March 30, 2021

Six Ways to Program Your Park To Benefit the Community

People frequently ask us questions like “how can our park better serve the community?” or “what can we do to make sure our park meets the needs of families?” The answer is to provide programming in your park.

Read on and learn six ways to program your park to increase park usage and support the community’s needs. 


Set Your Park and Playground Benefits and Goals 

Let’s take a look at the benefits and accommodations your park offers. This exercise will help you identify the type of audience your park and playground will attract and the best 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. 

1. Promote Physical Activity

Kids of all ages need to run around and stretch their legs every day. Experts recommend children get 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily. Daily exercise also improves academic achievement and enhances mind, body, and spirit. 

What better way to make sure your community’s kids are getting their exercise than by giving them a playground with lots of physical activities and programs?

Educators see the benefits of their students’ excitement for play in the classroom with 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.

Some great things to incorporate into your active playground are 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 more than 100 fun activities for children in Pre-K through 5th grade. 

Some other ideas to increase physical activity on your playground include:

  • Creating an “activity of the week” such as a fun playground game
  • Creating “stations” with playground equipment such as balls and hula hoops
  • Pretending the play structure is a pirate ship or castle to encourage imaginative play
  • Incorporating games such as Red Light-Green Light, Follow the Leader, or Hide and Seek

2. Reconnect With Nature

Kids need to be out in nature. Spending time at play in nature has been shown to improve a child's mental well-being. Your playground can serve as the place where kids reconnect with and learn about nature and have fun doing it. 

When you incorporate nature into your playground, you can teach kids all kinds of things about nature, such as the different kinds of plants and trees, the stages of plant growth, and the importance of photosynthesis.

One idea to include nature in your playground is by having a walking and biking path surrounding it. This way, kids see more of the surrounding natural environment and get some physical activity. 

A walking and biking path is a great place for parents to play observational games with their kids that encourage them to observe the natural surroundings. Some of these observational games are “I Spy,” “Hide and Go Seek,” or an alphabet game where kids point out something around them that starts with every letter of the alphabet.

You can also include nature in your playground with sand and water activities, community gardens, and areas for wildlife observation.

3. Support Inclusive Play

A playground should be a place where kids of all abilities can come together and have fun. The goal should be to create a space where all children’s needs are considered by providing physical, mental, communicative, social/emotional, and sensory development opportunities. 

You may have already designed an inclusive playground. Still, to go further, your playground should be a place where the community has events and programs that raise awareness about disabilities and inclusiveness. Some examples include hosting up close and personal sessions with people with disabilities, storytelling or puppet shows, adapted sports demonstrations, or interactive disability simulations.

4. Bring Learning Outdoors

A well-designed playground can double as the ultimate outdoor classroom! When learning is combined with playing, kids can deepen their understanding of skills and concepts and improve their grades in school at the same time. 

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. Provide 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. Host Community Events

Now that you’ve created your playground, it will be an ideal place 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.

How Will You Program Your Park?

We’ve shared many ideas about how to make sure your playground is a valued and successful 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.