With school cancelled, and some very important social distancing measures in place, many families are starting to feel a little cooped up. Luckily it is possible to safely explore many of our urban outdoors areas I’m here with some fun, educational and, energy-using activities you can do with your family in parks or your backyard.
Please remember that is you are feeling sick, or have been in contact with someone who is feeling sick to stay home. This guide is not intended to replace the advice of our public health professionals who are working very hard to limit the spread of COVID-19. If you have any questions about how to keep yourself and your community safe please see King County’s Public Health page.
*This page will be continually updated to reflect the most recent news and recommendations by health professionals
Just because school is out doesn’t mean kids can’t learn. Just remember – environmental education is about forming a connection with nature. Some kids do this by learning all the plants and animals they can, others by creating epic rock collections, and many just by climbing, crawling, and exploring nature. Follow your kid’s lead when it comes to what they like to do outside.
Stay Home, Stay Healthy Update
Now that Washington has enacted the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” policy to reduce the further spread of COVID-19 we have some updates to this blog that don’t involve visiting public spaces. You can do some of these things inside, or some in your yard or on your block. Some of our initial ideas are still appropriate so feel free to scroll through and find something to suit your families needs!
Use our nature coloring sheets from amazing artist Julia Rothman as a relaxing activity that you can do indoors. You can practice your nature illustration skills by shading and using realistic colors, or you can get as creative and abstract as you want with crazy colors!
Engage in Community Science
The City Nature Challenge is a great opportunity to observe as much nature as you can from your window, or on a neighborhood walk. Originally conceived as a competition to see which city could identify the most urban nature the challenge has been retooled this year as a way to build community during this time of social isolation. All you need to participate is a smartphone, this can even be an indoor activity if you want. Visit the City Nature Challenge website to learn more!
Build a Shelter
This is a great activity for many ages, and a good opportunity for older kids to help younger kids. Shelter building is more difficult than it sounds so the process really encourages communication and teamwork.
If you’re trying for some out-of school education you can focus on the engineering/problem solving aspect. Help guide your kids to making a strong structure by asking questions and encouraging trial and error – not by telling them how to do it. Some kids go for the creative aspect of shelter building! I have seen shelters set up like complete houses, with places to eat and sleep, and some that are elaborately decorated!
A note about shelters and social distancing: once inside the shelter you are no longer social distancing. While I normally make a rule that kids cannot exclude anyone from their shelter right now I would make an exception to that rule and stick to one family at a time.
Please also remember to deconstruct your shelter before you leave!
The basic premise is a variation of hide-and-seek. One kid is the owl. They are the seeker, but because owls use their incredible eyesight to spot prey from a distance this player must keep one foot in place at all time (they can rotate but not move). All the other players are mice. At the start of the game the owl closes their eyes and count to 20. All mice must run to find a hiding spot. Mice must be able to see the owl from their hiding spot. When the owl opens their eyes they start looking for mice. If the call out a mouse by name or description that mouse must leave its hiding spot – they have been eaten.
If the owl becomes stuck they may yell “wildfire,” close their eyes, and count to 10. All remaining mice must find a new hiding spot at least 10 feet closer to the owl. Each owl gets two wildfires per round.
At anytime in the game the owl may hold up a number of fingers. The last remaining mouse must be able to report how many fingers were held up in order to win. If they don’t know the number the owl wins.
Note: Can’t go to a park? Don’t have a yard? I have played indoor camouflage when Seattle was experiencing dangerous levels of smoke. This is a fun one to let kids move pillows and furniture to create more interesting hiding spots before the game begins.
Make Some Art
The options are endless and there is something for every kid!
- Andy Goldsworthy style nature art: use leaves, sticks, and rocks to create an impermanant art installation in your yard or local park.
- Draw what you see: Pick two natural objects, something up close and something in the distance, to draw.
- Found object mobiles: take a walk to collect leaves, sticks, rocks, etc. Bring them home and create a mobile! String is needed, a hot glue gun is helpful for this project.
- Story Map: take a walk around your neighborhood or in a park. As you go draw the path that you take. Take breaks to draw the natural observations you make on your walk.
- Leaf rubbings: collect many different leaves. Place a piece of paper over the leaf and use the side of a crayon to rub over the leaf and create an imprint. This can be combined with plant identification, or as a stand-alone art activity.
Just Need to Relax?
A global pandemic is stressful for everyone! Depending on their ages kids might not fully understand what is going on, but school closures and other disruptions to routine are stressful for kids! We can all use a moment to breathe sometimes – especially some clear outdoor air. When I’m working with kids outside and its time for a break I often do a sit spot or an outdoor mindfulness exercise.
Sit spots are pretty straightforward. Find a spot outdoors that speaks to you and sit there for a predetermined amount of time. Depending on the particular kid this could be 30 seconds or 10 minutes. The goal during the sit spot is just to quietly observe your surroundings. Encourage your child to use all their senses in their spot. What do they see, hear and smell? What can they touch with their fingers? If you do a sit spot regularly what changes do you notice over time? Some kids will feel right at home in their sit spots, others will find it a challenge. Either is totally fine!
If a sit spot feels too open ended try an outdoor mindfulness excercise. When I do this with kids I have them lie down in a comfy spot outside (bundle up if its cold) and I speak slowly and softly about each sense and reminders to breath. If you don’t want to make something up on the spot a quick search for “childrens mindfulness scrip” yields many results.
Remember – there’s no wrong way to do these activities. It’s just about breathing some fresh air and using your senses!
Just Need to Burn Some Energy?
Sometimes your kids (and yourself) just need to burn some energy and that is okay! When I know that kids I’m working at can’t handle any more structured activites, are feeling emotional, or just don’t want to sit I do a scream race.
A scream race is pretty simple. Find an open space, start everyone at the same spot (with everyone six feet apart of course) and take a deep breath. When the race master says go, everyone starts screaming and running. The only rule is you can’t take a second breath, so the person who gets the furthest on one breath wins. Repeat until you are all ready to return home and rest!
One Last Note:
Although being outdoors right now feels like a lower risk activity, and is a great break from being cooped up in your house it is not a no-risk activity. Conservation NW has published some great guidlines on keeping yourself, and larger community safe while getting outside right now.
Share your ideas with us!
What have you been doing with your family in this uncertain time? What are activities you like? Cool things you saw on a walk? We’ll update this post as health recomendations change but we’d love to hear from you as well!
Madeline returned to her home city of Seattle two years ago, after living in the Midwest and Northern California for nine years. She’s done environmental education for the past few years, teaching kids about intertidal ecology, salmon, and stewardship. Before that, she was living in California doing fisheries and restoration work, and getting a master’s degree studying invasive bullfrogs at Humboldt State University.