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Published on April 02, 2020

Outdoor activities for children during COVID-19

Outdoor activities for kids during the stay-at-home order

By Jeff Reiland, MS, child and family therapist, Gundersen Health System

We are pushing through another week of having more time to keep children active and engaged. It seems unfair that there are such limited options about where to go. Some local parks are open; however, playing on playground equipment has been discouraged. Here is where your imagination and creativity can take a frustrating situation and create something more enjoyable. Head outside and enjoy these activities.

Count your steps

A walk in the neighborhood can be so much more! Getting sunshine, fresh air and exercise is good for the mind and body—for all of us. But a walk is not just a walk. As you are walking consider ways to keep your children engaged through counting games. Here are some examples:

  • Can you count how many houses are on this street or block?
  • Can you count how many trees are on this street or block?
  • Can you count how many sidewalk squares are on our street?
  • Can you count how many steps it takes to walk from your home to the corner (or some other place)?
  • Can you count how many windows are in our house?
  • Can you count how many birds, squirrels, dogs or other animals we see on our walk?
  • What other things can you count on your walk?

Measuring activities: You will need a yard stick or measuring tape.

  • How many steps does it take to walk 10 feet?
  • How long is my stride (measure from heal of back foot to toe of front foot)?
  • How many strides does it take to walk 10 feet?
  • How long is my parent's stride (measure from heal of back foot to toe of front foot)?
  • How tall is that tree? You will need a measuring tape and a straight stick or pole that is between 2 to 3 feet long. You can't climb every tree and use a tape measure. But, there is a slick way that lumberjacks have used for hundreds of years to know how tall a tree is. This is a particularly interesting activity because it is easy to do…once you know how. Here's a simple guide for estimating the height of any tree. What else can you measure with this formula?

Outdoor science activities

Science anyone? With spring just around the corner, help your children find joy and wonder in new growth.

  • Make every outing to your backyard or around the neighborhood an adventure searching for something that is growing. Bulb flowers, like daffodils and tulips, are just popping up through the soil. Ask your children what color they think the flowers will be. You can go back and check in just a few weeks.
  • If you have been counting birds, you may have noticed there are different kinds that are flying around. Can you and your children identify a mourning dove, robin, cardinal, blue jay, Canadian goose, wood duck, woodpecker, sparrow and finch? Can you identify their sounds? If you aren't sure, take pictures of the birds that you can get close to and check out their identities on the Internet. You can also hear what they sound like online, so you know the next time what you are listening to.
  • The trees of our communities are starting to come out of their long winter dormancy period. New buds are starting to swell on their branches. Besides learning the height of a tree, can you and your children identify what kind of tree it is? Is the bark rough or smooth? Are there any leaves near the tree from last year that may give you clues? You can guess and then check back in a month to see if you were right. You may want to use online sources that help with tree species identification for this task.

Bubble activities

If you want to stay in your own yard, these activities with bubbles can be fun for the whole family.

  • Bubble stationery with food coloring. Mix a small amount of food coloring into the bubble solution in a small plastic container. Plan to mix several different containers of different food coloring for a variety of colors. Lay out sheets of newsprint on the ground. Place several plain stationery papers on the newsprint. Blow bubbles onto the stationery and see what patterns are created.
  • Sporting bubbles. You will need one pint-size water spray bottle per child and 1-2 small bottles of bubbles. You will need a small backyard space or larger. A light wind makes this game even more fun. Instructions: One or two people who are identified as the bubble makers stand upwind and quickly blow bubbles into the air. Kids with the water spray bottles chase the bubbles down and shoot as many out of the sky as they can. Imagine the bubble creators are leaders of an alien world invading the earth. The bubbles are the aliens. Your mission is to never let the bubbles get away. This game works better with water spray bottles than with squirt guns because less time is required to reload, spray bottles are less expensive and are multipurpose. Make sure you use only bottles that have had water in them.
  • Bubble walking. Blow a medium-sized bubble (about 2 to 3 inches). After it separates from the wand, see if you can reconnect it back to the wand and, in a circling motion with the wand around the bubble, walk it from one side of the yard to the other. How far can you go?
  • Up in the air. This is a team challenge. Blow a medium- to large-size bubble. With all team members present, try to keep it in the air by gently blowing on it from underneath. As the bubble descends, gently blow it back up. How long can you keep the same bubble in the air?
  • Bubble landing. Make one medium-size bubble. Place a sheet of paper on the ground or mark a spot in the yard with an object, such as sticks or a chair. On a no-wind or calm day, try to blow on the bubble, maneuvering it so that it lands right where you want it to land. This takes teamwork.
  • Bubble tag. In a small space, about 20 feet by 20 feet, play bubble tag. The person who is “it” has to tag the next person by touching them with a bubble that has been blown at them. The small space makes this game interesting. Be sure to make use of the wind.

Tips: Have you ever noticed how kids want to hold the bubble container themselves? This usually leads to spilling soapy bubble solution and emptying the bottle quickly. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Always have small child-size bottles for kids to hold and then you can refill them from a larger container.
  2. Have a rule that a big person must hold the bottle and kids take turns dipping.

You can make your own bubbles using dish soap. Recipes can be found online.

Being outside during the early spring can be fun. We may be limited with our options about where we can go with our children. However, we can use our imaginations and creativity to make wonder-filled memories with the options we have. On rainy or cool days, check out our list of indoor activities.

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