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Kids of All Ages Enjoy New York City's Central Park - 2003-09-04

An estimated 15 million people a year visit Central Park, which has been called "New York City's Backyard." For some, the park, which is 150 years old this year, is simply a gorgeous, green backdrop for jogging and other exercise. Others unwind in the bosom of nature, see a Shakespeare play or concert, enjoy the swans on the park lagoon, or people-watch. And children have their own special ways of making Central Park their own.

In a playground just inside the mottled stone fence that surrounds Central Park, these mothers are pushing their toddlers on swings through the humid air.

Nearby, two girls practice a synchronized hand-clapping game generations of New York City schoolchildren have mastered before them.

A few meters, but a world away, children sit in a sandbox with plastic shovels and cups, building a sandcastle.

The afternoon is hot and humid, typical for New York in August. But for many of New York's children, this turquoise swimming pool near the park's northern end is as close as they'll get to a seaside all summer. But by the sound of it, that's still pretty close!

Not far away, this bare-chested boy is wriggling his toes in a fountain at one corner of a lush Nineteenth Century garden while in the eager company of his little dog. Ten-year-old Josh says he likes Central Park, "Because there is a lot of space to run around in, water and fountains. You can do skiing in the winter. It's covered with forestland. Lots of people go there for fun. And at the end of the day the most beautiful sunset and you don't even have to pay for it!"

Does Josh think Central Park is different through a kid's eyes than it is for a grownup? "In Central Park, it brings out the inner kid in the grownup for some reason," he responded. "I think that. When my mom gets all mad and she goes to Central Park, she gets all like a kid would get."

One's "inner kid" can certainly come out to play at Central Park's famous carousel, now nearly a century old. This woman and her friend took a ride in celebration of her sixtieth birthday, and fit right in. "[...] Talk about peeling the years away! It was a lot of fun," said the woman.

Of course, children also love to be children at the carousel. But for some, Central Park can be a place to strive for the competence that adults - or at least older children - have attained, and to do it so without grown-up supervision.

This handball court is filled with perhaps twenty immigrant children, ranging in age from about eight to about seventeen years old. Most emigrated recently from the same desert region of Mexico.

Miguel is proud of the handball prowess he has gained since coming to the United States two years ago, when he was nine. "I just learned from my brother," he said. "I used to watch him, and he taught me how to do it."

Nearby, three teenagers have upended a trail bike and are examining its shifting mechanism, while others circle the group, showing off their tricks.

There's still more laughter in Central Park's Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater, where a performance of the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel is nearing its end.

After the show, this boy is glad that justice was served. "I like the part when she pushed the witch in the oven and when the witch got kicked in the face about five times," he said.

This girl gives the show the highest praise possible from a modern child: It was better than television. "Because when you watch TV, sometimes you get dumber," she said. "When you watch puppets, you don't get dumber. You just watch the puppeteers perform. It's like, very interesting?

Sometimes in Central Park, the line between audience and performer can get wonderfully blurred. At the park's zoo, some impromptu "bark and response" breaks out between a group of sea lions and a group of human children who are in their neighborhood at feeding time.

Central Park in New York City: It's a great place to be a kid - or anyone else.