Design: Serious Fun

Taking your children to the playground is a good way to fool them into getting exercise. But all playgrounds were not created equal. TIP SHEET found five that go well beyond the obligatory slide, seesaw and swing set.

Berkeley Marina Adventure Playground, Berkeley, Calif.: Boats that don't float, flat tires and old playground equipment are all popular toys at this low-tech, high-energy park. Here, kids build new things out of donated junk. The playground staff has been giving kids hammers, paintbrushes and free rein to do whatever they want (as long as they play safe) since 1978. "We're like the Old West before the sheriff came to town," says Patty Donald, playground coordinator. Something bigger is at work, too. Educational programs about reducing, reusing and recycling are producing environmentally aware youngsters.

Clemyjontri Park, McLean, Va.: If your child has special needs, this park is your mecca. The $5.3 million complex was designed to be completely accessible to all children. It's one of the only playgrounds in the country with a wheelchair-accessible carousel, and it also has a 132-foot-long wheelchair drag strip for racing. But that doesn't mean it's no fun for everyone else. The colorful play structures and interactive features ensure this park's success as a playground haven for all. The unusual name? A composite of the first names of the land donor's four children.

River Play Discovery Village in Eugene, Ore., teaches geography and history, as well as physical education. All the equipment is modeled after local natural landmarks, like a 25-foot play structure in the shape of Skinner Butte, with basalt climbing columns modeled after an active climbing area nearby. A nine-foot "rain circle" sprays water, and in a storytelling area, kids learn about the Kalapuya tribe that once inhabited the region.

Guadalupe River Park, San Jose, Calif.: The main attraction here is its 930-square-foot Monopoly board, which holds the Guinness world record for the biggest permanent one on the planet. Throw gigantic dice and wear a giant thimble on your head to play a round. Just don't go to jail—you'll have to wear a striped jailbird outfit until you get out.

Rockefeller Park Playground, New York City: At 15 years old, this play area in Battery Park City stands as a beloved tribute to the days before playgrounds became too safe to be fun for bigger kids. The six-bicycle carousel is so popular that park managers keep an extra in the back in case it needs to be repaired. During the summer, toy elephants and hippos spray water. A bonus: free rentals of board games (Candy Land is a popular one), balls and pool cues, in case Dad wants to play, too.