Nostalgia: Playgrounds

You may ask, why this topic? Well, they were a part of all of our lives at some point? And quite regularly too. Grounders, manhunt, ball pits, monkey bars, slides, climbers, fireman poles, you name it.

Playgrounds were always fun for me as a child. There was hardly anything more fun than moving around and making noise on colourful structures at a certain age.

Indoor/fast food playgrounds

McDonald’s and Burger King playplaces: The epitome of unsanitary playgrounds. Yep. You guessed it. I remember begging my parents to take me to them a lot.

There were about four in my town (Three that actually still exist but have different play structures now).

The smell of sweaty socks mixed with happy meals and plastic is strangely a nostalgic childhood smell.

Of course, on a negative note, many of us have at least some stories of people peeing, pooping, spitting, or vomiting in the play areas, but I won’t go there.

Here is a shocking list of many examples I found online though.

McDonald’s Playplace picture I took on one of my long photography walks on Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017 (Photo credit: Cory Morrison).

With ball pits in particular, if only I knew just how disgusting they are, or in the case of fast food places, were.

Kids would leave their happy meal toys, burgers, McNuggets, fries, you name it, in them. Not to mention, they are difficult to sanitize later on because it would be tough for cleaners to disinfect every individual ball. No wonder they became extinct in fast food restaurants by the mid-2000s.

The same goes for crawl tubes and slides with sanitizing because employees can’t really fit in them.

The more I realize how much McDonald’s employees in playplace locations have to put up with, the more I think, “Nobody should ever look down on McDonald’s employees. They have to put up with so much shit, sometimes literally.”

Me in the ball pit at African Lion Safari in the summer of 1996. See? Look how oblivious I was! (Photo credit: Nancy Fincher-Morrison).

One story I clearly remember is that there was this one time, I was at my town’s biggest McDonald’s which has a playplace. I was around six at the time. There was this one kid somewhere near the slides, who refused to comply when his father asked him to leave.

Obviously, daddy can’t climb up there to get him, right? He can’t fit. Now if this kid were in the ball pit, it would be another story.

Eventually, his father said bye to him and left without him since he refused to go home.

I genuinely thought that this kid was going to stay there for many days ahead. Little did I know that employees would have eventually escorted him out of the playplace at closing time, and then perhaps call the police on the father. Who knows? That might have happened.

On brighter notes, however, there were a couple of positive playplace memories that stood out to me.

The first one being back in April 1999 when I was almost six: We were heading to Florida, driving there. One of my ABA therapists went on this trip with us.

On the way there, we stopped at a McDonald’s somewhere in Georgia in the morning, which had an outdoor playplace. I thought “Cool!”

I remember this play structure had three slides, and one of them was hard for me to climb up to. It was a mysterious, exciting playground.

The other was when I was around six or seven, we went to this one hotel near the west end of Canada’s Niagara Falls on a couple of occasions, which had a playplace.

This hotel’s playplace was super tiny, but I still thought it was cool that a hotel would have one.

Roughly a year later after the first Niagara Falls trip, we went to another hotel on the U.S. side of Niagara Falls.

I genuinely thought we were going to the same hotel, and then when I discovered the reality that night, I was torn apart, especially since this next hotel didn’t have a playplace.

My parents promised me we would go to the previous hotel again though on the next Niagara Falls trip, and we did.

I could barely outgrow those things. It wasn’t until I was nine that I finally did.

There is one indoor playground I will always fondly remember though. My relatives in London, Ont. used to take me to this place a lot: Mr. Chuckles.

This place was a popular children’s attraction in London back in the late 1990s before it closed some time in 2003-ish.

It was like Chuck E Cheese’s except with a bigger play area and not as many tubes.

This structure had punching bags, swinging noodles, mats, and all of the stuff you don’t see in fast food playplaces. There were also not as many arcade games.

Mr. Chuckles from what I remember was a dinosaur of some sort, although I don’t remember seeing the mascot at the place.

Me, my cousins, and my brother used to play this one game where we would jump at the bottom of the main slide as we were coming down.

Me at Mr. Chuckles in London, Ont. in 1998 (Photo credit: Nancy Fincher-Morrison).

When I see indoor playgrounds today, they don’t seem quite as big. Maybe it’s just me being taller or that the ball pits are no longer around though?

I sometimes go to the very same McDonald’s I mentioned in my first example when I need a bite after my college classes, and half of the playground now seems like a window maze.

They also renovated part of the building, so the playplace is only about two-thirds the previous size. This renovation is a good thing, because, more seating!

Outdoor playgrounds

Although outdoor playgrounds are also unsanitary, at least cleaners can fit on them (Hardly any tubes, right?), and with colder weather exposing the structures, germs can die much easier.

Also, since kids walk and run on them instead of crawl, the risks for pooping and vomiting are nowhere near as high.

My neighbourhood park: Since my current house is right by this park, and since my previous house was only a couple of blocks away from it, this was my central childhood public spot.

With the original play structure, the one I grew up with, I had countless fun times playing grounders and manhunt with people.

However, in August 2011, when I returned home from a three-week camp, I discover that the town replaced it with a newer, much smaller play structure.

I kid you not, the old play structure was wooden and had three slides, four climbers, two monkey bars, a fireman’s pole, and loudspeakers.

This new one? Just one small slide, one small climber, stairs, one tiny set of monkey bars, and a few other things that barely even compare to the old structure. There are still swings though.

It’s the same thing for most other outdoor playgrounds too as well for a good reason: People want to prevent injuries with children. Plus, as many of us know, kids today seem to care more about iPads than playgrounds.

The old play structure in the distance. This was taken by one of my parents some time in early 2003 or 2004.
The current playground by my house. This is an old picture taken on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 (Photo credit: Cory Morrison).

Speaking of the intense old playground equipment, I was afraid of the monkey bars when I was younger. I could barely use them without my dad helping me while many of my peers would learn how to use them independently by the time they were six or seven. For me, I don’t think I got over my fear until I was nine.

I remember reading a children’s book back in grade 3 where these kids were kissing on top of the monkey bars. Obviously, like pretty much every kid at that age, the idea of kids around seven or eight kissing was humorous to me.

However, what stood out to me was that these kids did something that terrified me back then: Sitting on the monkey bars. Don’t worry, by the time I was about 11; I was able to climb to the top of the monkey bars and sit on them.

I was a lot smaller than my peers too, so obviously it took longer for me to be able to climb heights like that.

Also, I have noticed that there are no longer wooden playgrounds or tire swings.

I remember the park by my paternal grandparents’ house near Kingston, Ont. which was by a school. It was a long wooden structure with lots of tires.

I remember spending so many good times with my parents, grandparents, and other relatives there. Whenever the weather was nice and warm during our visits, we would always go there.

My first elementary school, as well as countless other places, had wooden playgrounds as well.

Now, wooden playgrounds seem to be extinct.


As a whole, with today’s trends with health and safety regulations, playgrounds have changed in many ways I never thought they would.

What would my 5-year-old self think of these newer playgrounds? Would they not be as fun?

If there are any playground stories or things you want to add, comment them here.

3 thoughts on “Nostalgia: Playgrounds

  1. I miss playing on those playgrounds, especially the indoor ones for some reason. I’d give anything to jump into a ball pit one more time.

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