Every summer, Moose Jaw Parks and Recreation looks forward to our Summer Playground Program. This program involves over 20 staff and more importantly free summer activities for children. As the Pandemic prevention measures started in March it became evident that a change in programming was needed. We were all inspired by the amazing work schools and teachers were doing with learning from home and started planning for a Play at Home program. This was not meant to be focused on screen time or virtual crafts, but on play time for kids and families that were facing the pressures of the pandemic.
Thanks to the support of Saskatchewan Lotteries, Community Initiatives Fund, and Canada Summer Jobs, we had the necessary resources to build another free program that included supplies, ideas, inspiration, and active living. We hired five HIGH FIVE® Principles of Healthy Childhood Development Certified staff to develop and design the Summer Play at Home Program. We selected six local parks to act as a home base to pick up supplies in a safe and physically distancing environment. What could be better than free programs delivered right in your neighbourhood?
So, what did we end up doing? Starting July 6, we created a new “play package” for children and families to pick up at the local playground. It was full of crafts, physical active games, outdoor games and goal setting. Children took these packages each week and made their own playground program at the kitchen table or in the backyard. It was their chance to make their own salt crystals, moon sand, or explore nature’s treasures.
As with everything COVID-19 related, flexibility was the key design principle for this program. We did online registration to assist with planning, but we made lots of extra packages as we didn’t want to exclude anyone that was playing in the park or didn’t register online. The program started slow as it was new, but we blanketed the neighbourhoods and parks with information about the program. Each park shack was covered with information, workouts, scavenger hunts, and sidewalk chalk taped to the building.
Once the momentum got started, we also used some of the wonderful ideas from organizations such as Active for Life, Jumpstart or the Canadian Olympic Association and added their ideas to our packages. We also partnered with the Moose Jaw Public Library to promote their literacy programs and included readings in the packages. Anyone who was shopping during the early stages of the pandemic knows how difficult it was to buy supplies. Credit goes out to our staff for being creative. This experience reminded us of how important flour and food colouring are to children’s activities.
As the Re-Open Saskatchewan phases began, we were very excited to have the playgrounds and spray parks reopen. The provincial guidelines also provided direction for special events with new COVID-19 Protocols. One of the highlights included working with local businesses in Moose Jaw to provide special guest visit at the parks for physically distanced pictures with a Minion, princess or unicorn and an introduction to Nerf archery.
At the end of summer, we had more than 150 children register online but made over 400 packages. We consider the summer program a success. Children and families remained active, made new things and played at home. We might have not been able to play together, but it didn’t stop the play from happening.