Doing Outdoor Ed (and Everything Else) Indoors

Doing Outdoor Ed (and Everything Else) Indoors

When this whole Coronavirus thing was just getting started our schools closed early. I had to run to the pharmacy where I encountered a bit of foreshadowing on how this quarantine business was going to play out.

A family stood in the checkout line, kids clutching drug store toys. Everyone had dyed his or her hair blue, some a lot, some a little. The grandma even had a splash of blue on the side of her head. Mom ordered everyone to get in the car and wait for her. Grandma refused to go. Mom ordered the kids to get Grandma in the car. Grandma said she was old enough to make her own decisions. Mom loudly announced she was done. They were all going home.

Like many people, we are now officially on quarantine in our home trying to keep the COVID-19 out for the sake of my 95-year-old mother who is on chemo and my immune-compromised daughter. I don’t have small children at home, but I can tell you we are already going stir-crazy, and the quarantine period is still relatively young.

Get me out of this house!

Truth be told, we can go outside. We have a nice backyard unprofessionally landscaped to accommodate birds and drought-tolerant plants. We can take walks through our neighborhood as a family as long as someone stays behind with Mom and as long as we don’t mingle with others. That isn’t difficult to do since everybody else seems to be staying inside as well.

That – and hours spent Facebooking friends – got me thinking. How can we get kids the outdoor hours they need, continue teaching them about nature from inside their homes, and get through this pandemic without too many family squabbles?

The following are not all my ideas. I have compiled this list from my own thoughts, things I’ve read (and don’t necessarily remember where I’m sorry to say), friends’ social media posts, other blogs (identified here), and ideas heard on television. Not all are necessarily outdoor ed-related, but I hope they are helpful, nonetheless.

First, consider the backyard.

  • We had five days of rain clouds dampen the start of our quarantine, but we still visited our backyard. We did a bunch of weeding. On one of our early grocery store trips, I bought small tomato plants that we plan to put into the raised beds as soon as the sun breaks through. We continue to work with our worm bins, housed in the garage. We have two large buckets of worm casings ready to work into our garden soil. When school is in session, we rarely have time to devote to our gardens.
  • Rainy backyards are great places to explore nature. Put on the raincoats. Hoodies up. Grab magnifying glasses and see who’s out in the water puddles. If you take photos on a cell phone, you can Google the creatures later. Databases like Bugfinder from the website Insect Identification for the Casual Observer or Dave’s Garden can help name those bugs. The University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources has a more advanced website called Insect Connect that goes into greater detail. Many state agencies offer assistance from real entomologists. You e-mail your photo and information on where the critter was found, and they answer you. However, most of these agencies may not be available to you during the pandemic.
  • Here’s an outside PE activity for kindergartners through second grade called Monster Mash. It was written for kids playing in a school gym, but you can modify it. You will likely have less space, but you surely have fewer kids as well.

Turn the TV room into a kid gym.

  • I saw a photo on Facebook of a toddler tossing colored balls into laundry baskets. Someone had taped papers with the corresponding colors onto the various baskets. Hand-eye coordination, learning colors, learning to match, getting that pitching arm in shape, and burning off energy. A win-win.
  • Tune into a televised exercise show and work out as a family.
  • Got any old exercise DVDs buried under stuff? Bring ‘em out. (My old favorite was a Richard Simmons in VHS format. I wonder if I could find a DVD version.)
  • Play with pets. They need exercise, too.
  • Play hide and seek.
  • When my daughter was in third grade, the parks department put her on a fifth-grade girls’ softball team. Not because she was an Ayami Sato, but because they had run out of coaches. The coach we got was amazing even though somebody filed a complaint because he wore Jack Daniels shirts to practice. I offered to buy Jack Daniels shirts for every parent to sport on game day, but I digress… The coach told my daughter to gather up all of her rolled-up socks and practice throwing them at the wall until she could hit anywhere she aimed. No equipment to buy and nothing to break.
  • PlayPennies reports that British fitness instructor Joe Wicks is leading daily PE workouts on Youtube for kids during the Coronavirus shutdown on weekdays. Past workouts are posted on his YouTube channel.

  • Take a walk and do the bear hunt. Walking in family units is still allowed as long as you stay away from crowded areas and stay six feet away from people who don’t live with you. Adding interest to walks is a new phenomenon called “Going on a Bear Hunt.” Neighbors put teddy bears up in windows or on their porches so children can look for them. When you get home, consider reading the picture book it’s all based on: We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury.

Do some art.

