By Kate Strohmeyer, DSC Writer/Editor
Members have returned from summer vacations, children are back in their school routines, and the church summer hiatus has evaporated with the monsoon rain. Fall programs are beginning and churches with a weekday school are in full swing. For these reasons, fall is a great time of year to examine your church playground use, costs, safety, and liability.
Consider who might benefit from your outdoor play space. A typical playground is designed for a specific age group, but playgrounds aren’t just for children anymore. A trend to create intergenerational play spaces is on the rise. Gardens, exercise equipment, and picnic benches for adults are ways to transform a stagnant outdoor play space. You can expand the use of your playground space by allowing neighbors to garden, exercise, or picnic on your campus at designated times.
It is not impossible to afford a new playground or a playground renovation. For example, in June, TMM Family Services in southern Arizona received a grant valued at $20,000 to improve the playground at Willcox Apartments – one of TMM’s affordable housing complexes. Cenpatico, a local behavioral health organization, provided the grant as part of their efforts to give back to the communities they serve. Conference Treasurer, Randy Bowman shared that “all of our churches are covered by one 501(c)(3) tax exempt group ruling for the entire United Methodist denomination, so all of our churches would be eligible for any grants offered to non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations.” (Resources are listed below for those of you interested in improving your community with a playground grant.)
An expensive commercial playground is not the only church option. Installing or renovating an outdoor play space with creative natural materials can be more attractive, inclusive of more age groups, and can encourage more imaginative play than commercial playground equipment. Pinterest is a great place to find ideas for turning an outdoor area into an inviting play space.
When considering playground safety, it is necessary to have a plan. The Desert Southwest Conference insurance provider, Church Mutual, is an excellent place to begin. The fall is a good time of year to ask your trustees, school directors, youth leaders, and involved families to inspect the playground. Make it an integral part of the plan to have more than one set of eyes to check outdoor play areas for hazards on a regular basis. Because most playground injuries result from falls, have designees pay close attention to the surfaces around and under play structures and around potential play spaces.
It is the responsibility of the owner to keep their property maintained and free from dangers. As long as an outdoor play space is not neglected, any mishaps are covered by general liability insurance, and as long as the value of the playground does not exceed $25,000, the church is also covered should the playground be vandalized or damaged. Knowing you’re covered may make it easier to remove the locks, be more welcoming, and get more use from your church grounds.
Outdoor play spaces can be a great place for ministry. Grandparents can stay active and connect with their grandchildren. Teachers can see children learning social skills. Families can have a place to gather and enjoy the weather. By taking just a few things into consideration, church leaders can rest at ease knowing their church playground is safely being used to its full potential.
Playground Safety Resources: