How to Build a Playground

How to Build a Community Playground

I have helped to build two playgrounds.

The first was in my hometown of Port Williams. Although I now live in the next town over, about 10 minutes away, when I heard my friends talking about wanting to put a park in the village where there was none, I knew I wanted to be involved.

Spearheaded by my friend Lia, I became the fundraising chair and helped raise more than $180,000 in less than two years! This included a playground, basketball court, walking trail and picnic area. That park has now become the heart of the village, and makes my heart swell every time I see it in use!

While that project was wrapping up, my friend Kathy phoned me. They were building a new school in my current town, Kentville, and the playground that came with the plans was too small and inappropriate for a school of our size. Would I come to the PTA and give some advice?

My kids were not yet in school, but would be attending that school, so I decided to go. Once again, I ended up as fundraising chair and raised $140,000 in 11 months for a state-of-the art accessible playground for the school!

Because of my experiences, people often contact me for advice for making their own community playgrounds. Most of the advice is applicable to any playground, so I thought I would record my thoughts and opinions in a blog post. Some of the thoughts have also come from my co-playground members Lia and Kathy.


These are my opinions and what worked for us.

The Pre-Work:

1. Form a committee. Building a playground is a full-time job and you will need a lot of help. I recommend 5-8 people. Otherwise, it is too hard to schedule meetings. A strong committee includes people who have different opinions and aren’t afraid to express them.

2. Get Community Support and keep them Updated: It is really important to have the support and interest of the community. They are almost an extension of the Park Committee. In Port Williams, Lia wrote a monthly Park Update and distributed it via email. When we needed volunteers to move “rocks”, an email note went out (and they came in droves!). When we needed to inform them about an upcoming fundraiser, the Update did that. This kept everyone who had invested time, money and interest in the park, in the loop!

2. Find the spot. Know where you are going to build the playground. Figure out who owns it, and who needs to be part of the process. Is it the town? School board? Private land owners? They should be at the table, too.


IMG_69613. Make a wish list. Write down all the components that you would like to see in your playground. Slides? Swings? Ask kids who will be using the playground what they want.

4. Decide if you want to make your playground accessible. In our area, you do not have to make it accessible, but it is good citizenship. However, it adds a significant price to the project.

5. Do research. Go to other playgrounds. Write down what you like. What are kids playing with? What looks fun? We did this for several months before deciding our final plan. Plus, it’s a good excuse for an outing with your kids and friends!

6. Hold an open house. We did this for the community park but not the school playground. We invited residents to come to the community centre. We put up chart paper around the room where people could write their wish lists. We put out catalogues where people could circle equipment that they liked. We tried to incorporate these ideas into the final plan.

7. Get a charitable number. If you are working with an organization, use their charitable number. Municipalities/towns also count as a charitable organization. Otherwise, apply for one.


Planning Stage

In order to apply for grants, and for you to set some goals, you need to have a plan.

Invite a rep from a playground company to come and walk the land with you. This should be a free service. Show them your land, tell them your wish list, and ask them what is feasible. From here, the rep should go back and draw up a plan for you. This will include a drawing and a preliminary budget.
You are not required to use this plan or this company. However, it acts as a guideline. You will know an approximate budget. You can also show potential donors and use the plans in your grants.

For both playgrounds we used Playpower (Little Tikes) and were extremely satisfied.

You cannot go further until you have a preliminary plan and budget.

Grant Writing

Grant writing is a full-time, job, too! In a previous life, I wrote grants for a psychology research centre, so luckily had experience in the field.

1. Gather a list of all the grants that you want to apply for. Create the list by talking to other people in your area who have built playgrounds, from your recreation department, or by doing Google searches.

2. Make a calendar. Every grant has a different deadline. Some can be submitted any time of the year, but many can’t. Write down every grant under the month that it is due. This way, you can keep on track of them and won’t miss out on one.

3. Print off the grant guidelines. I am old-fashioned and like pen, paper and highlighters. Go through the grant and highlight any key words. There is certain lingo that each grant will use. Make sure that when you write your application you use these words.

4. Answer each question. Make sure in your write up you are actually answering the question with detailed information. Use the key words. Provide detailed examples.

5. Edit, edit, edit. I am a terrible editor, so I always get someone else to look over my applications before sending them out.

6. Create a base line. Once you have one grant written well, you can use this for the foundation for other grants. Don’t submit the same grant application – as you need to make it fit the goals of each grant, but you can copy and paste a lot of the basic information.

For those living in Nova Scotia, check out:
Presidents Choice Charities (for accessibility grants)
Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness (Recreation Facility Grant)
Enabling accessibility
Community AccessAbility Fund
Agri-spirit Funding
Doctors Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia Dental Association


1. Bang for your buck: It takes a lot of chocolate bars to make $180,000! So, try to plan bigger events that will bring in more money at one time. For both parks we had a silent auction and a pub night/dinner that raised over $15,000 on each occasion in one night.

2. Target different groups: Don’t always go after the same pots of money. Parents get bombarded constantly for money for donations. Try planning an event for seniors, or a community nature event (we did a star gazing night with local astronomers), and a house tour of various homes in the area. This spreads the money around and doesn’t over tax the same people.

3. Use pre-existing crowds: It is often difficult to get people to come out to events as everyone is so busy. Think of where there are already crowds – maybe at a local festival, shopping area, etc. Plan events or fundraising events around where people already are in attendance.

4. Get the children involved: Find ways for the kids to plan their own fundraising events and for them to take ownership and pride in their future playground. Plan events at the school, have the kids make and sell things – get them to come up with an idea to execute.

IMG_6995Build Day

Our playgrounds were constructed completely by volunteers under the guidance of the playground representative.

1. Gather volunteers: You will need a big group of volunteers! Here, we called upon men’s church groups, parents, grandparents, students from a specialized program in a local school, and community volunteers.

2. Feed them! We had a lot of people provide snacks and drinks throughout the day, as well as local community and church groups who donated a meal for the workers for each day.

3. Plan for bad weather. We built both playgrounds in December and were stormed out a few days! Make contingency plans!


Follow up

1. Thank your volunteers and donors: create a donor board for your playground listing the donors, and invite them to a special opening ceremony where they are thanked. Everyone likes recognition for a job well done!

2. Keep good notes because you will get lots of people asking you for advice!





Good luck!


Our Port Williams Park was selected to be in the Little Tikes Catalogue!


The kids love the KCA Playground!

Do you have any other good tips?

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