Outside Isn’t Canceled: How to Keep Kids Active During Social Distancing

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As you are well aware, life has changed drastically in South Texas in the past few weeks as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic. This is especially true for our youngest citizens. While schools shift to online learning and families are encouraged to stay at home, kids still require lots of physical as well as mental stimulation and have plenty of energy to burn.

In these uncharted times, we at Park Place Recreational Designs just want to remind you that children can still have constructive, enjoyable outdoor play while staying safe and maintaining social distancing. We encourage you to help your students – and their parents! – by asking your teachers to urge their student families to continue to engage in fun, safe activities. Here are some ideas you can share with them.

Your Own Yard

For those who have yards, getting outside is simply a matter of coming up with something to do on your property. A short list of ideas includes the following.

  • Make a family project out of designing and planting this year’s garden. For inspiration, the Texas 4-H is hosting a Virtual Experience on junior master gardening April 14-16 on Facebook, with previously recorded events available as posts. (The Junior Master Gardener program also has a website.)
  • Have a camping “staycation” with all the trimmings: Tents, sleeping bags, outdoor games and a campfire for cooking and s’mores.
  • Play active, classic games like badminton or popular new ones like Spikeball
  • Bring the inside to the outside: Read a book in a hammock, have lunch on the lawn – even make the outdoors a classroom with at-home lessons and experiments by Texas A&M’s Walk Across Texas! program; curricula are available by grade and subject.
  • Play games in the driveway: soccer, basketball, have a chalk drawing contest, etc.

Your Neighborhood

Let’s face it, everyone has binge-watched enough YouTube and played enough video games already. “Outside” isn’t closed; everyone just needs to avoid large groups and maintain a distance of six feet from those outside their immediate families. Try heading out to your local hiking trails, or even just around the neighborhood for a bike ride, jog or family dog walk.

Plan a Special Trip

When all the days start to run together, plan an adventure to a new park. While many frequently visited indoor attractions and programs are closed, the National Park Service has a “Find Your Park” website helps you filter national parks by activity and location; it will help you determine what outdoor options are still open with just a few clicks. In addition, your state and local parks may still be open; a quick internet search should build you a list of good options “near you.” Just remember to visit park websites to determine their availability before heading out.

As much as it pains us, though, there is one recommendation that has to be made: If there’s a playground at your destination, the safest course is to avoid it. The New England Journal of Medicine has reported that COVID-19 can remain viable on surfaces including plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours, and you won’t know when any playground or outdoor public facility was last cleaned or how recently someone else might have used it.

Think Big, Feel Small

As they say, the stars at night are big and bright here in Texas. Now that the whole family is likely not having to get up at the crack of dawn to leave the house, take this opportunity to get out of the city, stay up late, and get in some serious stargazing. All you need is a vehicle, some blankets and pillows to get comfy on, a flashlight or two, a good astronomical book or app (here’s one that’s often recommended), and a list of the best places near you to see the stars (here’s an example). Don’t forget snacks suitable for a dark picnic!

Get Wet

To date, the CVD has no evidence that COVID-19 can spread to humans through chlorinated environments like pools and hot tubs. If you have access to water that doesn’t involve crowds, feel free to enjoy! In addition, Texas also has a lot of miles of beach, so that is another option if you can approach it safely.

Be Useful

What does your outdoor chore wish list look like? Been putting off items like cleaning the deck, trimming some trees or reorganizing that shed? Make it a family affair and see what wonders you all can work with a little time and invention. Along similar lines of thought, what skills have you learned that you’ve just needed the time to pass along? There’s no time like the present to make and check off a life skills list – anything from how to tie good knots to how to change a tire (for older kids). Just make the learning part of your outside time.

This is a difficult time for all of us, but getting some exercise and spending a little time in the sun are important routes to maintaining both physical health and mental positivity. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) has teamed up with its partner institutions to publish a self-care and stress management toolkit for healthcare professionals, but its recommendations can help us all – and they include ideas for sunlight and exercise. Please encourage your school families to get outside for at least a few minutes every day.

As a society, we all look forward to the day when kids can go back to school and the sounds of their play ring joyously from the playgrounds. When that time comes, and when you want to upgrade any of your playgrounds, Park Place Recreational Designs will be here to help, as we have been for more than 35 years.

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