Weekend Highlights

Published February 12, 2013
Going Places

Belltown’s New Playground in a Box

by Isabel Sanden
seattle child article photo
seattle child article photo
Photos by Isabel Sanden.

Just a few blocks east of the heart of Belltown sits a little gem. Located in a quiet, beautifully remodeled old building on the corner of Bell Street and 5th Avenue is the Belltown Community Center.   

The center opened its doors last September through the cooperation of Seattle Parks and Recreation and the Downtown Seattle Association. Among its many amenities and offered activities is a unique new play space for 3- to 7-year-olds called Playground in a Box. It is a traveling play set, but is housed at Belltown Community Center. 

"We chose Belltown because of its urban nature," said Joelle Hammerstad, spokesperson for Seattle Parks and Recreation. "There are no real playgrounds in Belltown, and parents in that neighborhood need help in finding ways to keep their kids active. The playground is all-weather, so we can take it out to other downtown parks for special events, too."

I have spent many a rainy morning throwing my kids into our Eurovan and proceeding to the huge gymnasium offered at our local community center for a place to get their wiggles out. Fun as it was, that activity offered little adventure for me.

This play space offered a warm, inviting and interesting activity for my 3-year-old to explore, and the fun of an excursion downtown for me.

I parked easily in the neighborhood and then went for a walk with my daughter. Our escapade to Belltown Community Center’s Playground in a Box also included Starbucks at the market and a stroll through the art district for mom.  Altogether, it made for a great itinerary.

When we made it back to the Belltown Community Center we were ready for a cozy place and some fun. The center is not large, but is welcoming and attractive. It has a unique urban feel; a tasteful remodel of an old building.  My daughter immediately ran into the play room when she saw the large blue blocks from the lobby.

“Mom, mom!” announced my three-foot-tall daughter measuring herself up to one of the giant blue segments. “Look! I’m taller!” Her exclamation received a round of laughs from the other moms in the room. Suddenly, the other children were standing the pieces up and discovering that the different pieces were different heights. And some wouldn’t stand up no matter how many different directions you tried to place them.

While enjoying the creative aspects of this new concept in play, I talked with several of the moms in the room. I was interested to learn that the group was not just local. Several moms had come quite a distance – Shoreline, Tacoma and West Seattle – to check out the Playground in a Box.

“I saw Playground in a Box online, and thought it would be a fun outing to go downtown and check it out,” commented Jessica Bentley of West Seattle. “The big blocks are fun, and it is a beautiful old building. Of all the community centers out there, this one is really nice.”

As described on the website, Playground in a Box is “comprised of large foam blocks that are oddly formed with unique, abstract shapes that make kids curious and want to start building immediately.” 

Along with building, the blocks also created some new opportunities for sharing. It was interesting to watch how the children cooperated. The blocks were big, and sometimes they needed two to help move the parts from one area to another. It was fun to see what they decided to make. 

The pace of play moved quickly; one moment they were creating balance beams from one end of the room to another, the next they were building a wall. One inspiration truly got the whole room laughing: The children had stacked two blocks on top of each other and then placed a long block across them to make a teeter totter. That little engineering achievement earned the most attention.

There was quite a bit more about the Belltown Community Center that I appreciated. Even though the center is smaller than others, it was clean and well laid out. If children needed a change of pace from building with the blue blocks, there was a nice toddler room right next door. The center also offers a good selection of classes, activities and community events to make you want to return again and again.

Finding excuses to head downtown has never been a challenge for me. Coordinating an affordable, convenient outing downtown that includes playtime for my three kids has been daunting, and I found a fun and affordable answer here at Belltown Community Center. We look forward to coming back for one of their Parents Night Out events ($25 per kid).

Some things to consider on your visit: Take snacks and a picnic lunch. If it is a nice day, you can enjoy lunch downtown at the Olympic Sculpture Park. On a cold day, lunch can be enjoyed inside the Belltown Community Center. Parking is all street parking and metered. I did not have any trouble parking right out front, but at busier times you might have to circle the block. 


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If You Go...

Where: 415 Bell St., Seattle.

When: Playground in a Box, recommended for kids ages 3 to 7: Wednesday, 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.; Friday, 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.; Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. 

Cost: $2 per child. The center's play areas are rentable for parties, too.

Contact: 206-684-7245; www.seattle.gov/parks/centers/belltown.htm.