Malta doesn’t have much public open space for kids to run around in. On a micro island like ours, the nearest most of us get to giving our kids a weekly dose of exercise is in designated kids’ playground among the urban sprawl. Young children, even in this day and age, do still love playgrounds, so it makes sense to associate fun with and exercise. Playgrounds, which can make this connection, will always have a place in childhood.
Since Malta has a higher prevalence of overweight and obese youngsters than the United States these days, you’d think our playgrounds would be under scrutiny as places where our kids can get some, albeit limited, exercise and air. But sadly no.
Playground standards and safety vary widely. Not all are well kept, dog free, useful exercise spaces with facilities to keep kids aged 1-8 years interested. Few have a loo block nearby. There are some excellent playgrounds – just not enough. Our listing below tells you where.
Standards seem to depend on the local council’s attitude and budget. Malta’s play areas have some lethal-looking equipment, usually of dodgy metal. And there’s a dearth of rubber safety matting. Whatever happened to EU directives here?
The towering metal slide below is in Mgarr playground and common elsewhere in Malta’s playgrounds. It’s true, that in the ’60s I went down this type of slide without serious harm. But I’d not be happy about my son on it today. As far as I know, no one has sued a local council here for injuries sustained in a public playground, but it won’t be long. With the solid concrete underneath, I’d define this one as potentially lethal – but is it legal still?
Round-up of Playgrounds – take your pick
Here are some of the most known and popular playgrounds. Each village has one tucked away somewhere. Feel free to add your comments to expand this post and keep it up to date.
Torri’ playground, Sliema – a very popular space on a corner by the watchtower as you head from Sliema along the seafront to Balluta. Set below the pavement level and overlooking the sea. Gardens and a loo block adjacent. The area is divided into two: the upper is more suitable for young kids; while the lower is better for older kids as it has a more challenging climbing frame and higher swings. There are some sit-on springy animals and painted wooden houses for the little ones. Older kids use the free area to kick a ball around, so watch the safety of little ones. Overall, safety is good as the area is self-contained, has cushioning under the ‘house’ and higher apparatus, and a fence around swings. Little tables for toddler snacks. No shade, so ideal for winter all day, but late afternoon – evenings in summer.
Mgarr – next to church, this one hasn’t changed in 30 years. Probably one to avoid. Swings and other apparatus creaky. Dangerous surface as no rubber cushioning. Shown in this post’s photos. Redeeming feature is the fantastic view (that adults will appreciate!).
Marsascala – at the curve of the bay, on main seafront drag. Relatively well maintained. Open to main roads, but large area so you can get away from the traffic. No shade to speak of. Good choice of swings, and a lot of ‘put-cent-in-slot’ sit in rides (like Postman Pat van), which are run by adjacent cafes. A round-about with safety chains, and some other older metal facilities. Not too bad overall, but hard to avoid sun here.
Swieqi – set in the back streets in a little ‘square’, this small playground is among greenery, so it has some shade and is a pleasant space. OK selection of well-maintained climbing frames and some swings. Very crowded at most times of day, and little for older ones to do. But a good social spot to meet other parents. Overall, it’s a safe space in an urban area.
Lija – village core. Newly done-up, and with safe surfaces in most areas. Next to gardens so pleasant surroundings and relatively secure and away from main roads. But since it’s without a gate, little ones can and do stray off. Not much for older kids since refurbishment, but OK for toddlers. Some seating, enough space and very popular after school hours.
Attard – next to American Embassy. Really good space for kids to run around in. OK swings, but swing bars seem a tad dangerous (meant for older kids). Loos are one huge cat litter tray. Disgusting !
Balzan/Attard – next to wine bar and church. Well kept, but a small variety of equipment. Area spacious enough to run around in though.
Rabat/Mdina – next to Mdina City Gate. Has had a lick of paint in the last few years. Spacious area, seating and some shade. Good cushioning on the ground. But triangular, metal climbing frame is still dangerous for the young ones. I’ve seen accidents. Choice of two slides, so something for older kids, but sometimes to the detriment of younger ones. See-saw is fun and works well.
Gharghur – nice setting in pretty village core and in a quiet area with some lovely trees. Swings are well maintained and there’s proper cushioning. Features two slides and a choice of swings too, with proper bars. The gazebo is popular. There used to be a merry go round with proper chains for safety, but on last visit was not there. Perhaps it’s being refurbished.
Naxxar – Recently done up so a good choice of solid wooden equipment. Some cushioning on ground, and a shady setting under mature trees (so good for summer). Seating for toddler snacking. The wooden bridge is very popular though not safe for toddlers, who can easily bounce off the wobbly structure. The tubular chute-slide is very popular. Quite safe as playgrounds go, though very near main roads (it’s on a busy T-junction so you get noise and pollution too). Also popular is the climbing frame – especially with 5+. See-saw works well. Choice of swings for toddlers and older kids. Parking nearby, in shade, but mind the birdshit!
Dingli – this town has two playgrounds; one near the cliffs up by the cemetery; and a second in the town core. The cliff-side playground is ‘old-style’ with one of those great, metal 1960’s slides which kids love, despite, or because, of the danger. It also has two sets of swings and a roundabout. The whole area is quite big, and enclosed, so great for kids to wander around in. It also has a mini-football court and lots of paths winding between shady trees. Bikes are not allowed, but most of the time it is empty enough to flout this rule.
The second Dingli one is very new and has rubber matting all over, a roundabout, different types of swings, and a fantastic climbing frame with tunnels, slides, monkey bars and poles. The toilets are clean and often have toilet paper. Sadly, there’s no shade, but there is the added bonus of having the vegetable van there Tuesdays and Thursday lunchtime for impromptu bananas.
Photos: Anne Muscat Scerri