How to make the best of the outdoors with kids when you’re in isolation

Finding outdoor activities for the kids is more crucial than its ever been. Parents are struggling. At least, I know I am. School is closed, both boys are home, as are me and my husband. We are still allowed to go out, but our goal is not to drive anywhere, and to stay on our property or neighborhood as much as possible, where there’s less chance of bumping into people.

It doesn’t help that we’re deep in a remodel and all living in just half the house. The boys are sleeping in the master bedroom, where we have deposited all office furniture, most toys and all clothes the 4 of us will need for the next 6 weeks. The lower level of the house with the rest of the bedrooms, playroom, and office, has been stripped bare of all internal walls.

The sound of the nail gun and jackhammer had been a constant for me for 2 weeks even before the schools closed and my husband’s job went remote. It wasn’t fun, but working from home was manageable when it was just me and the contractors. Now, we’re in a different boat.

Thankfully Idaho is in full Spring mode, and the weather is treating us well. In any other time of sheltering in place, I might let screentime slide a bit more as I try and get work done. With the constant noise of construction and living on top of each other (I’m not joking when I say the laundry is my office now because at least I can close the door) we’re desperate to get out right now.

And it works. I really believe we’re all better off for spending more time outdoors. I’ve been pushing against a schedule (because I have a preschooler and a type A 2nd grader) and I see this as an opportunity to have fun and learn in the way they’d like rather than forcing a minute by minute schedule on them, but I’ve realized we do need a plan. Two weeks in and they are uncertain of what’s happening, missing friends and routine, and aware of the tension around them.

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For next week, I’m going to try scheduling 2 activities before and 2 after lunch. At least one of each has to be outdoors. The boys and I have a ‘morning meeting’ or ‘circle time’ each day after breakfast and fill in the boxes on our schedule. These periods of time are flexible enough to last for 30 minutes or 2 hours, depending on how interested everyone is and what else we’ve done in the day. We tried it for a couple of days last week and they liked knowing what they could look forward to. We’ll see how it changes once schoolwork is added to the mix next week, but I’m still hoping we can fill 2 boxes a day with outdoor activities.

If you’re finding it all too easy to stay inside and looking for more outdoor activities you can persuade your kids into, check out our options:

  • sidewalk chalk. There are a lot of posts on social media about brightening up the neighborhood and providing supportive messages with sidewalk chalk. Decorate your own, or go to a local friend or neighbor’s driveway and leave a message for them. We created these ones by using painters tape to create borders, then painted over the chalk with water for a more vibrant color.

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  • neighborhood walk. Go on a nature walk like this one ¬†and collect what you find to bring home. You can do all kinds of activities with them when you bring them back. We’re lucky enough to live right next to the foothills, and we’ve been trying to schedule hikes at a time when the trails aren’t busy.
  • take any activity outdoors. Schoolwork, art, reading, even playing with toys can be done in a garden, on a deck or a driveway. You’d be surprised by how much this can help reset everyone.
  • add water to anything. The preschooler loves washing toys in a basin of soapy water. The 2nd grader can be persuaded into cleaning toys and outdoor furniture, at least for a little while.
  • create shadow drawings, by putting toys next to paper so that they create a shadow. You can help younger kids, or older ones can draw the lines themselves. Then fill them in with any colors you choose.

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There are lots of things that make staying in isolation hard, and it’s a scary time in the world right now. But being forced to stay close to home can give us a fantastic opportunity to slow down with the kids and appreciate the nature we have all around us. We don’t need to go far or go fast. Nature is moving along, and we can see Spring approaching, regardless of how time feels when we’re in the house (so slow, am I right?!) By moving into the outdoor space and living fully within it, we can give ourselves and the kids a fantastic opportunity to live in the moment and forget about everything else, at least for a while.

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