1. Parent Advocacy Group - Participation Needed 5/31 - Join Us!

    Hello Ladies and Gentlemen!

    Those of you who have been to Mommy and Me over the past few weeks have probably heard most of this.  It’s me banging on about getting a toddler playground in the Children’s Quarter of Yerba Buena Gardens (near the Children’s Creativity Museum.)  Erin originally started the petition but Sarah and I have helped with what came next.

    We need to let the Moscone Centre know that the parts of the Children’s Quarter they want to take over are currently used by neighbours for their children and that any cut-through walkways make the area less safe for our children and this is not acceptable.  To do this, we now need help in the form of parent bums on seats at a meeting with the Moscone Centre at 9:00 am on Friday, 31 May 2013 in Yerba Buena Gardens.  We’ll meet at 8:45 in front of the MLK waterfall to all get on the same page. After the meeting, we can all head to the Children’s Creativity Museum for their rhyme time and indoor play area at 10:00.


    To make a long story short, Yerba Buena Gardens (YBG) management does want a toddler playground, probably where the hedge maze is now behind the Play Circle for 5-12 year olds.However, they have a problem.  The Moscone Centre wants to expand into the Children’s Quarter and take the space that could be made available to us for a toddler playground.  Why not?  It’s hardly being used.  They’re talking about the Learning Garden, the Wishing Tree and the Hedge Maze, for those of you who know the area.  For those who don’t, it’s not a big space but it would be ideal for a more toddler-friendly rennovation.  They also want to put a public walk-through from Third street through the playgrounds.  The Moscone Centre has a very weak claim to the area but what they face in opposition is… nothing.  No organised groups pushing to save the space, no parents advocating to protect what is there.  That’s where we come in.  We’re the advocacy group.

    Basically I get the impression from YBG management that if we fend off the Moscone centre by just showing up at their offices, they will give some of the space over to a toddler playground.  Better that than give it to grown-ups.

    I’m willing to work on this long term for a few reasons; 1) I’m already knee deep in it, 2) I can see the potential of a much better toddler playground and program than currently exists and 3) I used to do this kind of group networking in South Australia for the state government and since I’m not doing paid work for the next 4 years, I figure I might as well put those lessons I learned to work for something far more important (my unpaid job.)  I need your help on this because I think a toddler program and good facilities will benefit all of our kids, both as individual families, and as a mom’s group looking for adventure.

    What I am asking you to do

    I’m only expecting you to consider this if you live in SoMa or come here often and feel like you’ll get something out of it.  But this is what I need:

    1. Come to this meeting and back Sarah, Erin and I as we back YBG management. We parents (and we need a lot of them)  will meet at 8:45 am at the MLK fountain to gather our thoughts and get on roughly the same page. I need as firm an rsvp and I can get out of you. It’s going to be on Friday 31 May at 9:00 am where the MLK waterfall is in the Yerba Buena Gardens Green Room. This is located down where the MLK Waterfall is. If you’re standing directly in front of the waterfall, facing it, you will look to your left and see a door there. Go through that door. It will be propped open and the staff will make a sign for direction.
    2. Please bring your baby, it will help keep the meeting short and sweet and give them some indication that they might not like to insist we all come together again.
    3. There are two things we ask of the Moscone expansion plans; 1) do not take the learning garden and 2) do not put a cut through the playground area from Third Street for the public. Below is more about why we are asking these things.

    The Learning Garden

    Yes, it’s true, most parents will have no idea where it is or what you are talking about.  It is, in fact, largely hidden and locked up.  That’s why we have to keep it, it’s potential.  This area is a community garden that YBG staff have been using to teach older kids about where their food comes from.  They have raised garden beds, the area is secure and locked behind a 3 foot fence.  Why do we care?  Because it’s totally underused and has great potential for outdoor programming by both the Children’s Creativity Museum and by mom’s groups or any other group who has something they would like to do with the space.  Abraham, the caretaker, locked it up because people from the retirement village across the street were stealing the plants for their own rooms with the excuse that they were just going to get wrecked anyway; it’s a fence to keep old people out.  Before you laugh and dismiss, let me tell you that I have been involved with community gardens before (I’m a food historian) and this is actually their number one problem.  Not vandals, retirees.  What the layout and the lock means is that we have a toddler-secure area with safe plantings, no bums, cigarette butts, garbage, rogue operators or sticky-beaks.  It’s also wind protected and right next to the proposed toddler playground.  I for one have many projects in mind that will directly benefit our mom’s group.  I’m personally excited.

