SINGAPORE – Playtime is far from simple these days.

Outdoor playgrounds are often fitted with maximalist play structures which look close to exploding with extras like slides, climbing frames, ropes, nets and logs.

Still, old-school gear is always popular, and kids will squeal with glee on swings.

My children – Micah, 11, and Leah, who turns eight later this year – and I present our entirely subjective review of the top outdoor playgrounds in Singapore.

I quickly realise that our tastes diverge. I have a weakness for verdant parks with some wildlife thrown in. The kids are focused on efficiency – is this fun?

I let them rate the playgrounds on their own.

Covid-19, of course, complicates play as much as it has the rest of our lives. Even when playgrounds are open, some equipment may be cordoned off.

Do check with the National Parks Board for temporary closures and other Covid-19 advisories at the NParks website. 

SEMBAWANG PARK PLAYGROUND


ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Location: End of Sembawang Road (Carpark 1)

Micah says: “It reminds me of pirates, like Darryl from Brawl Stars.”

Kids’ rating: 8/10

Trust a kid to compare outdoor play favourably with screentime.

A battleship at the playground reminds Micah of a character wearing a pirate hat from the Brawl Stars video game.

The warship structure is beautifully made, if slightly worn. Marauders can indeed climb aboard via a small climbing wall on the side of the vessel.

It resembles a modern cruise liner, encompassing all manner of entertainment.

There are mini bridges, funnel slides, ropes, nets, cannons, portholes and poles to slip down within the warship, which pleasingly echoes Sembawang Park’s past as part of the former Singapore naval base. Ships still dock at wharves nearby.

The best part about Sembawang Park is its serenity.

A pit filled with gravel stands ready for a leisurely round of petanque, a game similar to boules. A boy floats in a big styrofoam box in the sea near the jetty, grinning at simple pleasures on a hot afternoon.

JUBILEE PARK PLAYGROUND


ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Location: Fort Canning Park, along River Valley Road

Leah says: “The slides are super fast.”

Kids’ rating: 8/10

Jubilee Park, situated at the foot of Fort Canning Park across from Clarke Quay, is as pretty as a kitten.

Slides, both curved and straight, are embedded in hills that look like a bouquet, with grasses and flowers primped just so. But the kids do not care about appearances. They care about speed. The slides are so fast Micah flies off at the bottom, which gains their stamp of approval.

There is a mass of carefully arranged logs that children can climb on – all the better to balance on a log in a fast-flowing river, if life one day calls for this contingency.

A hideout at the top of the slides, encased in vines and accessible only by a tiny bridge, is the perfect club house for a bunch of boys, who demand I give them the password before I enter.

TIONG BAHRU PARK PLAYGROUND


ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Location: Junction of Tiong Bahru and Lower Delta roads

Leah says: “The train is scary slanted.”

Kids’ rating: 7/10

Play is all about multi-tasking these days.

The centrepiece of the playground in Tiong Bahru Park is a tilted train, which comes with accessories such as slides and a climbing ramp.

Within the train carriages, what feels like a 45-degree slant makes for a good workout to test one’s balance.

One carriage has a rope course that looks deceptively simple. But the three-rope cat’s cradle leaves even sure-footed kids scrabbling to stand up.

The Wild Wild West theme continues with pinto rocking horses for the little ones in the sand, and towering cacti structures that may be challenging for younger kids to climb. Toddlers and pre-schoolers can check out a sensory mini maze on the side.

Scratch the nursery-friendly shapes and textured surfaces, though. A girl of about six is building a stairs-lined Aztec pyramid in the sand pit. Whatever happened to pail-shaped sandcastles?

ADMIRALTY PARK PLAYGROUND


ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Location: 31 Riverside Road

Micah says: “It’s easier going up the obstacle course and harder coming down. It feels like you’re going to fall over because of gravity.”

Kids’ rating: 7/10

The playground in Admiralty Park is a landscape of hills.

While my son Micah finds it challenging to climb down the net-strewn obstacle course, he, like other children, clambers up the slopes like a mountain goat.

The kids have fun swooshing downhill, with a whopping 26 slides to choose from, some of which look four storeys high.

Younger children can be entertained with an undulating warren of tunnels, play areas and slides at a lower altitude.

Despite the presence of rubber foam floors, there is a charming suggestion of Middle-earth from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings, with kids looking like Hobbits busy at play.

PASIR RIS PARK PLAYGROUND


ST PHOTO: VENESSA LEE

Location: Pasir Ris Road

Leah says: “There were two kingfishers on a branch.”

Kids’ rating: 7/10

The playground is full of birds like kingfishers and wild chickens, which adds to its unhurried appeal.

There are plenty of options here. The tall, red-webbed climbing frame is challenging enough for bigger kids. Little ones run up and down a terraced, rubber foam “mountain” with a built-in slide.

It strikes me that some playground toys defy description.

The kids get on what appears to be a small satellite dish cross-bred with a merry-go-round. But Leah thinks this “swirly, whirly thing” goes too fast.

FOREST RAMBLE PLAYGROUND


ST PHOTO: DESMOND LEE

Location: Jurong Lake Gardens, along Yuan Ching Road

Micah says: “Half of it is closed.”

Kids’ rating: 6/10

Alas, some highlights at the nature-inspired Forest Ramble playground in Jurong Lake Gardens were closed when we made a visit recently.

The Snake Play section, which features curvy slides mimicking the movement of serpents, was shuttered.

The child-size sluices at the Otters section, once a source of splashy fun, had run dry.

But what remains sticks in the mind.

Frog Play, which features tautly bouncy trampolines in the ground, was a favourite with the kids. Leah thinks they make her jump more like a kangaroo than a frog.

The children have not broken much of a sweat, but they relax in thoughtfully provided hammocks, moving from one to another to test them out.

CANBERRA PARK PLAYGROUND


ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Location: Near Block 365B Sembawang Crescent

Leah says: “It was very creative, but the ropes made my hands red.”

Kids’ rating: 6/10

Points were lost at the playground on account of rope burn.

But Leah concedes that the long and variegated rope course and the 3D web climbing structure are interesting.

These playground equipment would be good training for a pre-schooler Spiderman as well as regular kids.

Another feature at Canberra Park is a whole load of swings. They swing forwards and sideways and seat multiple players. You can even swing standing up.

WEST COAST PARK PLAYGROUND


ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Location: Near the McDonald’s outlet in West Coast Park, which runs parallel to West Coast Highway

Micah says: “I’m five years too old for this.”

Kids’ rating: 6/10

Although my 11-year-old son has a tween’s disdain for kiddy stuff – in this case, an old-fashioned merry-go-round – this playground has options for a range of age groups.

The zipline works, although we have to push the child in the seat to make it go the full length.

A bird-shaped climbing frame, almost as tall as the surrounding trees, is big enough for a clutch of socially distanced kids.

Rubber foam-padded play areas alternate with wide swathes of sand where toddlers play with toys.

The park feels expansive amid the masses of pocket-size playgrounds around the island.

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