Getting fresh air and being outdoors is important to staying physically active and protecting our mental health.
But with the spread of COVID-19, during these strange, unprecedented times of quarantine and isolation, what does safe outdoor exposure look like for our children?
The answer is very different for every family. With this rapidly evolving pandemic, there are lot of 'grey zones', which every family needs to navigate with their best judgement.
For my family, we live in an apartment and don't have a balcony, needless to say a backyard. Getting outdoors for fresh air is important for us. We try to plan ahead to avoid crowded places. We also avoid playgrounds where there is shared equipment. Our social life is limited to meeting a tighter network of friends and in open spaces, with masks/face coverings on.
Now that summer is in full swing, outdoor time is precious. Here are the 10+ outdoor activities my toddler and I have engaged in to make the most of the wonderful sunshine, as well as the reopening of the states.
10+ Outdoor Activities for Toddlers During COVID-19
Some of the activities are doable all year round, some are seasonal as indicated.
1. Hikes and Nature Trails in Forests
I'm selective about the hikes and trails to go for, often researching and reading reviews to check if they're toddler-friendly (short, gentle, lots of scenery). My toddler is into wild flowers, wild berries, bridges, streams and boulders so those are what I look out for when picking hikes for the family.
Some of the more scenic and memorable trails we've done are the ones which lead to waterfalls, have interesting stories (like the Swamp Monster Trail in Washington State or are season-proof (like Paradise trail in Mount Rainier National Park where we can see snow in summer).
For those living in the PNW, you might like to look up 2 Travel Dads, Simply Otte and The Wandering Daughter for their child-friendly hiking recommendations. With very young ones, you could consider stroller-friendly hikes.
If hiking with toddlers is something new to you, here's my two cents:
- Adjust your expectations. Hiking with little ones is a totally different experience vs. hiking alone or with a partner. Toddlers have different goals and different yardsticks for what makes a great hike. What they value as important isn't the destination, but what's in the moment -- picking up a curious-looking piece of rock, examining a spider, scooting up a log or retracing their steps up and down a slope. As adults we're often too caught up with reaching the end-point and children who seem distracted and idle too much on the trail seem to get in the way of that. What I've learnt through hiking with my toddler is to be present and appreciate what I can tangibly see and touch in front of me. As such, I don't force my toddler to 'complete' the hike. We respect her wish to turn back when she has had enough.
- Hiking is about us, not just you. Hikes can be physically demanding but at the same time, also constantly keep your toddler's needs in mind. Know when she needs encouragement or something 'fun' to keep going. Try some activities to keep little ones engaged and inspired on the hike like singing marching songs when climbing inclined slopes and 'passing the baton' with twigs found along the way to cover more distance. ParentMap has suggestions for fun games to play with children on hikes. Also, take care of children's energy level by prepping nutrient-dense snacks and plenty of water. Children can be sensitive to temperature changes and environmental factors, so be mindful about keeping them comfortable to be cooperative on the hike (my toddler hates wind in her face as it blows her hair into her face, so I always have a hair tie ready / having a baby carrier ready, for when my toddler decides to take a break).
Covid thoughts: Some trails can be narrow and keeping a 6ft distance may prove to be challenging. If wearing a mask on a hike isn't comfortable for you, opt for a face shield. This way, you can still exchange pleasantries with fellow hikers on the trail.
2. Learn a Skill in Parks/Grass Fields
Many a times, toddlers see an open field and start running or rolling about in the grass. It doesn't take much to engage them in nature.
But it can be beneficial to introduce a structured sports or activity to work on gross motor skills and hand-eye coordination, such as learning to dribble a ball, scooting, riding a bicycle, somersaulting in the grass, throwing a frisbee and skipping on a jumping rope.
I'll love to try kite-flying with my toddler next.
3. Nature Scavenger Hunt in Open Spaces
Nature scavenger hunts are fun and give toddlers a sense of purpose as they explore the outdoors. They get to sharpen observation skills and build stronger recognition for objects and animals living in the open through this activity.
For my toddler who cannot read yet, I like to draw visuals of objects and animals and write their names beside the pictures. A print-rich scavenger hunt sheet builds the foundation for pre-reading skills.
As I draw the scavenger hunt sheet, I engage my toddler in conversation, asking her what she expects to find or see at the area of interest -- usually a familiar park or beach. This prompts her to recall objects and animals associated to the venue and talk about why they can be found there. Such dialogue stimulates language development and rich vocabulary.
I also bring along a DIY sticky cardboard frame for my toddler to stick souvenirs from nature onto. This is great as playroom decor and helps my toddler remember times spent outdoors.
