Despite the impacts from COVID-19, the attractions industry remains resilient. As businesses, schools, and parks start to reopen, Soft Play® is here to help architects navigate the process of designing new, safe playgrounds and reopening existing play spaces. For kids’ health and well-being, it is crucial to get them back to play safely. Our assistance allows families to engage in activities and play outside the home, and it can also help businesses recover faster.

Our advisors can help you develop reopening procedures for playgrounds and play structures that can be spaced out to adhere to social distancing guidelines. If you are an architect or landscape architect, Soft Play can help you with playground design changes due to COVID-19.

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The Importance of Getting Kids Back to Play

Getting kids back to play is more important than many communities realize. Adults tend to think of how the pandemic has affected our work and routines, but we should also consider how kids have been impacted by COVID-19. It is more challenging for kids to play safely in public settings, and as such, many kids are getting less physical activity and may experience feelings of isolation.

As businesses and public spaces reopen, Soft Play can help kids enjoy playing in public places again and get back to a healthy level of physical activity. Our products are great for architects who want to help business owners build play equipment that keeps kids engaged and active safely.

Why kids need to get back to play

Why Kids Need to Get Back to Play

Physical activity is a crucial aspect of a healthy childhood. Through exercise and play, kids can enjoy physical health benefits, exercise their imaginations, and develop their social skills. Kids require different amounts of physical activity depending on their age:

  • Preschool-aged kids should be active throughout the day for their development and growth.
  • Kids six and older should get a minimum of one hour of moderate or vigorous exercise every day.

Playgrounds can provide an excellent place for kids to engage in physically active play. At a business or in a public space, play areas give kids a way to get a break from sitting still and expend their energy.

Staying active is still vital for kids throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Playgrounds can promote this active play and allow kids to learn and grow while staying healthy.

If your playground or play area has reopened, you should communicate this to your guests. Along with announcing the reopening, you may want to place informative signage around the area, such as safety requirements and reminders.

Why playground design changes are important for kids

Why Playground Design Changes Are Important for Kids and Businesses

To keep kids and businesses safe, playground design changes should be implemented. Past financial crises have shown us that attractions and parks are resilient. The attractions industry is strong and well-equipped to endure and recuperate during an economic recovery. However, during this time, adjustments need to be made to protect the health of everyone who visits and interacts with the play space.

Commercial spaces, recreation centers, and parks that do not make design changes to accommodate health and safety protocols needed during COVID-19 may risk closure and a decline in visitors. By implementing playground design modifications, many businesses can save money while protecting the guest experience.

Investing in play can drive your business by:

  • Building with safety in mind: When you bring safe play structures to a facility, you will help draw in more business. Our play areas maintain safety on the playground and provide kids with a safe place to exercise.
  • Attracting families: Installing new play equipment will attract visitors to a business or other public venue. To develop a system that works perfectly for your business, Soft Play is your one-stop-shop. Our systems are durable, safe, fun, space-efficient, and easy to maintain.
  • Adding more value: A facility can stand out by creating a fun, active play area. By building a playground, a business can promote a healthy lifestyle for kids that gets them moving and challenges their minds, imaginations, and bodies.

Providing kids with access to safe, inviting playgrounds can increase a business’s success, which is especially important after COVID-19. Playgrounds can boost your traffic and build brand loyalty, keeping customers happy and business operations thriving.

Why Businesses Should Add Play Equipment

Businesses without play equipment may be hesitant to add it during COVID-19 due to the concern about introducing possible health risks to customers and staff. Fortunately, play equipment can provide a source of fun that is both enjoyable and safe for kids. Families who are looking for entertaining activities for their kids will find these play spaces particularly appealing.

As long as the proper precautions and guidelines are followed, architects and businesses can create play spaces that attract families and allow kids to have fun and engage in healthy play.

How Playground Design May Change

Across the country, playgrounds and parks provide fresh air and relief from cabin fever. As we have begun transitioning out of restrictions set because of COVID-19, it is generally still necessary to stay 6 feet away from others. As such, some may believe schools should cancel recess and close playgrounds. However, recess and active play are a crucial part of every kid’s school day.

