Turn Up The Activity

Most parks and recreation departments have an abundance of amazing areas, so it’s easy for some of the smaller neighborhood parks to get lost in the shuffle. Here’s a program idea that can bring attention to those parks and your department:

1. Start small. Choose one park to highlight once a month during the summer. Evaluate current methods to carry out a program, and build upon those ideas. For example, in Pearland, Texas, we are starting a program called “Play-Full Park,” which invites children to participate in organized activities. Cypress Village Neighborhood Park--a community-built playground project--was selected because of problems with children playing in neighborhood streets with moderately heavy traffic. Consider grant opportunities in program planning as well. Our city received grants for the Cypress Village project because it brought the neighborhood together; hosting a program in a new park can qualify for more grant dollars. Expanding a community park is a great option to help justify grant requests and make that funding sustainable.

2. Since taxpayers’ dollars are utilized, make sure the program is more than just being active outside; add an enrichment and/or nature component, and incorporate that into the theme, including all activities and games. Make programs outcome-based, which looks at impacts, benefits and changes to participants. The goal of the Play-Full Park program is to have children achieve at least 30 minutes of physical exercise. Another outcome is to offer enrichment components in a fun and interactive environment, including math, reading and science. Make sure that outcomes are specific and measurable so that when program evaluation occurs, that program can be justified to the community.

There are numerous ways to add enrichment components to existing activities. It can be as simple as creating a relay race where participants have to answer different math questions or read a word before heading to the finish line. Or set up a scavenger hunt for a science- or nature-based day; any activity can be altered a little to add an enrichment component. Enrichment and physical activity also can be separated from each other. For science day in August, we will be doing experiments followed by a physical activity.

3. Survey the neighborhood. I recommend within a mile radius of the park. The purpose of the survey is to gain insight to parent and youth needs and desires. Make sure to develop and utilize two separate surveys--one for parents and another for children--as both groups love to have their input heard and understood. Aside from insight, a survey also can serve as an early marketing tool to get the idea and name of a program out ahead of time. Some examples of questions in the survey include the age of the child, the name of the school he or she attends, any subjects the child may need help with, the day of the week that works best and the amount of exercise the child has per day. On the youth survey, the same questions are asked in a more youth-friendly format.

Remember to collect e-mail addresses on the survey, so information in marketing the program can be disseminated using a lower-cost method.

In our case, we used the survey to find what schools children in the neighborhood attend. We then obtained results from the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) tests. Using the scores, we were able to determine which subject areas were a priority for the enrichment component of our program. In this instance, math was the number-one priority in both grades 3 and 4; reading was the second priority according to TAKS test results for 2007 and 2008. We found that the top priorities from the TAKS scores were the same as the top priorities identified by survey participants, but this may not always be the case. Make sure to cross-reference any test scores with what the people in the community perceive as a need.

Plan dates, times, age groups, activities and enrichment components for each program. Completed surveys will be a tremendous help in planning a program. I had the most response from parents with 3- to 10-year-olds, so I broke the group into two age categories--3 to 6 and 7 to 10--and did separate, hour-long programs at different times on the same day.

4. Start marketing to the neighborhood! Although our biggest marketing tool is the city-wide brochure, we did not include this program because the neighborhood parks don’t have restrooms or parking. For these reasons, we want to attract residents within a mile radius who can ride their bikes or walk to the park. Contact local homeowners associations (HOAs), if available, to put a marketing blurb in their newsletters. Some HOAs only publish twice a year, so find out how often the newsletter comes out. Or perhaps you can utilize their Web sites to post the information. In the neighborhood we focused on, community mailboxes provided a great space to post signage for free!

5. Remember at each program date to have waivers for parents to sign. Also, make it clear that it is a drop-in program, and children will determine when to leave and walk home. You’ll also need at least two people on-site to run the program so that one person is never left alone with a child, for the safety of the adult and child.

Katy Bower is the Recreation Specialist for the Pearland Parks and Recreation Department. She can be reached at (281) 652-1673, or via e-mail kbower@ci.pearland.tx.us.