    The Cut Through

    This one is just logical. They want a public walkway from Third Street straight through the children’s quarter, probably next to the ice rink, to make it easier for people to get in and out.  WHY ON EARTH WOULD WE WANT IT TO BE EASIER FOR OUR CHILDREN TO GET ONTO THIRD STREET OR FOR THE PUBLIC TO ACCESS OUR CHILDREN!?!?!?!  They’re talking stairs, by the way, not stroller access.  Great, more stairs.  Abraham explained to me the security once around the play circle.  If you didn’t already know this, it will gladden your heart.  Currently, the only way in and out of the area is either right by the CCM or through the walkway between the ice rink and the bowling alley.  No back doors, easily scaled fences, etc.  It’s all known, public, and watched like a hawk from a series of CCTV cameras.  The playgrounds, gardens, every spot in the quarter is watched by CCTV.  Plus, all the ‘security’ are actually circus-trained so they are really good at convincing KIDS to ‘do the right thing’ and the whole focus is on kids.  Add the general public to that and your average obnoxious 30-something cut-through professional is not going to respond well to a circus act as a reward for following the rules and is not going to care that those rules are about child safety; they are going to care about getting to their meeting ontime.  It doesn’t sound like a big deal but let me tell you a story.  Every Wednesday I take Saskia to the CCM and I am 8 months pregnant.  I waddle, she fusses, we stop every few minutes to adjust things and I am preoccupied with her and my own growing belly.  I never feel uncomfortable in the Children’s Quarter, I just don’t think about it and traffic flows around us.  Then I cross the bridge into reality to meet Jason at the other end of YBG to get a burger.  I have had two meltdowns (me, not Saskia) trying to negotiate lunch-hour people traffic with my toddler, stroller and unbalanced belly.  People don’t get out of the way when you’re trying to navigate a stroller and a walker, they don’t realise you just grabbed a napkin in front of them in line because someone is throwing up, spilling, etc.  I’m sure you remember it all.  It’s different and it’s a little scary sometimes because that pissed off asshole exec could just tip you over if you got the pickle he wanted and there’s nothing you can do.  Let’s keep the Children’s Quarter for the children.  The lunchtime business crown can have the rest of the city.

    So that is the message we are there to deliver and, of course, to listen to what they need.  I’m sure we can find a compromise.  My hope is that if we get this done, we can then proceed directly to the toddler playground and once there is a toddler playground and they see how well used it is, the CCM and the YBG Children’s Quarter will increase the programming for toddlers in the gardens.  The CCM is already working on that for themselves.  I think by the middle of Summer, we may have a nice little hub for our kids and their activities, much like the Koret Children’s Quarter in GG Park (but close!)

    Please let me know if you can come to this.  I’d really appreciate your support if you also think this is a good idea.

    Thanks guys!

    Andrea (and Saskia)


  2. Ideas from Emmy Brockman, early childhood specialist at the Children’s Creativity Museum

    We’ve been working with Emmy Brockman to take our collection here and put some real thought into it.  Here’s what she has to say about the whole project.  If you want to get more involved, we would appreciate the help.  Just email me- Andrea MacRae (andrea.macrae.16@facebook.com)

    Over the past three years the Children’s Creativity Museum (CCM), located in the Yerba Buena Garden children’s quarter, has experienced an influx of families with children under the age of 6. In 2010 only 35.5% of children visiting CCM were under 6, in 2013 that number jumped to 64.9%. As the museum’s Early Childhood Specialist I provide educational opportunities for young children, with specific attention paid to infant and toddler development. As this neighborhood continues to add more families, the need for developmentally appropriate, safe, and educationally informed play environments also grows. I am writing today to advocate for a toddler-safe play-space in the Yerba Buena Gardens (YBG). As an early childhood educator working in YBG, the following are my thoughts and recommendations regarding such a play area.

    Developmental Benefits of an enriching toddler playground:

      • Playgrounds provide opportunities for free play. Free play allows a child to explore according to their own curiosity. A toddler-safe play-space ensures that the play interactions will be developmentally appropriate, safe, and enriching

      • There is substantial research showing clear links between free play and cognative development, motor skills, and social capabilities.

      • Cognitive Development

      • Our brains work via connections called synapses.  Play helps define and strengthen these vital brain connections. When a young child practices a skill, experiences something new, or interacting with another person their neural connections are strengthened. If these synapses are not used they are simply lost. Children’s brains function on a “use it or lose it” system. By age 3 children have about 1000 trillion (with a t!) synapses, but by late adolescence that number is cut in half to only 500 trillion for most children.  New experiences, interactions, and explorations - all of which unfold through play - directly correlate to heightened brain development.

          • Infants and toddlers are in the “sensorimotor” stage of development (according to theorist Jean Piaget). This means that their cognitive development is tied to sensory and motor experiences. Playgrounds designed with young children’s sensory and motor needs in mind will help children develop essential cognitive skills such as: understanding object permanence (i.e. when something is out of site it still exists), circular reactions (i.e. I shake the rattle, it makes a sound) and basics of making and pursuing goals.

