Getting Children and Teens Outside While Social Distancing for COVID-19
by: Danette Glassy, MD, FAAP & Pooja Tandon, MD, FAAP
Because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many schools are now closed for the rest of the academic year. You may have created a schedule for your family while everyone’s home. Ideally, it includes some outdoor time.
But what can you actually do outside with your children while staying at a safe distance from others? Think nature exploration!
Read on for some tips to help you and your children get a healthy dose of nature while still practicing good social distancing.
Exploring nature while social distancing
- Nature all around us. Nature exploration with proper social distancing can happen in your yard, a table-top garden, or even virtually (though not with all of the benefits).
- Bringing out baby. Even infants and toddlers can play and learn in nature. If you will be in public spaces, it may be safest to keep them in a carrier or a stroller. If they are in your own private space, it’s fine to have them explore even more.
- Nature sculptures can be built with twigs, leaves, cones, rocks and more by sticking the collected items into a play dough base. Help your child put objects in the play dough and notice what kind of patterns are created by different items.
- Biking with the family in your neighborhood can be a good option if you can keep your distance from others during your ride. If you have a child bicycle trailer, get some exercise while enjoying the outdoors with your baby in tow.
- Playing in mud is very fun for young children and helps them develop their senses and motor skills. You can give your child old pots, pans, utensils, and other household tools to move, pour, and squish the mud for imaginary play.
- Challenge older children and teens. Stay engaged with the outdoors as a family. Take advantage of this time to bond over activities everyone enjoys.
- Hold a nature scavenger hunt for the family. Include categories like plants, trees, animals, birds. Who can create the longest list of the signs of spring that they find? How many different flowers can you photograph?
- Create a nature journal so they can describe what they see from a comfortable spot outside. Encourage them to write how that makes them feel or draw what they see.
- Have a ball. Kicking a soccer ball or playing catch together can be fine if you are apart from each other and don’t share any sports equipment with others outside your household.
The Benefits of Being Outside
Getting outside provides more than a fun break for children and teens. It is also good for their physical and mental health and development. For example, children and teens who spend time enjoying nature can be:
- Physically healthier. Children play harder outdoors than indoors. Especially without the structure of preschool, school or afterschool activities, children especially need opportunities to move. Children who spend more time outdoors have improved motor development. More outdoor time is linked with lower obesity rates.
- More engaged in learning. Playing outside promotes more curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking. Studies have found that children who spent more time in nature exploration had improved learning outcomes.
- More positive in behavior. Research has found that when children spent time in natural settings they had less anger and aggression. Impulse control also improves. This might be especially important when normal routines have changed for children.
- Mentally healthier. Stress and depression are reduced for all people who spend time in nature. Children show increased focus and reduced symptoms of for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Take advantage of the healing power of nature—in your own backyard or on a walk. Just remember to follow local public health guidance and keep at least 6 feet from others outside your family. Wash your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer once you return from your adventure. Getting outdoors, being in nature, and moving our bodies is good for everyone!
- Give Your Child’s Eyes a Screen-Time Break: Here’s Why
- Making Physical Activity a Way of Life
- Parenting in a Pandemic: Tips to Keep the Calm at Home
- A Pediatrician’s Reflection on the Red River Gorge (AAP Voices)
- Project Nature
- National Parks Trust: Parks to Kids Day
About Dr. Glassy
Danette Glassy, MD, FAAP, is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Councils on Community Pediatrics and Early Childhood, as well as the Washington Chapter of the AAP. She practices in Mercer Island, Washington
About Dr. Tandon
Pooja Tandon, MD, FAAP, is a general pediatrician and researcher at the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital. Her research interests include studying and promoting equitable access to physical activity and outdoor time for all children.