Social distancing and getting outside

There are lots of great ways to get outside and still practice social distancing.

Girl on jungle gym

In the wake of school closings and shelter in place directives due to COVID-19, the infectious disease caused by novel coronavirus, many families are faced with a lot of time together. In addition, in an attempt to practice social distancing, many parents are tempted to keep children inside. According to John Hopkins Medicine, social distancing is deliberately keeping space of a recommended 6 feet distance between people to avoid the spread of disease. So, can your child play outside and still practice social distancing? Absolutely!

Playing outside is important to children’s mental and physical development. The outdoors can become a large classroom where learning and connections can take place.

Michigan State University Extension suggests the following ideas for your child to enjoy time outside and still practice social distancing.

Ride a bike. Riding a bike gets children outside and develops their gross motor skills while still allowing for plenty of personal space.

Play hopscotch. This traditional outdoor game builds both gross motor skills and cognitive skills. See “25 Ways to Play Hopscotch” from Housing A Forest for fun, fresh and educational variations of hopscotch.

Jump rope. Jump rope games also help build gross motor skills and stamina. There are jump rope games for one, or if you want to get the parents and siblings involved, get a longer rope and try some games for more players!

Take a walk or hike. Walking and hiking bring all the senses alive while giving children the benefits of physical activity. Plan your walk so that you are noticing what you hear, see and smell. Yes, you can even walk in the rain and jump in some puddles!

Create an obstacle course. Encourage creativity as your child can uses everyday objects like hoses, rocks, buckets, hula hoops and brooms to create an obstacle course outside. Just be ready to try it out yourself!

Go on a scavenger hunt. Scavenger hunts may sound complicated or like a lot of work to put together, but there are many scavenger hunts you can do in your own backyard! One idea is to create a list of items for your child to collect. For example: a leaf, something green, five rocks of different sizes, something that begins with the letter H, etc. Another idea is to take photos of places outside of your house and see if your child can find them.

Bring art outside. Children can paint with water on the sidewalk, play with sidewalk chalk, create rubbings of textures they find outside or just draw what they see as they experience art outside.

Make a mud kitchen or outdoor sensory table. Get out the old pots, pans and spoons for some special recipes made from springtime mud. A plastic bin can serve as a sensory table filled with sand, leaves, rocks or any other sensory item you might not want inside of your house. Some scoops, spoons, bowls and measuring cups is all that is needed for an afternoon of sensory play.

Have a treasure hunt. Bury treasures such as seashells or gems in the sand, or hide a treasure in the yard and provide a pirate’s map that marks the location.

Have a picnic. Eating outside is a special treat, and your child can help pack a basket and set up for a backyard picnic or even a tea party.

Read a book. Reading does not have to be an indoor activity. Let the books come outside and sit under a shady tree (or find a sunny spot depending on the weather), and let your child enjoy the sensations of being outside as they read.

These ideas are just the beginning of ways to have fun while being outside. These outdoor experiences can increase children’s physical activity as well as help them become actively engage in learning in their outside environment. Getting outside provides a way to entertain stir crazy kids and allows parents to help make memories for years to come.

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