Instead of outright closing playgrounds and banning recess, schools can redesign play areas to provide more social distancing and adhere to safety precautions.

Restrictions for playgrounds

Restrictions for Playgrounds

As experts have been learning more about the virus, they have been able to develop guidelines about how people can prevent spreading it in various spaces, such as play areas. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), staying active in recreation areas and parks is actually a good way to reduce stress and stay healthy during COVID-19.

Though visiting parks and playgrounds is important for kids, visitors should be aware of new guidelines and restrictions. Some of these restrictions for play areas include:

  • Wash hands: Though touching surfaces is not believed to be the main way that COVID-19 spreads, people can contract the virus by touching their mouth, eyes or nose after touching an object or surface that has the virus on it. Kids tend to frequently touch their faces, and as such, it is vital for them to use hand sanitizer and thoroughly wash their hands.
  • Stay 6 feet apart: Kids should avoid close contact with other kids they don’t live with. To avoid spreading airborne germs, the CDC recommends staying at least 6 feet apart. For a smaller playground, this may mean implementing restrictions on the number of kids who can safely use the area at the same time.
  • Wear a mask or face covering: If possible, kids should wear face masks or coverings, particularly if they cannot stay 6 feet apart from others. Babies younger than 2 years old and kids with breathing problems are exempt from this restriction.
  • If sick, stay home: If parents notice their kids are showing signs of illness, they should keep their kids at home and away from public playgrounds.

Business owners that have playgrounds can post signage that reminds families of the CDC recommendations for play spaces.

How to promote safety and health in play areas

How to Promote Safety and Health in Play Areas

Playground designers can establish various safety measures to allow kids to return to play in public areas. Businesses with existing play areas can help kids play safely by taking precautionary steps. Implementing these methods will keep customers and staff safe, and it will also show a business’s concern for its customers and strengthen consumer loyalty. To make a play space safer during COVID-19, consider the following suggestions:

  1. Decide whether to open your play space: Does it make more sense to open your play area or keep it closed? Stay up to date on the current guidelines and regulations from your local, state and federal governments to determine whether your play area can be opened or should be temporarily closed. Whatever you choose, make sure you make it clear to families whether the playground is open.
  2. Upgrade play equipment: When it comes to cleanliness and safety, not all playground equipment is created equal. A business needs equipment that is easy to clean and durable enough to withstand regular, extensive cleaning. Upgrade your play equipment to make your playground easier to manage.
  3. Install signage: Signs can let your customers know whether your play space is open. Signs can also inform visitors on how they can use the space while staying safe. You may want to include signage about wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, and washing and sanitizing hands. It also helps to provide reassurance about the precautions your business has taken to keep equipment safe for users.
  4. Clean play equipment frequently: While it has always been important to keep playground equipment clean, it is more crucial now than ever before. An owners’ manual can inform you of how to clean play equipment properly. Equipment made of plastic or metal can typically be wiped down with a damp cloth and mild detergent. Additionally, disinfect or sanitize surfaces to remove pathogens, which kills invisible germs. You should do this step often when equipment isn’t in use.
  5. Install hand sanitizing stations: While you can clean the equipment frequently, you can also install hand sanitizing stations so guests can keep their hands clean and avoid spreading pathogens. Install one or two stations near the play area, especially if there is no restroom close by where kids can wash their hands. According to CDC guidelines, hand sanitizer should contain at least 60% alcohol. You may also want to purchase stations with motion detection technology so guests won’t have to touch a bottle or press a button.

How Play Has Been Impacted by COVID-19

Having a play area available at commercial spaces, parks, recreation centers, and schools is critical both for the kids and the organizations themselves. Play at schools, parks, and recreation centers has been notably impacted by COVID-19, such as the ways outlined below.

