Be aware that none of these playgrounds has a restroom although there are plans to install a prefab unit close to Capobianco Field which is next to Al Lewis and reasonably / somewhat close to Manhattan Park. For the Octagon and Riverwalk I'd suggest carrying a potette for real little ones who are potty training.
Starting from the North these are my comments and observations as a dad of two kids six years old and under:
A gate has finally been installed that appears more rugged which will keep the kids from falling down the stairs that lead down to the daycare facillity. I don't last year's version being as nice. Similarly they have installed fencing which at least deters older children from climbing into the plants again leading down to the daycare center level. There is still one interior fence lock / latch that needs repair and each of the exterior latches is working well.
For those unfamiliar with this playground it is essentially two fenced playgrounds sharing a common "demilitarized zone" which includes the only bench seating and sandbox at the playground. One half is geared to 2 to 5 year olds and the other half towards 5 to 8 year olds.
This playground set in a wooded area behind the Octagon apartment complex enjoys great views of the East River facing Manhattan and has plenty of shade. It is probably the most relaxed of the playgrounds due to the setting.
"Grandpa" Al Lewis Playground
Nothing new here to report. It is still the most open of the four main parks and probably the most used. It is the closest of any of the playgrounds to Main Street but is still far enough away that a watchful parent can catch a child before they get to close to traffic. It has two open entrances with no gates so with real little ones you need to pay attention. Older kids tend to get into games of tag here and need to reminded when little ones are around. But tobe truthful this playground is for the 5 - 10 set and not toddlers or younger.
At this playground you are at the center of the handball courts, basketball courts, and Capobianco Field as well as close to PS217 and the Farmer's Market on Saturdays.
Manhattan Park Playground
This park was a wholly different park about 2 1/2 years ago and the reconstruction using the GameTime structure made the park a lot more enjoyable and safe. The old roller slides were not suited to young children and were dangerous to kids trying to walk up the slides.
I like this park due to the fact that in theory in has only one entrance / exit. I say in theory as there are two areas where the gating allows kids to scoot under or through to the outside which I wish could be sealed up. As compared to many City playgrounds this issue is not as great a concern as the exterior of the park does not affront a road or high traffic area.
This park has the best water views of Manhattan and of the Queensboro Bridge to the South. This park has no shade but for the shade of the buildings in the morning hours. So bring sunscreen for the kids as well as water for everyone.
This playground is like the Octagon playground the only other spot geared to toddlers and young children. The playground has the island's only swing set and includes two infant swings among the four provided. There are plenty of benches for parents and caregivers to sit on while the kids are playing. The only real drawback to the park is that when it gets hot the park has only a small section that enjoys any shade. If your kid likes digging the shady area is the section for it.
There are actually two separate areas that fall under this description. The first is the stand alone cement sprayiground which sits between the Riverwalk playground and the Blackwell House basketball courts. This is one of the most popular areas most kids come to when the heat starts. It has plenty of shade and when the drain is "stopped" up it turns into a wading pool. The grounds crew officially frowns on this practice but it doesn't stop the kids from creating the wading pool several times a day.
The second spray-grounds are those directly adjacent to the former Castle playground location. This area is built as a wading pool but as with the earlier site the composition is all cement and kids of all ages should be watched and take care not to get rowdy or else the damage if an errant fall takes place could be painful.