If you’re looking for someone to plan the destination for your next park meet-up up, we know just the guy. Andrew Moore, aka Danforth Dad has made it his (and his family in TOw)’s mission to explore Toronto through its many playgrounds.
And he rates them after marking each new playground visited with a sticker on a big Toronto map on his son’s bedroom wall. That’s 100-plus – and counting! Parks and playgrounds mean different things to different families. We have our faves and they have definitely have changed as our kids have grown older. But we totally agree when he says “even a bad playground is better than sitting at home in front of a screen.”
The dad of two and teacher grew up in the Pape and Danforth neighbourhood, returning post-uni to the city and eventually settling in East York not far from his childhood home. His playground hopping has taken him across the city, allowing him to discover new hoods and appreciate the diversity and plenitude of our shared outdoor public space.
He tells us about some of his favourite parks, biggest playground pet peeves (they are bang on) and go-to spots off the park-path that will inspire your next adventure.
Fatherhood at the moment
It is bittersweet. I’m at the tail end of 14 months off work in which I have been a stay-at-home dad. I love my job and the people I work with, and I’m happy to be going back to work, but this has been an utterly unique and magical year that I will never be able to recreate. Being at home to see all their microscopic moments of growing up has been the best thing I could possibly do.
Current kid challenge
The constant challenge for me is being calm and patient when my kids are frustrated. They are 4 and 2, so they get frustrated by just about anything – inability to ride bikes, sharing with each other, trying to put on a shoe – it’s constant. I am aware that my voice during their time of frustration will likely inform their own inner voice, so I keep reminding myself to keep my voice calm, my tone positive, and my advice limited to when they ask for it.
Favourite Toronto hood
I love my own neighbourhood (the Danforth) but there are several that I sometimes like to pretend I live in: Cabbagetown, the Annex, and Mimico are three examples.
Favourite place to visit as a family
The Ontario Science Centre is a favourite. The big advantage of having a year off is that I could go at off-peak times, and that’s made all the difference in the way I view the Science Centre. When it’s largely empty, the kids can explore forever. The Chester Hill lookout is close to our house, and we often go there on our bikes. I have many fond family memories of being there. The last few Labour Day weekends we’ve been going to Trillium Park at Ontario Place to play in the sand, have a picnic, and watch the planes from the Airshow rush overhead. It’s a great way to bid the summer farewell.
Fantasy kid-free day
Walk aimlessly in a neighbourhood I don’t know very well. Probably while listening to an audiobook.
What is your perfect day in Toronto
Grocery shopping, then playground, then a fish and chips picnic from Off The Hook on the hill at Riverdale Park.
Favourite Toronto playground
I love the Sharon Lois & Bram playground in June Rowlands Park. It’s got just about everything – splash pad, great equipment and lots of shade, but it’s also musically themed, in honour of the Canadian legends it’s named after. There is a circle of chromatic percussive instruments that kids can play on. On a busy day, kids are constantly using the glockenspiels, drums, and pitched tubing, and the effect is almost like windchimes: a melodic background noise that blankets the whole park. My son likes Withrow Park, and any playground that has ample shared toys. My daughter is only two, so she likes anything with swings.
Kidstown Water Park in L’Amoreaux Park was a huge surprise. I couldn’t believe that there was a city-run, aka free, water park in Toronto. There’s a dry-land playground as well, and plenty of park left over for a picnic. It’s easy to spend lots of money on a place like Great Wolf Lodge, but while the kids are still small they don’t need huge things like that. Kidstown is plenty exciting enough.
Biggest playground pet peeve
I have a real love/hate relationship with sand. I know it’s fun, but the way it sticks to kids and makes its way back into your home, hiding in their socks, hats, and every conceivable bodily crevice just drives me up the wall. I also try not to be critical of other parents at playgrounds – everyone is trying to do their best, and I am far from the world’s perfect parent – but I sometimes wish parents would just let their kids play. A lot of kids are constantly followed around (not played with, followed around) by their parents, who ask constant questions. “D’you wanna go on the slide? Are you having fun? Are you jumping? Do you want to try the swing?” It comes from a good place, but I feel bad for these kids, who probably just want to enjoy the playground at their own pace.
There’s a company that makes “Dinosaur Dig” playgrounds. Like sandboxes, but with cast dino bones in them. That would be a big hit with lots of kids I know. Also, the playground at the Berlin Zoo was incredible, and attracted kids well into their early teen years. That’s something that’s missing from Toronto playgrounds: places for older kids to play.