How COVID-19 Has Impacted Play at Schools

While 97% of educators state that their schools plan to offer recess to students this fall, COVID-19 has affected how kids play at schools and what precautions they need to take, along with the information and guidelines educators need to provide. To promote their health while playing at school, kids should:

  • Be informed about how to stay healthy by covering their coughs and not touching their mouth, eyes, or nose.
  • Wash their hands before and immediately after playground time.
  • Get at least 60 minutes of exercise every day.
  • Be educated about proper hand-washing.

On top of providing kids with guidelines and instructions on how to preserve their health, educators and administrators can take additional steps to minimize risk:

  • Keep groups of students together: Keep the same groups of students together each day to reduce possible exposures. This can help prevent an entire school or child care program from shutting down due to exposure.
  • Stagger shifts of outdoor play: Develop a schedule of shifts for each group of students to use the playground. When several groups are outside at once, they may congregate and have a higher risk of contracting the virus.

According to the CDC, outdoor playgrounds typically don’t require disinfection but do need regular routine cleaning. Cleaning efforts should be focused on surfaces that are touched often, such as railings and grab bars.

COVID-19 and parks & rec centers

How COVID-19 Has Impacted Play at Parks and Recreation Centers

COVID-19 has impacted parks and recreation centers, unlike any other infectious agent, except perhaps the 2009 to 2010 H1N1 flu outbreak. As shelter-in-place restrictions ease, more families are visiting parks and recreation centers to give their kids a chance to play outside the home. To adhere to the proper hygiene practices proposed by the CDC, install hand sanitizing stations, stay up to date on health guidelines, and place signage about recommendations for preventing the virus’s spread. You may want to include signs that encourage visitors to:

  • Wash their hands frequently for a minimum of 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching their mouths, noses, and eyes.
  • Cover their sneezes and coughs with a tissue.
  • Properly dispose of used tissues.
  • Stay home if they are sick.

Though many believe outdoor playground equipment at parks should be disinfected regularly, frequent disinfection isn’t necessary. Disinfecting large playground structures isn’t practical, nor has it been proven to reduce the risk of COVID-19. Further, cleaning and disinfecting wooden surfaces or groundcovers are also not recommended. If you choose to reopen an existing park or build a new one, keeping the equipment clean and sanitary will not be as labor-intensive as you may expect.

How COVID-19 Has Impacted the Attractions Industry

Many parks in the attractions industry have been forced to shut down or modify their spaces to meet governmental policies and guidelines. In the year following the 2008 financial crisis, many top theme parks saw a small decline in attendance or flat attendance. The attractions industry was impacted far less severe than in other sectors. Globally, the marginal decline in visits was just 0.2%.

Though COVID-19’s impact will be different and possibly more severe than the impact of the 2008 financial crisis, numbers from the years following the financial crisis have proven that this industry is resilient. In fact, this may be a great opportunity for parks to revamp their attractions and redefine operations. A time of low demand can be one of the best periods to execute reform initiatives and new concepts.

How to Design Playgrounds After COVID-19

COVID-19 has reminded us of the most important aspects of play and changed our outlook on playground design. Kids typically want to play everywhere they go, not just at parks. Locations that may want to include play spaces for kids include businesses like restaurants, malls, and banks.

As businesses begin to reopen, incorporating safe and clean outdoor and indoor playgrounds or play areas can be a great way to bring in families. Follow these steps to design a safe playground that promotes healthy play after COVID-19:

Durable, easy to clean play equipment

1. Select Durable, Easy-to-Clean Play Equipment

Choose sturdy and easy-to-clean equipment. It will need to be cleaned frequently to stay sanitary. Though all playground equipment can be cleaned to a certain degree, you may want to select structures that are specifically designed for easy cleaning. Even after COVID-19, this type of play equipment will continue being useful and convenient.

Play equipment at Soft Play is easy to clean and durable, which means you can clean and sanitize it frequently without damaging it.

2. Build Outdoor Play Areas

If a business has enough space to install an outdoor playground, this may be the best location for play equipment. In an ideal scenario, a business may include both indoor and outdoor play equipment. During COVID-19, it may be best to promote outdoor play areas instead, as families may feel more comfortable about their kids playing outdoors than indoors.

