Mary Bartelme Park
Photo: Courtesy of Chicago Park District

1 Mary Bartelme Park

115 S. Sangamon St., Near West Side

Key equipment:Geometric arches that spray water

“Even parks that aren’t obviously child-centric can provide important opportunities for imaginative play, especially with abstract shapes and figures like the arches. Kids can make up stories about what a structure might be and what might be happening there.”


Adams Park
Photo: Jaysin Trevino

2 Adams Park

1919 N. Seminary Ave., Lincoln Park

Key equipment:Massive sandbox filled with toys

“I watched my nephew make a new friend in the sandbox and then negotiate the inevitable conflict about who got to drive the Tonka truck first. There are endless opportunities for learning when kids navigate the social rules of playgrounds.”


Chicago Women’s Park & Gardens
Photo: Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune

3 Chicago Women’s Park & Gardens

1801 S. Indiana Ave., South Loop

Key equipment:Historic houses

“By exploring a pre–Civil War home, kids can think about what life was like for a child of that era, with no microwave and no TV. When children make a connection between a new fact and their own experience, it’s one of the most powerful ways to learn.”


Elizabeth Morse Genius Children’s Garden
Photo: Courtesy of Chicago Park District

4 Elizabeth Morse Genius Children’s Garden

Garfield Park Conservatory, 300 N. Central Park Ave., East Garfield Park

Key equipment:Hands-on planting projects

“One of the best ways to develop fine motor skills is when children don’t necessarily realize they are doing it. Kids are much more interested in digging a hole or taking turns at the plant stations, and they don’t realize they are working on important coordination and motor activities.”


Julia de Burgos Park
Photo: Courtesy of Chicago Park District

5 Julia de Burgos Park

1805 N. Albany Ave., Logan Square

Key equipment:Spiderweb trampoline

“Approaching novel problems, like this unique climbing structure, and taking risks are developmentally so important in preschool- and school-age children.”