by Karen Bridson Friday May 25, 2012

If there’s one thing parents like to do, it’s share their parenting wisdom.

It’s not just because these tips and insights are so hard-won, but also because, guaranteed, soon after you work out the best approach to something, your kid outgrows the need for it.

And there we are left standing with brilliant solutions to problems like how to know when it’s safe to transfer (won’t wake) a sleeping baby (see footnote at bottom of blog), and no one to use it on.

So as my boy quickly moves to the age of ten, I am thrilled to be able to share with you my top ten Ontario places to play for kids.

He’s still crazy about most of these places, but I know those days are quickly coming to a close. So I hope some of you are able to benefit from my combing the province for the best places to set your kids free to run.

(Ed. We've posted all of Karen's choices on an Ontario map along with all the entries to our "Favourite Places to Play" contest. The contest is over but that doesn't mean you can't share your ideas. Leave your comments and suggestions and we'll post your ideas on our map. And then we can all discover new places to play in Ontario.)

So here's my countdown to Number 1 from ten.

10) Kew Gardens Playground, The Beach, Toronto

Amazing, penned-in, sandy playground with lots of tree cover and fun to keep your kids happy for hours.

9) High Park Castle Playground, Toronto (is being rebuilt after an arson fire; click link to donate/help)

Probably the coolest playground I’ve ever seen. Hopefully the tallest castle portion will be rebuilt soon. Great adventures to be had here for kids of all ages. But it’s pretty busy so it’s a good idea to put your child in a bright orange shirt so you can keep track of them!

8) Postridge Park (outdoor pirate-theme splashpad/sandbox, Oakville)

An amazing little find west of Toronto, tucked away in a suburban community. It’s not fancy but well worth a bit of a drive. There’s a covered central area for parents to sit in the shade while the kids can splash and play in the pirate ship splash pad and adjacent sandbox/climber.

7) KidSports, Mississauga (for rainy and winter days)

Not a place you want to head for on a sunny, warm day, but in the dead of winter or on a rainy day this place can be a lifeline for the frazzled parent. A giant climber is the main feature but there’s a smaller climber area for the little ones too. My son plays and climbs so hard here his hair is stuck to his head with sweat the whole time.

6) Bronte Park Play Barn, Burlington

This play barn is a lovely place to take the kids in all seasons. This old barn has been converted into a play area for kids, complete with rope bridges, hay piles to jump into, secret walkways, etc. And there’s a cozy little room for parents to warm up (on cold days) and grab a snack from the vending machine while the kids play.

5) Kay Gardner Beltline Park, Toronto

You can jump onto this beltline from all over the city. Kids can run, cycle, hike, explore the creeks, stop at the Brickworks for a snack. It’s tree-covered and full of nature’s wonders to explore.

4) Dufferin Grove Park, Toronto

With community potluck suppers, a pizza oven, puppet shows, a splashpad, a yurt, skating rink, amazing playground, organic farmers’ market and much more, this park might just be the best in Toronto. I even saw singer Nelly Furtado there with her daughter once!

3) Castle Village and Enchanted Kingdom Park, Midland

This is a crazy little place but well worth a detour if you are in the general area of Midland. It’s a castle store, that in itself is slightly odd, but in behind the owner has built the most incredible little village of storybook-inspired cottages and a tree fort that’ll blow your mind. Bring the bug spray and expect to spend some time here. It’s quite something.

2) Sandbanks Provincial Park, Dunes Beach, Prince Edward Country

There is a playground at the Dunes Beach, but your kids won’t spend any time on it. That’s because the dunes themselves provide hours and hours of endless fun and exercise for kids. Armed with just sticks and their imaginations, my son and nephews have had some of the best fun of their lives hiding in and winding their way up, down and through the shrub-covered 150-foot dunes. Oh, and then there’s Lake Ontario (a clean section!) to splash in when it gets too hot.

1) Saunder’s Farm, Ottawa

Saunder’s Farm is without a doubt the best-kept secret in Ontario for parents. This place blows my mind. I have done the Disney Cruise and I have done every single park at Disneyworld in Florida, and I have to say this family-run farm has elements that can compete with the kings in kids entertainment. The wagon ride is amazing (they are renowned for their Halloween version and October after dark, super-scary version), they have a plethora of simple to difficult tree mazes, a spashpad, jumping pillows that will make even the adults giggle with glee, giant tricycles to ride around a track, a wooden play ship, an amazing tree fort, and so much more. They even have fudge! And the best pumpkin jam (from the farm) ever!