With California announcing a shelter in place order as of March 19, and many other places likely headed this way soon, families need options for getting fresh air and exercise while managing risks.
One thing to note is that it’s impossible to avoid all risk of transmission, since the virus can remain in the air for 3h, survive for up to 24h on cardboard and for three days on plastic and stainless steel. But we can all do our part to greatly reduce the risk, by:
- limiting outings to what we need for health and sanity
- staying at least 6′ away from anyone not in our household
- reducing contact with surfaces that others may have touched
- avoiding touching our faces, and washing our hands often
Because being sneezed, coughed, or breathed on by an infected person are the most likely ways to catch COVID-19, this post has recommendations for toys and play ideas that can be helpful to make wide-open and remote spaces more fun for children. Items marked with a $ are more expensive.
For your patio or backyard
- Water Table (Age 1+) If you have an outdoor space to set it up. Accessorize with a toy egg beater and soap, or water beads, or whatever containers and spoons you have available. If you don’t want to buy a water table, any large container will do. You can also add play sand to your water table. For hygiene, drain and dry toys daily.
- $ Sandbox Digging machine (Age 3+) If you’re lucky enough to have a large sandbox or other place to dig.
- $ Climbing dome (Age 1-9) This needs a space at least six feet in diameter, but kids love it for both active and dramatic play.
- Mini golf (Age 4+) If your child is old enough to use a long golf club semi-responsibly. Also great for the beach or open fields.
- $ A giant Jenga game (Age 1+) can be used according to the rules, or for more open-ended building.
- Not a toy, but an idea (Age 2-4) Ask your child to go on “quests,” to go touch “something red,” or “the fence,” or “find a leaf and bring it back.”
For sidewalks and paved spaces
- $ Micro Mini Deluxe Scooter (Age 1.5-5) Children under 2 are often fascinated by scooters but may not be quite ready for them yet. Great exercise, fun, and transportation once your child figures it out.
- $ Balance Bike (Age 1.5-5) Most children won’t be ready for a balance bike until at least 2, but again, this can make for great exercise and transportation.
- A pogo bouncer or hopper ball (Age 3+) builds gross motor skills while getting out plenty of energy. These are also good indoors.
- Rollerblades or skateboard (Age 5+) for the adventurous child. A helmet is necessary, and protective gear recommended.
- Moon Ball (Age 5-Adult) A high-bouncing ball that makes a funny pop. Even much older children and adults tend to enjoy this.
- Don’t forget a helmet for all of the ride-on items.
For open fields
- A soccer ball (Age 1+) is a classic choice. Choose size 3 for children age 8 and under.
- T ball (Age 1.5-6) A novelty to learn a new skill: hit, fly, roll, run, retrieve, return, and repeat.
- Stomp Rockets (Age 2-10) The absolute best toy for making an open field fun, with lots of running and excitement. It’s inexpensive and cheesy, but do not underestimate this toy, even for older children.
- Kites (Age 3-Adult) are also a great bet if you have access to a large open field.
- Flying Airplanes (Age 3+) These foam toys are also great for running and playing in an open field.
- Shovel and bucket or beach “baking” toys (Age 1+) for endless sand play.
- This water blaster (Age 6+) does not look like a weapon but is great at shooting water, and it floats.
- If your beach has magnetic black sand, a magnet, plastic cup, and piece of paper can create a fascinating science experiment. (Watch this video from the Exploratorium about the magnetic sand at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.) (Age 3+)
- Most of the toys in the “open fields” section above are also perfect at the beach.
For the forest
- Bug catching kit, net, and/or magnifying loupe (Age 2+) Everything kids need to explore bugs and other things in the woods.
- Shovel and bucket (Age 1+) For younger children.
- Some cotton twine (Age 4+) opens up lots of options for building outdoors, using branches and other natural materials. Be sure to supervise closely for safety, follow park rules, and take the twine with you when you’re done.
- Binoculars (Age 3+) What toy screams COVID-19 more than one that lets you look at interesting things from a distance? For older children, consider getting a pair of adult binoculars that the whole family can use for years.
You may be able to swap or share toys with other families. Because the virus can live for up to three days on plastic and metal surfaces, many families are choosing to “quarantine” items and boxed deliveries for three days before using, to avoid breaking out the Clorox wipes.
Have an idea that’s not on my list, or other feedback? Please share it with me at email@example.com.
Want to read more? Check out the three easiest things you can do to help your family be well while staying at home during COVID-19; a list of toys that support independent play for ages 1-8; and, if you’re in San Francisco, a map of outdoor places where socially distanced exercise may be possible for the whole family.
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About Littldata: At Littldata, my goal is to help parents figure out their family logistics by sharing calendars, maps, lists, and spreadsheets–as well as research-backed blog posts and data graphics. This post uses Amazon Affiliate and referral links.
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