Surprising Ways to Make the Most of Your Local Parks and Community Centers

4 min to read
A family of four holding hands and running through a park.

Parks are a valuable, often overlooked, resource. Through local parks and community centers, children can learn, socialize, and enjoy time outside. Best of all, many things to do at the park and outdoor activities are completely free.

Get active, make friends, and give back to your community by visiting local parks and attending community center events.

Benefits of Visiting Parks and Community Centers

By spending time at local parks and community centers, children can enjoy:

  • Making new friends — Meeting other children at the park is a great way for kids to improve their communication skills, better understand others’ feelings, and practice sharing.

  • Improved mental health — Playing at a park can reduce the impacts of depression and anxiety, increase focus, improve critical thinking skills, and minimize stress.

  • Improved physical health — Spending time outside can make exercise more fun and engaging. 

  • Learning about nature and their environment — Spending time at a park allows children to grow their sense of identity and independence, while learning about nature through exploration and discovery.

Things to Do at the Park

The only limitation to what your family can enjoy at the park is your imagination. Your child can learn through organized classes, programs, and cultural celebrations; socialize through community sports, volunteer opportunities, or organically.

Park Events

Many parks and community centers offer free or low-cost events throughout the year. Depending on where you’re located, your park may offer:

  • Educational classes and programs — Learn about different topics and themes, how to play various sports, and more. Cultural or holiday celebrations — Enjoy gatherings for holidays or cultural events throughout the year. This is a fantastic opportunity for children to learn about other cultures and connect with families in the area.

  • Group sports — Look for sports offered through your local Recreation Department. These are often very affordable and offered for various ages and skill levels.

  • Guided hikes — Explore paths at community parks, discover wildlife, and learn about your local ecosystem. After attending a guided hike, children can share what they’ve learned with their family.  

  • Music programs with food vendors — Enjoy music from local artists while eating a packed dinner or food from local vendors.

Outdoor Activities

There are plenty of activities children can do without the help of adults:

  • Play with a ball — Play sports like football, soccer, basketball, or catch to improve coordination and physical health.

  • Fly a kite — Ride the breeze in an open field at a park. Just watch out for trees!

  • Search for bugs — Children can look for critters in the park. How many insects can they spot?

  • Look at flowers — Find various wildflowers at the park. Remember not to mess with plants unless local park guides say it’s ok.

These all provide social and emotional benefits by allowing children to interact with others, boost their self-confidence, and sense of independence.

Families might enjoy going for a hike, having a picnic, and making memories together. In fact, nearly three in five parents (57%) feel happy or joyful after spending time at their local park.

A girl skates in a local park.

How to Help Local Parks and Your Community

The best way to counteract the summer slide and keep students prepared for the next school year is to find creative ways to practice reading, writing, and math. Here are some of our favorite suggestions for helping students with learning, growing, and studying during the summer break.

Clean Up

It’s essential to protect your environment for the continued enjoyment of everyone. Over 100 million pounds of waste is generated in national parks annually. Follow the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace to leave the park just as you found and minimize your impact.


Many parks offer volunteer opportunities throughout the year. Look for park cleans ups during Earth Month, tree planting for Arbor Day, and various other opportunities. Volunteering is another opportunity to be social. Make new friends and discuss your interests while participating in volunteer opportunities.

Volunteering outside is known to build confidence, provide joy, increase personal satisfaction, and help students feel more connected to their community. 

Find Parks and Community Center Events

You can use the National Park website to find parks by state, activity, and topic. Search for your town and the activity you’re interested in. Your town or county website will also likely have links to local attractions and events.

Don’t forget to stop by your local library. Librarians can provide information on resources, activity calendars, and point you in the direction of guides or maps for local parks. Some libraries even let you reserve and check out day passes.

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