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Little Blocks Blue

When tasked with designing a new play-space for kids at South Street Seaport on 2 Fulton Street, architect David Rockwell went beyond the traditional slides, sandboxes, climbing structures and water areas to envision a playground that would constantly evolve based on the whims and wishes of the children playing there.

In addition to the usual suspects, an Imagination Playground also comes equipped with an assortment of blue blocks in various shapes and sizes that can be employed to create a variety of play areas that, most likely, wouldn’t even occur to the average adult.

At Imagination Playground, your kiddo can build a pirate ship to sail atop a magic lagoon, then take it apart and cannibalize the pieces to set up a high-end shop selling mud-pies. They can work alone or collaborate with others, incorporate parts of the park into their design or create a free-standing work.

How’s that for spontaneous, child-directed, unstructured play? You can practically see the blooming intellectual, social, physical and emotional development! Especially since the designers are quick to remind: Research shows that children at the age of eight who have experienced varied and challenging play are considerably better prepared to benefit from ongoing formal education.

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Caveat Emptor

Though the playground’s website promises that “at each site, trained play-workers facilitate activity and provide an additional level of safety,” when we visited, the two attendants on duty made no attempt to engage or even interact with the children, choosing instead to remain inside the structure that housed the blue, building blocks. On the other hand, none of the children there seemed to miss being facilitated. Everyone knows it’s more fun to play by yourself, with no icky grown-ups involved!

In addition, while the website promises “Imagination Playground at Burling Slip is open to the public from  9:00 am — 6:00 pm daily; when the weather is unseasonably warm, we will try to extend the hours,” the summer day on which we dropped by, all play equipment was packed up and the moving parts locked down promptly at 5:30 pm, while the on-site bathroom was locked at 5:45 pm, with the admonition that “the playground is closed.”

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But, Wait, There’s More

Once you’re all imagination-ed out, there’s still plenty to do at South Street Seaport. You can tour the big ships, check out the shops (try the one that’s just called Sugar – guess what it sells?), choose lunch or dinner from the myriad of pop up food vendors and eat it on some cool, wooden, picnic-style benches, watch a high-flying trapeze class that’s guaranteed to enthrall kiddos (beware, they may want lessons).

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More Imagination Playground Options

Though the South Street Seaport location is the flagship Imagination Playground, this summer NYC also opened several other locations on Staten Island and in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx.

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Have you visited the Imagination Playground downtown? What was your experience like?

–Alina Adams

Photos by Alina Adams and Rockwell Group