Catch Those Kids
How to make and market kids programming to not only fight fat but rise above a bloated marketplace of leisure choices
By Margaret Ahrweiler
At 36—that's right, 36—of Green Bay's city parks, all with playgrounds, specially trained park employees called "Parkees" run activities and provide supervision from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays for kids ages 6 through 16. From mid-June through mid-August, kids may come and go as they please, participate in a few activities—or none at all—and stay all day if they wish. The free walk-up program requires no advance registration and last year posted more than 60,000 visitors over a 10-week period (many of them repeats, obviously, in a city of only 100,000).
"We make it really easy to get kids outside and getting active," Van Ess says. "It's flexible, it doesn't require signing up six months in advance, and kids can do as much or as little as they want with the structured activities."
To make the program even more appealing while keeping kids' health in mind, the parks department worked out a partnership with the Green Bay schools and now serves more than 100 lunches a day during the program, Van Ess says. Parkees noticed many children who received subsidized lunches during the school year were not eating properly during the summer, bringing chips and a soda for lunch or nothing at all. And while no one would compare a school lunch to gourmet cuisine, they generally provide balanced, nutritious meals, she says.
With the Green Bay supervised parks program, incentives to stay outside and play abound, keeping kids active and healthy—without them necessarily noticing. To add a sense of whimsy, every Thursday features a theme: A Day at the Beach, Training Camp Frenzy (coinciding with the start of Packers training camp), Christmas in July, among others, with related costumes, games, and arts and crafts.
To up the amusement ante even further, the program culminates in a parade and then carnival at the end of the season. Each of the 36 parks gets to work on their own float, often revolving around a theme like cartoons. Health and fitness education even gets snuck into programming. In 2003, the Parkees at Bayview Park decided to focus on healthy eating throughout the summer, with a float theme "You Are What You Eat at Bayview Park."
Each park gets to think up and execute its own game booth at the carnival, which also features activities and a raffle. Tickets for games and activities cost a whopping four cents apiece. The parks department works with local businesses to be sponsors as well as donate prizes and materials. Along with creating a good time, the parade and carnival also help children in the supervised playground program work toward a goal, boosting both participation and a sense of accomplishment, Van Ess says.
Other supervised parks program activities include a games day, where children can compete in everything from chess and checkers to sand sculptures and ping-pong. A mega-sports tournament allows each park to field teams for softball, kickball, soccer, volleyball, basketball and cageball. A talent show, "Park Search," showcases the brightest stars from the parks programs.