      • Physical, Motor, and Sensory Development

          • A recent article by By Donna Thompson, Ph.D., Susan Hudson, Ph.D., and Mick G. Mack, Ph.D. in Early Childhood News states, “[recent research] suggests basic gross motor activities and sensory motor experiences should occur before age two (Gabbard, 1998). This means that as children grow from infants to toddlers, the importance of play activity is much greater than previously thought.“ The authors continue by citing research that indicates that children with poorly developed motor-skills by age five will likely never develop efficient motor-skills. I highly recommend that anyone interested in the benefits of developmentally appropriate playground equipment read the whole article here

          • In order to develop, children need opportunities to practice gross motor skills: pulling up, cruising, walking, running, jumping, climbing; and fine motor skills: reaching, grabbing, grasping, spinning, pulling, twisting, etc. While many of these skills can be practiced at home, what city apartment really has space for sophisticated gross motor development!? A playground offers physical space, equipment specifically designed to develop motor skills, novel (and therefore interesting)challenges, and - perhaps most importantly - other children.

        • Social/Emotional Development

        • Children learn from those around them. When a 15 month old plays next to a 18 month old at a playground the younger child observes, absorbs, and learns from the actions of the older child. This is referred to as the “zone of proximal development” and it is one of the most meaningful ways that children learn.

          • As children begin to explore the world through their own mobility (crawling and walking) it is important they be afforded independence from adults.  This independence allow for essential trial and error, both physical and social, that is the backbone of early learning. A secure play area gives parents the peace of mind to let their children explore, without fear of them wandering off or being overpowered by much older children.

          • Parallel play (two children playing side by side by not necessarily interacting) is the key way in which children under four interact. By just playing with engaging equipment side by side children form the building blocks of sharing, compromise, collaboration, empathy, and other essential social skills.

        An enriching toddler playground should have:

        • Sensory exploration panels, including varying textures, sound exploration, cause and effect discovery, bright engaging colors, etc.

        • Items for fine-motor exploration, for example: cranks, gears, things to turn, items to grasp and pull and open and shut, etc.  

        • Space for gross motor exploration, for example: low bars for “cruising”, unencumbered open space for new walkers and runners to test their skills, low platforms to practice jumping, short flights of stairs, opportunities to practice balance, etc.

        • A secure and engaging perimeter. Security insures children remain safely inside (and older children stay out), and engaging look and experience encourages toddlers to walk from one side to the other and “map” the space - an important cognitive skill.

        • Equipment that several children can use simultaneously. This encourages parallel play and builds social skills.

        • Conversely: items that can be used individually. Toddlers are essentially egocentric and they benefit from exploring at their own pace.

        • Spaces that encourage adult/child interaction. Swings are a standard example of this - though I encourage us to think of other, and more innovative, examples.

        • Open-ended equipment. For example: a toy car has one intended purpose, while box of sand can become a million things. As an early childhood educator I recommend the later.

        • Equipment that encourages dramatic play. This form of play bolsters children’s creativity, helps them work through fears and questions in a safe away, and provides opportunities for collaboration (both with adults and other children).

        • The playground should feel safe to parents (soft ground, structures low to the ground, secure perimeter) but still offer opportunities for learning through risk, challenge, and trial and error. This article advocates for the cognitive and emotional benefits of risk on playgrounds - and I tend to agree.

        Written by Emmy Brockman, Children’s Creativity Museum’s Early Childhood Specialist.

        Feel free to email emmy@creativity.org with any questions.



      • Tubes and Tunnels

        Crawling tubes can be fun. It would be nice if the tube could be transparent so adults could see their children within (and visa versa). A co-worker adds: interlocking and layered translucent crawling tubes in the primary colors would offer opportunities to explore color mixing and looking at the world through a new color filter.

        Crawling Tube


      • Sensory Exploration

        Sensory play in valuable and engaging for toddlers. This website features several fun examples of how to integrate simple sensory play into a playground.

        Sensory Play


      • Low structures are great for climbing, but not too dangerous for the little ones. It’s also big enough for parents to jump on and help navigate the kids. These are both from the Potrero Hill Playground at 22nd and Arkansas that Sarah recommended at the meeting. Her son is 14 months old.


      • Proposed location of the toddler playground in the existing box-hedge garden maze area.


      • I LOVE Alta park in Pac Heights. They’ve got both a kids and a toddler park side by side. They don’t have a fence separating the two areas, and used a short meandering wall instead which still gave parents access to both sides. It works, but I have been there when young kids were using scooters in the baby play area and that was dangerous. 

        They have a cute train structure with a driving wheel and a caboose with seating booth. There isn’t a great picture of it, but it’s on the left hand side of this picture. That park has a ton of things that I haven’t seen at a lot of sf parks including a small zip line. 

        - Louisa (14 month old)


      • It’s a small photo, but tunnels are great for toddlers too.

        - Erin (13 month old) 


      • 2 infant and early toddler play areas from Meyer Design.

        - Erin (13 month old)


      • Kid Power Park in the Mission has a great play structure for infants. It has a small slide that is age-appropriate and the little rocking horse and teeter-totter was great for my 1 year old. The safety pavement made from old recycled tires is also a must have for early walkers.

        - Erin (13 month old)