Playgrounds and Play Structures
When reopening playgrounds, play structures and similar spaces, park and recreation professionals should adhere to all state and local public health and government guidance and work collaboratively with local public health officials to safely reopen these spaces. Professionals should conduct a thorough risk assessment of all spaces and infrastructure prior to reopening to ensure they are aware of all potential COVID-19-related risks. Remember that guidance continues to evolve as we learn more about the virus. Monitor guidance frequently to account for any changes based on the latest trusted research and data available.
Reopening Guidance for Playgrounds and Similar Park Infrastructure
The KABOOM! Playground Reopening Task Force comprised of representatives from public health, community development and the park and recreation profession, including NRPA, has created an actionable resource for playground owners/operators as they plan for safe reopening. Park and recreation professionals should have a detailed plan in place to support the recommendations outlined below.
1. Prioritize Equity in Reopening Playgrounds
• If a system has multiple playgrounds, ensure that playgrounds in all neighborhoods have appropriate signage, hand cleaning amenities, and other safety measures. Public agency resources should give first priority to playgrounds in communities that:
- Have had the highest COVID-19 case counts. To review case counts by city or county, CDC has links to state and local health departments on their website here, and Johns Hopkins has a county level map here.
- Have the fewest resources available to implement these actions.
• Consult community members about their needs in order to ensure healthful and safe use of playgrounds. Recommendations include collecting community feedback through virtual community meetings, social media, online surveys and physical mailings to homes, as well as collaborating with networks of nonprofits active in your neighborhood.
*Review NRPA’s Centering Health Equity page for more strategies to prioritize equity.
2. Prepare the Playground Equipment and Space
• Set reasonable, responsible limits on usage: Determine the number of users who can share the playground while maintaining a physical distance of six feet from one another. These limits should be clearly shared with signage and outreach to playground users, and self-enforced by adults bringing kids to the playground. Judgments on user capacity should factor in the design and layout of the playground structure. Here are two starting approaches:
- Reduce capacity by two-thirds: Take the total established playground capacity and multiply by 0.33, so that the total capacity is one third of the previous norm for the playground footprint.
- Ensure users can maintain 6 feet of physical distance: Take the total square footage of the playground footprint and divide by 113 square feet per user to reach a user number that allows each person on the playground to have a 6’ radius around them. As an example, this would mean that a 2500 square foot playground would accommodate a maximum of 22 users.
• Clean playground equipment using soap and water before reopening. Follow CDC guidance to “continue existing cleaning and hygiene practices for outdoor areas”.
- NRPA also recommends consulting with playground manufacturer to determine what cleaning products are safe to use on playground equipment.
- If using disinfectant to clean high-touch areas like handrails, ensure any disinfectant has dried before kids play on the equipment. Ensure cleaning and disinfectant supplies is stored away from kids.
• Ensure safety surfacing is maintained and all equipment is compliant with safety standards described by ASTM F-1487.¹
3. Enable Safe Playground Use
Practice safe behavior at the playground:
• Post accessible and visible playground signage, in English and other dominant languages of playground users, geared toward both kids and adults reminding users to:
- Stay home if they are feeling sick.
- Wash or sanitize hands frequently.
- Keep physical distance from other users outside of their household.
- Come back to play another time if there are more people at the playground than the posted capacity.
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue or cough and sneeze into the elbow rather than hands and throw tissues away after use; wash or sanitize hands after coughing or sneezing.
- Wear cloth face coverings or masks (except children under age two). *More information on cloth face coverings below.
• Provide hand washing or hand sanitizing resources for playground users near the playground footprint. Where this is not possible, encourage playground users to bring their own personal hand sanitizer for use during and after playing.
• Train staff and volunteers to support safe and healthy behaviors by playground users and to make community members feel welcome. Where feasible, periodic site visits by staff and volunteers to encourage safe use is recommended.
• Engage the community of playground users by sharing written guidelines for safe use with caregivers and kids directly and with the network of educators, kid-focused local nonprofits and health professionals so that playground users can take good care of themselves in accordance with information shared. Utilize the communications methods that usually connect best with playground users, which may include website posts, social media sharing, community meetings and posting on community bulletin boards. Key guidance to share with the community of playground users includes:
1. Avoid the playground if any member of the household is sick.
2. Stay proactive: Wash hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and bring hand sanitizer to the playground for use when it is not possible to wash hands. Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth.
3. Stay informed: With the information provided either by your local public health department or physician, assess the risks that you and those persons in your care are encountering when accessing a public playspace.