  • I keep seeing a post shared about the #frommywindow or #desdemiventana movement in Spain where children post their artwork in their windows (facing out) to provide inspiration for other children who are out for their walks with the family. Someone suggested chalk drawing on sidewalks as well. Now I see chalk drawings everywhere I walk.
  • K.M. Creations – Elk Grove, Calif. artist Kristina Marrone – is doing free online art webinars for kids. A friend and her daughter posted amazing suncatchers they created using paper plates and packing tape. Kristina posted step-by-step directions on her Facebook for those (like me) who missed the online class.

Do some theater.

  • Write plays. Perform stand-up comedy. Hold a family concert. As a kid, I used to write not-ready-for-primetime plays and coerce my brother, sister, cousins, and neighborhood friends into acting out the parts. I remember one “dinner theater” we forced upon my father and his visiting friends. I don’t remember the plotline, but the play was entitled “Stab and Strike Again.” My sister played the murder victim who returned as a ghost, face covered in flour. During scene changes, my brother or sister would recite a humorous poem found in a library book we had lying around. Forty-five years later, my sister still randomly throws lines from those poems at me.
  • Create puppet shows. Nobody needs a fancy puppet venue to make this happen. Just hide behind the couch or a large chair. Puppets can be made from odd socks. They can be made from paper bags using the flaps as faces. You can create paper dolls and glue or tape them onto a Popsicle stick. (Wash that stick well first to get the sugar off it.) The grocery store was out of Popsicles? Go outside and find some sticks.

Check out online sources for ideas, staycation field trips, homework help.

  • YouTube is this family’s go-to for math help. So many teachers and students have made videos to explain how to do the math that my daughter doesn’t even think of asking us for help anymore. (Or, maybe she has realized her mother is an English teacher…) If one video doesn’t help, another will. Though we use it for math, you can use it for just about any subject. I’ve looked up YouTube videos for cooking and photography as well. Never used it? Just type YouTube and your subject matter into your search bar.
  • PBS advertisements have started popping up on my phone.  They have gobs of educational stuff online.
  • CBS News posted about zoos and aquariums that are live-streaming animals for people stuck at home.
  • CBS News also gathered bunches of links under the heading, “Looking for Something to Do While Quarantined?” There’s free workout sessions, classes, concerts, opera, archived sports events, and museum tours.
  • The California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom is planning daily online agriculture-related activities. Directions will be saved in case you miss the morning sessions. They are asking interested parents and teachers to follow their campaign at @LearnAboutAg or #LearnAboutAgatHome.
  • The California Education and the Environment Initiative(EEI) has K-12 history/social science and science units.
  • Into the Outdoors has videos on “environmental awareness and outdoor lifestyles that empower our next generation to become sustainable stewards of Planet Earth.” They even have a unit on the science of fishing that includes how to start your school fishing club.
  • A fun site called Bored Teachers put together a list of “40 Science Websites to Keep Kids Engaged and Entertained at Home.”
  • The United States Department of Agriculture has a nutrition activities site that can be used by kids, students, families or adults – you choose the audience. Recipes and an app for monitoring food intake are also available through that site.
  • Freedom Homeschooling put together a list of free virtual field trips: Anne Frank House, Buckingham Palace, farm tours, Great Wall of China, Holy Land, Houston Zoo, the International Space Station, the Louvre, Mars, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. And more.

Keep communicating.

A while back California Gov. Newson said he came home from work to find his 6-year-old daughter crying. She missed school and her friends. I know teachers who are doing the same. With social distancing the policy of the day, it’s even more important that people find ways to connect. Here are some ideas, some of them new-fangled, some old-fashioned.

  • Write letters. My family has been writing lots and lots of letters this past couple of weeks. We write thank-you notes. We write newsy letters. We don’t lick the envelope though. We use tape to close it up.
  • Speaking of letters, consider writing thank you notes to people who keep things going – the grocery store workers, the police officers, firefighters, the school superintendent, the pharmacist, your doctors.  Small children can send drawings that just say, “Thank you.”
  • Use technology. FaceTime or call elderly relatives and friends living in senior housing that has banned visitors. Send e-mails. Use social media to say hi.  Make funny videos and share them.
  • Got an old tape recorder in storage somewhere? Get it out and make tape recordings of your family. Back in the olden days, we would create “radio shows” where one person would interview others and record the entire thing.  Sometimes we added music. This was how a family I know communicated through the Vietnam War when their father was away. They found the tapes a couple of years ago when the parents were moving into senior housing. No tape recorder? Cell phones work, too. They just aren’t old-school, and you probably won’t find them decades later in an attic.
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