There’s no doubt that COVID-19 is upending our lives in ways large and small. As each state or community’s “shelter-in-place” or “hunker down” orders stretch far beyond what we initially thought, it’s becoming harder and harder for many parents to find ways to keep kids active. Here in Alaska, mandates have set forth a list of instructions to distance from other humans at a length of six feet; and to stay home except for medical appointments, essential shopping, or to get some fresh air.
“Fresh air,” as outlined by local and state officials, means to take a walk, go for a hike, ski, or some other form of activity that does not involve getting closer than six feet to someone else, so as not to transmit COVID-19. For all our wide open trails and other public lands spaces, many families are nonetheless flocking to Anchorage playgrounds or a convenient, quick method of running the ya-ya’s out of their offspring.
But please, DON’T.
Studies are showing that the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, can last on plastic and metal surfaces for a few days. This means, families, that our local playgrounds and schoolyards are not safe places to be right now. Here’s the thing: Kids are kids, no matter the situation, and they are hard pressed to remember the rules of not touching their faces, washing hands after leaving a public space, or staying away from each other, especially in a wild game of tag on the play equipment. Even if they wear gloves — there is a specific way to remove gloves from your hands to prevent contamination, and hardly any adults to it correctly — so placing that kind of risk for a few minutes of play time? Not worth it.
But, there alternatives to the playground, and I’ve got 10 of them. See what you can figure out with your own resources and in your own community. I’d love to see the results on our AKontheGO Facebook page.
- Make your own backyard playground. Grab those summer tires taking up space in the storage shed, and spread them out for jumping, or stack them (up to three) for climbing and hiding. Pull out boxes, give the kids duct tape, and tell them to make a tunnel or fort. Climb trees. Grab some logs or long 2″ X 4″ or 6″ boards and create a balance beam. Create your own tree swing with a board and some rope. Set up a slack line. Your backyard is a potential bonanza for fun, so get creative.
- Set up a tent. Why not get ready for camping season by testing everyone’s mettle with a tent-setting-up-contest? Make sure to place a ground sheet underneath, but once set up , toss in some sleeping bags and serve up some hot chocolate. Or better yet, let the kids figure out how they want to use it. Kids need their private space now, too, just as much as we do. Give it to them.
- Make a “gravel pit.” Have firewood sitting around, or perhaps some old cinder blocks or rocks? Create a circle, then add some gravel from the home store (remember the COVID-19 rules for going shopping — one of you, wash hands before, after, and all the time). Let kids be the master of their own road building.
- Get building. My sons both enjoyed the large tub of scrap wood I kept for them from old DIY projects gone wrong (no, really). They built all sorts of things, and when they reached age four or so, I gave them a hammer and nails and let them pound away. Kids can also paint the blocks in their preferred colors for future use.
- Create a “music wall.” Oh my, the neighbors might not like you much after this, but kids need a creative outlet for all the craziness in their lives, and music is a great way to express it. I found this on the DIYncrafts website, and love it. Nail or fasten all kinds of metal implements to your fence (see photo below for some ideas), hand them a wooden spoon or stick, and have at it, family! A tip: Tell the neighbors, and set a time for “musical interludes” to keep the peace.
- Construct a “ball run.” Also from DIYncrafts, this looks like a perfect parent-child project, as you determine how, and where to place gutters so that small balls like marbles, super balls, or other round items will flow downward with gravity, into your chosen container. You’ll need gutters of various shapes and lengths, fasteners, and a container to catch the balls.
Away from the yard, the following take your family into the forest, or even a wooded area of a local park (and away from the play equipment):
7. Go on a microhike. A what? I enjoy microhikes so much, especially with kids who need a way to quiet down after running around. Grab a length of yarn or string, or make a frame from paper. Lie down on your belly, place the string or frame on the ground, and really dive in to what’s going on in the soil and surface. A hand lens will make it even more intriguing. Compare notes when you all sit back up, and be sure to try this in several different locations.
8. Take rubbings. Bring along some white paper and a box of crayons with the labels torn off. Find various textures around the forest and make rubbings to bring home and frame, later. Be sure to date the rubbings, and consider coming back later this summer to see if the shapes/textures have changed, or stayed the same. Let me know!
9. Create a forest obstacle course. Sort of like the backyard playground, but using only things you find in the forest. Can you walk across a fallen log? Can you climb up a root ball? <—- where a tree has fallen and left its roots exposed, along with a bunch of dirt, too. How about building a fort out of things you find on the ground? <— no tearing up any living plants or trees, please! Make a family fort contest among each of you, or build one spectacular group fort.
10. Play “Predator/Prey.” My 4-H club kids absolutely love this game (and it is known as other things in other places). Pick someone to be “predator,” and instruct him/her to stand in a designated place. Predator can only turn around, but cannot move their feet from that spot. Determine some boundaries. Instruct everyone else that they are “prey,” and thus must hide from the predator, trying very hard not to be seen. This means there might be crouching, belly-to-the-ground kinds of hiding. Tell predator to count to 25 or so while everyone else runs and hides and stays very quiet. Predator must try to see each prey without moving from his/her spot. It’s harder than it looks. Once found, prey must come to predator and are not allowed to help (this is the hard part). Last one to be found, wins the chance to be predator.
Hang in there, everyone.