If you are an architect who is designing an outdoor playground, choose equipment that is built for outdoor use and can withstand the elements. At Soft Play, we offer adventure playgrounds that include challenge courses and ropes courses. Adventure playgrounds allow families to get outside and are easily adaptable to social distancing measures, making them perfect for hotels, resorts, and other businesses that want to add an attraction for families.

Designing a play area space

3. Design a Layout That Encourages Social Distancing

Social distancing can help people reduce their exposure to the virus. If a playground is very small, it could be challenging for kids to remain 6 feet apart while playing. As such, you may want to design a large, spread-out playground that makes physical distancing possible. Ways to do this include:

  • Reduce playground capacity by two-thirds: Start with your total playground capacity and multiply this number by 0.33. This number is one-third of your normal capacity and should be the new limit during COVID-19.
  • Ensure visitors can stay 6 feet apart: Start with your playground’s total square footage and divide this number by 113 square feet for each user to find a visitor capacity that allows for everyone to have a radius of 6 feet around them. For example, a 2,200 square-foot playground could accommodate a maximum of 19 visitors.

To design an effective playground layout, position different pieces of equipment a minimum of 6 feet apart. When you incorporate this layout, kids will have plenty of room to play and won’t have to worry about coming into close contact with others. You may also choose to design multiple small recreational areas in various places of the facility so kids can play in different locations if one play area is already in use.

4. Place Indoor Playgrounds Strategically

If a business includes an indoor playground, they should place it strategically so the equipment has plenty of clearance and space to allow for social distancing. In a restaurant, for example, playgrounds should be at least 6 feet away from tables, benches or counters where customers sit or order.

Choose indoor play equipment that can be customized for social distancing and accommodates easy cleaning. While keeping social distancing measures in mind, you should also make sure that parents have a good sightline from the seating area so they can watch their kids while they sit. Additionally, you may want to consider installing another form of seating near the play space, like a bench, as this can give caregivers another place to sit while watching their kids.

How Soft Play can help you reopen

How Soft Play Can Help Reopen or Plan Playgrounds

At the start of COVID-19, 91% of playgrounds closed. As playgrounds begin to reopen and new ones are planned after COVID-19, Soft Play can help as expert consultants. Now more than ever, it is crucial for us to construct play spaces that enable kids to be active and engage in physical activity safely.

As we work with communities to assist them in enduring and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue striving for play space equity. As we have witnessed, COVID-19 is exacerbating existing inequities among communities. At Soft Play, we believe every kid should have access to a play area in which they can have fun and learn alongside their friends.

Unfortunately, kids in numerous communities don’t have playgrounds they can return to when COVID-19 is over. Families are facing illness, job loss and housing and food insecurity, and these stressors can create an environment that doesn’t allow kids to just be kids. Luckily, a playground can positively impact any community recovering from a crisis.

With many schools remaining closed to in-person classes due to COVID-19, and other schools taking a hybrid approach, communities need a safe way to bring kids together where they can have fun and connect. Soft Play can offer that sense of community in areas where it is much needed. You can choose from our various Soft Play products, including:

Our equipment is perfect for outdoor activities and easily adaptable to social distancing. We have worked on hundreds of projects across the globe and can provide you with the answers you need about playground design and safety after COVID-19. We are dedicated to compliance, and we ensure our products comply with CDC guidelines and meet and exceed the industry standards.

Contact Soft Play

Contact the Soft Play Playground Experts

At Soft Play, we are a global leader in playground products. Our mission is to provide safe play forms that are both good for kids and good for business. To develop safe designs and innovative products, we leverage manufacturing expertise and a strong backing. Our standout features are our commitment to safety and customization, which ensures our play solutions meet our clients’ needs.

Our dedicated group of employees is focused on building the highest-quality, most entertaining commercial playground equipment. Our Design and Engineering team has more than 100 years of combined experience in commercial entertainment play. Contact us at Soft Play for a free design consultation for help with honing your vision and designing your post-COVID-19 play experience.

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