Low-Risk Outdoor Activities for Kids During the Pandemic

After more than a year of lockdowns, working from home, hybrid learning, and mask-wearing, the COVID-19 pandemic has us all feeling a little stir-crazy. And while kids are amazingly resilient, they aren’t exempt from the stress, anxiety, and loneliness we’ve all faced since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak. Younger children may not fully grasp what’s happening in the world, but they know they miss their friends and usual school routine. Older kids and teenagers have a better understanding of what’s going on, but it doesn’t stop them from feeling isolated and depressed. The good news is that as more of the population receive vaccines, we become closer to returning to something that resembles normalcy. In the meantime, check out these smart ways to mitigate your family’s cabin fever. While safety is always a priority, outdoor activities for kids are generally considered lower-risk, especially when you remember to mask up.

COVID Transmission: Does it Happen Outdoors?

Part of the frustration we’ve all experienced is that the particulars of COVID-19 are still very much a mystery, even to the experts. More than a year into the pandemic, it’s still such an unpredictable disease. Why do some people become seriously ill with the virus, while others are completely asymptomatic? Why do some elderly people—widely considered to be one of the highest-risk groups—not get very sick or experience symptoms at all? Why do some younger people with no underlying conditions require medical intervention to get well?

Indoor vs. Outdoor COVID-19 Spread

One thing we do know is that outdoor activities with proper social distancing measures in place present a lower risk than indoor ones. The air outdoors moves much more than in an enclosed space, making it more difficult to spread the virus via respiratory droplets. It’s still possible to spread COVID-19 outdoors, but following a few common-sense guidelines can help to minimize that risk. The CDC currently recommends staying six feet apart from people who do not live in your household and following your community’s mask mandate. 

Safer Outdoor Activities for Kids and Families

Do your kids need to get out of the house? (Do you need your kids to get out of the house?) Check out some of these lower-risk outdoor activities you or your kids can enjoy with friends.

  • Walking or hiking. It’s easy to stay six feet apart on side streets or hiking trails. 
  • Fishing. Sit six feet apart or wear a mask. 
  • Popular winter activities like skating, sledding, or snowboarding.
  • Ultimate frisbee. Maintaining distance is easy here!
  • Riding a bike or scooter. 
  • Skateboarding. 
  • Having a small picnic. Each household should bring their own food and sit six feet apart.

Some activities, like swimming at a pool or beach or playing on a public playground, present an elevated risk. Because you aren’t masked in the water, coming into close contact with someone outside your household means you could contract the virus. If you decide to visit the local pool or beach, choose a time when it isn’t busy, like early in the morning or sunset. If your kids play on a public playground, they should wear masks and wash their hands thoroughly as soon as they’re done. Check out these handy tips for playground safety during COVID

Putting the Social in Social Distancing

For many parents, including me, get-togethers are a source of anxiety right now. While young children are less likely than adults to transmit COVID-19 or become really sick, they’re not immune to it either. Children with certain underlying conditions, like asthma, diabetes, or congenital heart disease, are at an increased risk of becoming seriously ill. Some young people who have recovered from COVID have developed Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), which can require hospitalization. That’s why it’s so important to follow social distancing protocols and to check in with your child’s pediatrician for updated guidance.

Portrait of mixed-races little boys in masks greeting each other in front of school in quarantine thinking of outdoor activities for kids.
While Young Children Are Less Likely Than Adults To Transmit COVID-19 Or Become Really Sick, They’re Not Immune To It Either (Image Source: Shutterstock)

That said, kids do need to socialize to stay healthy and happy, and we can make that happen for them while exercising caution. Since there are no hard-and-fast rules here, we all must use our best judgment to decide what we’re comfortable with. Last summer, for example, we visited our friends’ house for a swim, as none of us (in either household) had been around anyone else for weeks on end. Our kids weren’t in school and thus hadn’t been exposed to their teachers or their peers, and the adults had all been working from home. None of us had had any visitors except for our own parents, who also were exercising great caution. If any of us needed to use the bathroom during the visit, we went into the house one at a time so that no two people were breathing the same air indoors. It wasn’t a completely risk-free activity, but we did what we could to mitigate the risks. After months of hiding from the outside world, it lifted all of our spirits to spend time with good friends. 

Then, this winter, the same friends came over to our house for sledding in our backyard. Because our kids had been in school, where exposures are possible, we all wore masks for the duration of the play date. The kids were great sports about keeping their masks on, and we commented that they were actually quite useful on a bitterly cold day. Everyone got plenty of fresh air, exercise, and social time, which meant the kids fell asleep easily that night. (Yes!)

I am knocking on wood while saying that we are almost through this pandemic. It’s been challenging for everyone, and I especially hate seeing it affect my kids and their friends. I’m eagerly awaiting the day when once-common activities like indoor play dates and birthday parties become safe again. In the meantime, however, I see this as a great opportunity to appreciate being outside in the fresh air with my family. If you and your children are feeling antsy and anxious, I’d encourage you to give it a try.

What have you and your family been doing outdoors during the pandemic? I always love new ideas! Leave me a comment to let me know.