4. Stay physically distant: ensure six feet of distance between playground users who are not from the same household.
5. Guidance for wearing cloth face coverings:
- Ensure that adults and children older than two wear cloth face coverings when visiting the playground.
- Caregivers and/or playground staff should encourage all children to wear their cloth face coverings properly, and that there are no hanging strings or loops that could catch on equipment.
- Caregivers and/or playground staff should monitor how masks are being worn. If, because children are unable, or do not want to wear cloth face coverings, or if play is vigorous and the cloth face covering is moving around the face or neck, it would be prudent not to require a child or children to wear the cloth face covering(s). If this is the case, though, it is very important that physical distancing (6-feet or more) be maintained among children using equipment.
6. Stay safe together: Discuss your thoughts with your kids and have them help you develop a “safe way to play” plan.
Additional Recommendations and Strategies for Safe Reopening
NRPA has compiled additional recommendations and strategies for park and recreation professionals as they begin to reopen playgrounds and similar park infrastructure safely and equitably.
Develop and Implement a Comprehensive Communications Strategy
Having a well-developed communications plan that provides timely, clear, accessible and culturally relevant information to staff, the public and others regarding reopening plans and procedures is imperative to the safe and efficient reinstatement of operations. Consider how best to:
• Use a variety of channels and networks and be consistent in relaying messaging to ensure that the public is aware and educated about the public health and safety measures that are in place.
• Establish a consistent communication loop with playground users to ensure that playground users can provide feedback to park staff and share concerns throughout the reopening process.
• Prepare for reinstating mitigation measures, including closures of playgrounds, if the public is not adhering to recommendations and/or if rates of transmission increase.
Establish Protocols to Support Physical Distancing and Limit Gatherings
Physical distancing is paramount to reducing the risk of spread. Have a plan in place to support and monitor physical distancing, including limiting capacity on the playground and installing signage to encourage physical distancing. Additional strategies to support and monitor physical distancing and limit gatherings may include:
• Stationing staff or park ambassadors on site or having staff/ambassadors frequently monitor playgrounds to encourage proper use and educate playground users on public health measures. Ensure staff and ambassadors are trained appropriately (see below).
• Having staff collect and track observational data on playground use to identify specific areas within the park system where additional support, resources, outreach and monitoring may be needed.
• Limiting parking spaces, access points or reducing hours of operation.
• Using tape, cones or other markers to mark 6 foot intervals in popular areas of the playground to encourage physical distancing and provide visual cues of what 6 feet looks like.
Instate Extra Measures to Support Hygiene
Support hygiene and public health by providing access to wash stations, clean restrooms, and hand sanitizing stations near the playground footprint.
• Prioritize the reopening of restrooms near playgrounds. Restrooms should be stocked with hand soap and running water and cleaned and disinfected in accordance with CDC guidance to encourage healthy hygiene.
• If temporary restrooms are located near the playground site, ensure that temporary restrooms are routinely cleaned and disinfected in accordance with CDC guidance.
• If there are no restrooms near the playground site, consider installing hand sanitizing stations or wash stations.
Protect Staff and Park Ambassadors
If staff or park ambassadors will be used at playground sites to monitor use, ensure that staff have the equipment necessary to do their job safely:
• Ensure that staff who will be performing cleaning and disinfecting at playground sites in accordance with CDC guidance are properly trained and have the equipment necessary to do their job safely.
• Ensure that staff and ambassadors are trained on handling difficult situations and de-escalation. Make sure they know that they can avoid situations that make them uncomfortable and when to call for additional support.
• Ensure that staff and ambassadors are representative of the community being served and trained on implicit bias.
IPEMA and NRPA Infographics for Playgroud User Guidance
The International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA) and NRPA have worked together to a create a set of signage tools for playgrounds, playspaces, and other outdoor equipment to encourage healthy and safe use of these spaces. These tools can be downloaded, printed and posted in your park and recreation facilities as needed.
Click on image below to open full-size infographic in new window for download.
• CDC Park Administrator Guidance
• CDC Park User Guidance
• KABOOM! COVID-19 Playground Closure Resource and Playground Reopening Guidance
• International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA) Voice of Play Resource Center
¹Reference ASTM F1487 – 17: Standard Consumer Safety Performance Specification for Playground Equipment for Public Use at astm.org.
Outdoor Exercise Equipment
When reopening outdoor exercise equipment, park and recreation professionals can refer to NRPA’s playground reopening guidance.
NRPA will provide more guidance as available. Check this page regularly for updates.