My only foray into a McDonald's Playland-style indoor playground came at the Hardee's in Le Mars, Iowa, where my two preschoolers played during a brief break from a long road trip. My son climbed ahead, prompting his younger sister to try to keep up. Once inside the belly of the plastic beast, the poor little girl froze in fear and started crying. Enter dad to the rescue!

I must admit, I never paid much attention to whether the indoor playground was clean. So it's been interesting to see the national media attention that researcher Erin Carr-Jordan has gained as she has traveled with her family across the country and assessed the dirtiness of various Playland-type facilities. The Star Tribune covered her visit to a McDonald's in south Minneapolis last week. She swabbed the playground surface for bacteria, and while test results aren't yet available, she said it appeared about as bad as the rest she has encountered.

"It was really dirty, from a visual perspective, as are 90 percent of the ones that I've seen," she told Star Tribune reporter Bill Ward. "Pretty much pervasively, they are in an unsafe condition. Someone asked me, 'What surprises you most?' What surprises me is when they're clean."

My questions about these Playlands: Are they worth it? Do they provide parents relief by giving their kids something to do, or just headaches? Tell me what you think in the comments below. Every time my family went to one, the kids only ate half their food before dashing away. Sometimes they got into collisions with that one kid who invariably decides he or she must climb up the slide. Or they complained of some mysterious society of older kids inside the Playland who teased them. And despite these incidents, my kids seemed to never want to leave -- leaving my wife or I to count to 10 or use whatever other devices necessary to get them to reluctantly put their shoes back on.


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