If you've ever wondered, "how can I make sure our park meets the needs of everyone?" there is an easy answer - programming! With the right programs and events, your park can be a major attraction that provides much-needed services to everyone.
Read on and learn six ways to program your park to increase usage and support the needs of children and families.
Determine Your Park Goals
What benefits and accommodation does your park provide? Take a look at the amenities you have and think about your park and playground's type of audience. That will help you determine the right programming to offer. Here are some questions you should ask:
- What positive ways does the playground serve the community?
- What age group is appropriate for your playground equipment?
- What sort of fitness options does the park offer?
- Does the playground promote safety?
- Does the playground promote civic engagement?
- Is the playground inclusive/accessible?
- What are the areas of growth for the playground?
- What are the obstacles hindering this growth?
Once you answer these questions, you can plan your park programming. Here are six types of programming to consider.
1. Promote Physical Activity
Experts recommend 60 minutes or more of moderate physical activity each day for children. Daily exercise also improves academic achievement and enhances every area of a child's life.
In fact, educators see the benefits of their students’ play and recess time. Playful students have greater focus and perseverance. Playgrounds allow students to be more active during the school day and offer play and recreation time for nearby residents when school is out.
Ensure your playground includes a variety of swinging, sliding, spinning, climbing, and balancing equipment. Curriculum and activity guides like Play On!, created by PlayCore in partnership with SHAPE America, offer 125 activities for pre-K children through 5th grade.
Some other ideas to increase physical activity on your playground include:
- Create an “activity of the week” such as a fun playground game
- Designate “stations” with playground equipment such as balls and hula hoops
- Pretend a play structure is a pirate ship or castle to encourage imaginative play
- Incorporate games such as Red Light-Green Light, Follow the Leader, or Hide and Seek
2. Help Families Connect With Nature
Spending time at play in nature is proven to improve a child's mental well-being. A playground serves as a place where families connect with and learn about nature. It's also a fun way to learn about the natural world.
When you incorporate nature into your playground, you teach kids all kinds of things, such as the different kinds of plants and trees, the stages of plant growth, and the importance of photosynthesis.
Adding a walking and biking path around your playground is a great way to encourage people to enjoy nature. People will see more of the surrounding natural environment and get some physical activity at the same time.
A walking and biking path is a great place for parents to play games with their kids, encouraging them to observe the natural surroundings like “I Spy” or “Hide and Go Seek.”
3. Encourage Inclusive Play
A playground should be a place where kids of all abilities can come together and have fun. Create a space where all children’s needs are considered. Provide activities that support physical, mental, communicative, social/emotional, and sensory development.
You may already have an inclusive playground. You can take inclusion a step further by hosting community events and programs that raise awareness about disabilities and social equity.
4. Create Outdoor Learning Spaces
Playgrounds are a great place for an outdoor classroom! When learning is combined with playing, kids can deepen their understanding of skills and concepts. Many common subjects in school can be taught outdoors, such as math and music, languages and vocabulary, and science concepts such as biology and physics.
Some ideas for outdoor learning events and activities include:
- Water Day: kids can paint with water on sidewalks, play on water slides, run through sprinklers, and bob/scoop for items in buckets
- Camp Out: kids can pitch tents, participate in scavenger hunts, sing camp songs, tell stories, learn fire safety, and learn to use camping equipment
- Summer Athletics: have a mock Olympics where kids can join teams, have an opening ceremony, and participate in various activities like obstacle courses, field games, tack/bike races, and relay races
5. Add Playworkers
A playworker is someone who assists, encourages, and enhances play to make sure all kids who visit a playground are safe and have fun. Playworkers can provide a safer play space in general and can intervene to avoid crises.
Over the years, there have been fewer playworkers on public playgrounds, but there is a growing effort to bring them back into use. For example, New York City employs college students during the summer to staff their playgrounds, and Oklahoma City has implemented a very successful playleader program.
Another possibility used by some cities is to use retirees as volunteers on playgrounds. Whoever you decide to use as playworkers on your playground must be trained in supervision, playground safety, maintenance, and play facilitation.
6. Community Events
Parks and playgrounds are ideal places for community activities and events! Whether it’s a birthday party, a reunion, or an end-of-school party, a well-designed playground or recreation area is the perfect venue.
Things to consider:
- Post a sign in the recreation area that has the phone number and website to reserve the space for events
- Decide if there will be a fee for reserving the gathering area. These fees can help pay for maintenance costs.
- Have clear rules for the use of the space and make sure they’re easy to find and read online and on signs at the playground/recreation space
- Know what permits are required in your city and have a straightforward process for dealing with them
- Have a schedule for your space that includes days and times, and make sure this information is easy to find online and on signs at the site
- Decide what equipment is okay to bring to the site. This could include things like bounce houses, stereo equipment, or food preparation equipment.
- Decide if you will make the space available for special events such as fundraisers, concerts, exhibits, etc. These are great ways to raise money to cover your space’s maintenance costs, but they require special planning for food service and sales or ticket sales and admission.
Ready to Program Your Park?
It's important to help people see your park or playground as a valued and vital part of your community. Remember to make sure your playground’s programs and activities encourage physical activity, get kids engaged with nature, are inclusive to everyone, and have playworkers on-site to keep everyone safe and happy!
If you have questions about creating a fun, active, and beneficial park and recreation space, contact the GameTime play expert in your neighborhood.