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Social Distancing Outside: 18 Outdoor Activity Ideas For Your Child


by Heidi MacNaughton, Outdoor Environmental Education Coordinator 


Spending time outside and caring for the environment has always been important to the McGillis community. Teachers weave into their school days and weeks ways to get students outside, moving, learning and discovering. As our world has grown smaller recently, resulting in more time spent at home, and daily outings fewer and farther in between, it is so important to prioritize time spent outside.


Amongst the changes to our daily routines, travel, and social interactions, we have to rethink how to spend that time outdoors for our children, and for us, as adults. While outdoor experiences such as recess, an outdoor science or PE lesson, sports team practice, After School programming, a Saturday soccer game, a spring weekend trip to Southern Utah, skiing at a resort, Spring Break plans, etc. are not accessible to us at this time, it can feel like a loss. I know I’ve not only felt that loss, but have felt lost and confused as a result!


The last couple of weeks have taught me that there is an opportunity to learn to slow down, to do things differently, and while it’s ok to feel frustrated to not have my usual patterns and go-to activities, we are in no way limited. While some buildings and businesses are closed, the outdoors is open. Not only is it open, but we also live in a location so beautiful, that people travel from all over the world to see our mountains. We are not at a loss for amazing views and access to nature within our city, let alone at the edges of our city borders. While there is certainly no good time for a pandemic to occur, I feel pretty fortunate and happy for our students that it aligned with spring sunshine when it’s a little easier for all of us to access the outdoors and defrost from colder winter months. While we know there will be April showers and some spring snowstorms in the mix, we can count on those sunny days ahead.


Amidst change and uncertainty, the outdoors is one of the constants in our lives. It is accessible to all of us, and it is at the top of the list as one of the best things for our mental, physical and emotional health right now. Our natural world has not changed and can be a mainstay and comfort in otherwise unusual times for all of us, especially for your children. 


Must we always teach our children with books? Let them look at the mountains and the stars up above. Let them look at the beauty of the waters and the trees and flowers on earth. They will then begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.

- David Polis


While I know that for many of you, I am preaching to the choir. However, even for myself, self-proclaimed outdoor enthusiast and Coordinator of the Outdoor Environmental Education program at McGillis, I’ve found days where I’ve had to force myself to get out of the house to go on a walk or go on a neighborhood bike ride. The end result? I always laugh at myself for resisting, as the mental and physical benefits are so instantly obvious and rewarding. So in case you’ve found yourself or your child in my shoes, here is a dose of motivation and words of encouragement to get out. Everyone will be happier as a result.


As you spend time outside with your child, or as they remain active and engaged in something they enjoy outside, what a wonderful learning opportunity to teach your child the value of the outdoors in their life. One of my biggest hopes for a positive outcome at this time is that our children recognize that value and feel a greater connection to our natural world. My hope is that, as a result, they care and want to be good stewards of our planet. Without that connection, it’s hard to want to care about how our individual and collective actions can impact our planet. Maybe they become aware that being outside makes them feel happy, energized, refreshed, fulfilled, excited, calm, clear, peaceful, refocused, or able to sleep better at night. If we can help them make that connection between that relationship, what a wonderful value we’ve instilled in them.


Knowing fully well that many of you have already been enjoying the benefits of spending time outdoors, here some ideas for outdoor activities in a time of social distancing that I hope can be of use to you:


  1. Find new streets your child hasn’t explored and go for a walk, jog or run together
  2. Use the iPhone app Walk the Distance and hike the virtual Appalachian Trail (this app is currently free due to COVID-19 crisis)  
  3. Explore the green spaces near your home: Find a Park, Natural Area or Trailhead | Public Lands
  4. Find a new access point to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail: Salt Lake to Parleys
  5. Explore Eccles Wildlife Education Center with a scavenger hunt 
  6. Create your own neighborhood scavenger hunt 
  7. Have a picnic in your own backyard, perhaps a learning break teatime 
  8. Set up tents, sleeping bags, and have an overnight camp out in your backyard
  9. Use a stargazing app to discover stars and constellations 
  10. Take treasure hunting to the next level by geocaching  
  11. Build a frisbee golf course, bike or scooter obstacle course, or an outdoor fort
  12. Learn about plants in your yard or learn together by gardening 
  13. Connect the garden hose and wash the car or bicycle 
  14. Create sidewalk chalk murals or messages for the neighborhood
  15. Move learning outside by reading, writing stories, letters, journaling, drawing, coloring or painting
  16. Make a dance or music video outside (why not?!)
  17. Challenge your child to take their athletic hobbies to the next level by taking this time to focus on and improve their skills outside (biking, skating, soccer, basketball, etc.)
  18. Create a human sundial 


Above all, encourage whatever creative play your child enjoys outside, and whatever makes you happy as a family. Whatever you do is worth celebrating and will contribute to everyone’s overall mental, physical and emotional health.


For city regulations on outdoor activities and exercise at this time, check out Salt Lake City's guidelines. Make sure to stay current on your community's regulations and precautions.


I look forward to the time we can play and learn outside together again!


Are you interested in learning more about the Outdoor Environmental Education program at McGillis?

Request a virtual tour.