Nanny Sarah Swymer Talks About Reviewing Manhattan's Parks

Sarah Swymer isn't just a nanny; she's a blogging nanny on a mission to review every park in Manhattan before the end of the summer. As she explores the borough's parks with her two charges, Lexi and Annie Lee, she posts some information and a rating between one and five "slides" on her site, New York City Park Hopper. Swymer spoke with us on the phone yesterday about her blog and her new venture, Sarah Poppins Tours. Check the interview after the jump.

Where did you get the idea to explore every park in NYC?
We needed something to do with our summer. Last summer we went to every free children's concert that we could. We're always making checklists. We go to a lot of parks anyway, and at some point I just thought, "Why not make a challenge out of this?"

So far, what has been your worst park experience?
So far, the worst was the Matthew Palmer park in Hell's Kitchen. It was such a pretty park. It had a really cool painted train and teeter totters, but there was a homeless guy taking a shower in the sprinkler, so we got out of there pretty fast.

What has been your favorite park so far?
We loved the Courtney Calendar Park on 130th and 5th. It has these gigantic sprinklers and this big painting of the world. The girls and I spent an hour playing a game where we went from continent to continent, and most of the time switching continents meant we would have to run through the sprinklers. They also had these great kid's sized picnic tables.

How many playgrounds do you have left to see?
I think there are about eighty playgrounds left, but it's hard to be sure because I haven't uploaded all of them to the blog yet and I don't want to count in my notebook.

When do you need to be done by?
Our goal was to see all of the playgrounds by the end of the summer, but if we don't reach that goal, we'll keep going during the school year until we've seen them all.

How did you start babysitting Annie and Lexi?
I started babysitting them when Annie was 18 months and Lexi was four. After I graduated college, I had a stint waiting tables but I didn't like it. Then I was hired by the girls' parents and I have been with them ever since. This year they'll both be in school though, so I will be expanding my Sarah Poppins Tours to the school hours. I already offer the tours Fridays through Sundays.

Can you tell me more about the Sarah Poppins Tours?
It's a way for kids to see the city in a fun way. I've been spending the summer going to actual playgrounds, but I think a lot of people forget that New York City is really one big playground. The tours are usually three hours, and they can be anything. I take kids to museums, parks, or even Shake Shack, but it's always different, and it's always fun

What kind of response have you had from parents and other nannies?
I've had an overwhelmingly positive response. People keep thanking me for the playground reviews. There's nothing worse than dragging small children to a park only to find that it's gross or boring. People have loved the tours too. It's mostly bridge and tunnel people who live 45 minutes outside of the city, because if they want to come in to Manhattan for a lunch with their friends, they have to figure out what to do with their kids.

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Many of us fondly remember playing on neighborhood or schoolyard playgrounds when we were kids.  Twister slides, monkey bars, and other large metal playground equipment provided thrills as we climbed to daring heights and showed our courage and skill as we maneuvered the equipment successfully (usually). But because of concern for broken bones, cuts, bruises, and head injuries, child safety advocates have had many of these dinosaurs of childhood recreation removed from playgrounds.  Installed in their stead is safer equipment.  Slides are lower and typically plastic.  Short plastic tunnels and other structures take the place of monkey bars.  And playgrounds become safer for all.But is that a good thing?  Surely safety is a good thing.  After all, who WANTS to get hurt?  And we, as nannies, are responsible for safeguarding the children in our care.  Still, we need to think about the message we send to our children.  We are responsible for helping the children in our care learn how to cope with the “real world”.  The world isn’t perfectly safe.  If we teach our children to isolate themselves from all potential danger to the best of their ability, we will create risk-averse children who take few chances and live in fear of harm.  That’s surely not what we want.Perhaps the better solution is to allow a calculated amount of risk; teach our children to choose safe behaviors within an environment of calculated risk; and to let the children learn that being hurt occasionally is ok because they are resilient, they can heal and go on to play again. Life happens.  I want the children in my care to embrace that...

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