There are more than 700 public schools in Toronto, and many of those have playgrounds.
Of course, for most of the year, play is reserved for the kids who, you know, are enrolled at those schools. But in the summer, you can finally get your tax money’s worth.
A lot of public school play areas fell victim to the playground safety blitz of the 1980s and 1990s, as schools realized that getting hit with a lawsuit was a lousy use of funds. This means that you’re unlikely to find any school playground equipped with swings, tunnel slides, or, in some cases, fun.
But Toronto still has some great school playgrounds, and these can sometimes be valuable alternatives on summer weekends, when the big-name parks fill up.
With so many schools to explore, there are probably many top-notch ones that I haven’t yet found. But here are five of my favourites, in no particular order, to get you started.
Deer Park Junior and Senior Public School
Beautifully situated on the edge of the Avoca Ravine near St. Clair and Yonge, this one has almost everything you could hope for. A nice mix of new and old equipment, separate climbers for bigger and littler monsters, and plenty of shade. The old wooden climber is a classic Henderson, which is a rare find in the city. If you’ve got older kids with you, bring a soccer ball; there’s a nice big turf field next to the playground which, if it’s not being used by a local team, provides some great open space for a run-around. Full review here.
St. Cecilia Catholic Elementary School
Most Toronto playground-goers are familiar with the castle-style playgrounds in High Park and Kew Gardens, but few people outside of St. Cecilia’s catchment area know that this little Catholic school has a castle of its own. It might be the best play structure at any Toronto school. With 20+ years of daily use behind it, the castle is beginning to show its age, but it’s still a viable alternative to the nearby Jamie Bell Adventure Playground in the summer, when the schools are empty and High Park is full. Full review here.
Morse Street Junior Public School
As much as I like a lot of new playground equipment, I’m a bit of a sucker for the old-school, wooden, classic Henderson stuff. It kind of reminds me of the old wooden roller coasters that offered a thrill because the danger was real. Morse Street PS has a pair of nice Henderson wood climbing structures, one for older kids and one for toddlers. There’s also a huge – and I mean HUGE – rope climbing structure by the modern Henderson offshoot company Berliner Seilfabrik. This thing is enormous, and I can only imagine how big it must seem to a kid. Full review here.
Frankland Community School
Frankland opened in 1910 and was demolished in 1980 to make way for a larger, more modern space. But the footprint of the original building was left in place, and the playground now sits within a metre-high wall where the old building used to sit. It’s a nice touch of pseudo-preservation, surprising for 20th-Century Toronto, which was a city where demolishing beautiful buildings in favour of good parking was a bit of a pastime. Not the best equipment, but the wall gives this place tons of character, and if your kids are like mine, climbing on top of walls is pretty much the best thing. Full review here.
Withrow Avenue Public School
Overshadowed by Riverdale Park to the west and Withrow Park to the east, the playground at Withrow Avenue Public school is a solid alternative to those two more popular spots, and in terms of equipment, might actually be the best of the three. Both the primary and junior playgrounds are equipped with wooden Henderson climbers, and they’re in pretty reasonable shape. There’s also a recently-installed climbing-only (ie. no slides) structure, also by Henderson. Put these three together and you’ve got a great place for your monkeys to climb around on a Saturday afternoon. Full review here.