4. Sightseeing Car Rides
In April when the COVID-19 crisis was in the early stages of unfolding, we went sightseeing in the car often to catch cherry blossoms.
Due to the constraints brought about by COVID-19, I have increasingly noticed many scenic driving routes near me. I'm pretty sure a quick google may yield even more scenic drive ideas.
Alternatively, I would also recommend a relaxing drive through a forested area. It is interesting to point out different types of trees and talk about how seasonal change can change their appearances (colors/amount of foliage).
5. Drive By in the Neighbourhood
Many schools in the United States (US) have adapted to the COVID-19 situation, organising drive throughs or drive ins for graduating students, or for school principals and teachers to check in on their students and families.
Drive by is a wonderful idea for keeping in touch with friends and our wider social network, while keeping a safe social distance. This helps my toddler remember people she's not seen for a while.
6. Artistic Expression in Nature
Children tend to enjoy making open-ended art in nature. Equipped with simple drawing tools like a paintbrush/a bottle of water /a piece of chalk, we can watch their artistic creativity unfold.
Children can paint rocks, concrete and wooden benches with water and it's fascinating to watch how their colors deepen upon contact with water. Children can even learn about water evaporation as they observe water drying up on hot sunny days.
Chalk can be used for random scribblings and drawings which builds children's fine motor skills. For more structured play, a hopscotch can be drawn using chalk. It is a great activity for children to work on gross motor skills, build number recognition and practise counting.
7. Picnic in the Open
My toddler enjoys running about and coming back for occasional bites. To make it a stress and prep-free meal, my husband and I like to do take-outs from nearby restaurants to enjoy in the park or empty grass patch.
We keep our picnic mat and foldable chairs in the car so we can have impromptu picnics when the weather is great or we feel like dining outside to soak in Vitamin D. Sometimes when the weather is extremely agreeable, we even pitch a tent to stay there for a longer while.
8. Fruit, Vegetable & Flower Harvest
With the onset of summer, there're lots of fruits and vegetables to be harvested in family farms around the area. Thus far, we've done strawberry, blueberry and raspberry picking in June as well as vegetable picking in July. I was really heartened to see that the farms we've been to, such as Remlinger Farms, Henna Blueberry Farm and Bailey Vegetable Farm, have implemented COVID-19 safety measures (touchless payment) and provided sanitation (hand-washing stations/hand sanitisers etc).
Recently, we headed to the Lavender Capital of Washington, Sequim, to pick lavender too! Here's a tip: If your toddler is into scissors work, prep your child's own pair of scissors so she could do lavender U-pick on her own!
I'm also looking forward to pumpkin picking in fall.
9. (Sand &) Water Play in Nature
While swimming pools, spray parks and wading pools are closed due to COVID-19, children can still do water (and sand) play in natural water environments like rivers, lakes and seas by the beach.
Parentmap has a great list of swimming spots in Washington. So far we've swum in Green Lake in Seattle, Houghton Beach Park in Kirkland and Keechelus Lake Snoqualmie Pass. Prior to visiting, check for bacteria-related closures for these swim spots. Note that swimming is a sports that require close and constant adult supervision.
I'll be scouting out tide pools in the PNW next!
10. Camping at Campgrounds
Many campgrounds are open for day use and camping. Cabins and cottages are also open at parks.
Camping provides a respite for us to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and we're heartened that we could still resume this activity during summer this year (our experience here).
For those who enjoy glamping, Getaway House is open through COVID-19 as well.
11. Enjoy Marine Life
Washington State has a rich aquacultural legacy and many marine-rich beaches. With a shellfish/seaweed license, you can harvest a variety of marine species like clams, crabs, mussels, oysters, shrimp and seaweed. Likewise, fishing licenses allow fishing in respective areas. Toddlers are not required to have these licenses but accompanying adults are.
I've also recently found out about a concept called U-fish where some fish farms allow visitors to rent fishing equipment and fish within their grounds. This sounds like a good way to introduce fishing to children, especially if the adults don't have much fishing experience themselves. We might try that out next!
I hope that you enjoy these outdoor activities with your toddlers, whilst staying safe and healthy! #WeGotThisSeattle
To follow our play adventures, follow our Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook Group.
Note: Given the constantly evolving COVID-19 situation in Washington State, refer to Department of Health website for regular updates and guidelines to adhere to. Here's information about face masks/coverings for children.
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Hi! I am Yunnie. I am the newly minted mama to a little baby girl and a mum friend to everyone on this special (and many times scary) journey of motherhood. Also a graduated bride with a penchant for weddings.