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The conversation background: COVID-19 led to playground closures across 16 states and the District of Columbia, impacting 23 million kids under the age of 18, according to research completed by KABOOM!, the national nonprofit devoted to addressing inequitable access to playspaces.
With communities and facilities reopening, Nabeeha Kazi Hutchins, Vice President of Programs at KABOOM! presented guidelines on how to reopen and promote equity and safe usage of playgrounds. The recommendations were created by the KABOOM! Playground Reopening Taskforce that includes public health, community development, parks and recreation and facilities experts. Our notes below highlight the guidelines and general points shared during the discussion.
1.The Big Idea
“Health equity is foundational, and physical activity, including active play, is essential to health,” the CDC’s Iris Joi Hudson asserted at the start of the call.
2.Prioritize Equity in Reopening Playgrounds
All parties agree that parks, public trails and other green spaces are essential to the well-being and resilience of kids and communities. The group also acknowledged that all systems are not equal, and disparities in safe and convenient access persist and perhaps are exacerbated by the pandemic.
KaBOOM! recommends that playgrounds in all neighborhoods have appropriate signage, add hand cleaning amenities and adhere to other public safety measures. The group suggests that public agencies should prioritize playgrounds in communities that have the fewest resources available and consult community members and stakeholders to learn about specific needs.
In accordance with CDC recommendations on visiting parks and recreational facilities, KABOOM! suggests that reasonable, responsible limits are set to ensure that playground users can maintain a physical distance of six feet from one another. To start, they suggest reducing capacity by two-thirds. Agencies should continue cleaning playground equipment, especially high-touch areas like handrails. To communicate updates, agencies should clearly post signage at the playground, share information out to users and encourage parents bringing kids to the playground to self-enforce the protocols.
4.Enable Safe Playground Use and Practice Safe Behavior
Posted updates should be easily visible, accessible in English and other appropriate languages for playground users, and address adult and child audiences. Signs should serve as reminders for users to:
stay home if feeling sick
wash or sanitize hands often
cover face for sneezing and coughing
heed guidance for wearing masks
Park administrators are encouraged to provide hand-washing stations near the playground if possible, and training to staff to support safe and healthy behavior by playground users.
5.Public Health Realities Differ Vastly from Place to Place
Implementing these guidelines may be easier in some places than others. Chris Bass, Assistant Director for the Parks and Recreation Department in Douglasville, Ga shared that their primary challenge is the limited access to playspaces in parts of the community and their overcrowding in communities where they do exist. The city is intentionally reevaluating their budget to increase outreach to underserved populations. While they are exploring ways to update their facilities (“Right now, none of our playgrounds are ADA compliant,” he admitted) and improve the playground user experience, they have dispatched a mobile recreation unit to deliver equipment like jump ropes and frisbees to get kids moving closer to home.
Leaders in the public health and development sectors understand that there is no one way to go about reopening playgrounds, since each municipality is starting from a different place. Still, they concur that it is paramount to first consider those most affected by pre-existing disparities and the pandemic to ensure a safe, equitable and healthy return of kids, families and communities to public playspaces.
“Play,” says Hutchins, “is critical to help kids heal following a disaster as they deal with the stress of major disruptions to their routines and stability. As city and state leaders plan for reopening, the safe and equitable opening of playgrounds must also be prioritized.”
Early Learning Nation columnist Mark Swartz writes for and about nonprofit organizations. Author of the children's books Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, Lost Flamingo, Magpie Bridge and The Giant of the Flood as well as a few novels, he lives in Takoma Park, MD, with his wife and two children.