COVID-19 has accelerated the digitization of our next generation. As parents and educators are trying to adapt to the new world situation, children at often left to their digital devices as the primary means of interaction with other children. While phone, tablet, and computer screens aren't fundamentally bad, extensive use can negatively impact physical health (nearsightedness & obesity), social health, and even mental health (anxiety & depression).
We all know that kids have a lot of energy. A computer screen simply isn't the best medium to channel all of that energy because it lacks other dimension of interaction that we need. There's no touch (unless you count finger tapping), no smell, no taste, and only a limited level of social interaction. Many kids and adults are "zoomed out" from all the online classes and meetings that have replaced in-person experiences. So what are we to do given our circumstances? We need to get our kids outside and interacting in groups while keeping social distance! Being outside has several major benefits: our eyes can get exercise and focus on near and far objects, the air circulation lowers the chance of spreading COVID-19, and we get to see real people!
Digging through my own childhood memory, before we all had a computer attached to our hands, I remember some fun games that could and should be brought back and are perfect for a socially distanced environment.
While this may seem so old-school, I think it's got some amazing benefits to everyone involved. I'm not talking about a single person jumping rope, I'm talking about 3 or more people working together on a long rope at least 16ft long. You have 2 people, each holding one end and at least 1 jumper. Given the rope length, social distance between the participants isn't a problem. Jumping rope is great for building a variety of skills including hand-eye coordination, rhythm, teamwork, and physical stamina. The beauty of jumping rope is that you can do this almost anywhere and it doesn't require a lot of space and it requires virtually no setup. I find it especially fun when there are multiple jumpers competing for the highest number of consecutive jumps with on-lookers cheering for them. There's an instant bond that is created between the jumpers as they work together to develop a coordinated rhythm with the rope.
Jumping rope also has a variety of difficulties that make the activity simple to do but difficult to master. The rope turners can speed up the rope progressively to make it more and more challenging for the jumpers. The jumpers can get creative and add various movements to their jumps such as spins. The rope turners can also increase the difficulty by using 2 ropes instead of one for double Dutch (I could never get this but perhaps it's time to try with my family). Lastly, you can increase the length of rope and add more jumpers! The more people jumping together, the bigger the challenge and the bigger the reward when everyone is coordinated and jumping together. Remember, messing up and learning from it is part of the beautiful process. For most, it will take many tries before several people can coordinate together to consistently jump rope and eventually someone will get tired and the jumping will stop. Therefore, the group should focus more on the progress rather than the exact result. If one day you could only jump 5 times in a row and the next day you can achieve 6, that's a win!
Kickball was always one of my childhood favorites because it involved so many players and each had a different role. Not everyone had to kick the ball the furthest to be the major contributor to the game. If you made a good catch and got someone out, that made you the hero for that play! Kickball does require a decent amount of space (great for social distancing as every player is spread out), preferably a local baseball or softball field or even asphalt as long as the bases are marked. Beyond the field, all you need are enough players to at least cover the field positions, a kicker and a ball. The pitcher rolls the ball towards the kicker and the kicker tries to kick the ball as far as possible in order to make a run. Kickball helps build a sense of belonging as all players on each team work together to achieve a common goal. The team captain is also building leadership skills by coordinating the actions of her teammates. There's a moderate level of running involved with kickball so this activity is great at helping kids burn off the excess energy they have.
While I was never really good at this game because I wasn't the biggest kid on the block, I always thought it was fun to be on the team with the bigger kid! On a more serious note, this old-school game puts each player's strength and endurance to the most direct test possible through a large rope. A longer rope can help with social distance guidelines so each player is at least 6 feet apart from the other player so if you have 4 players, you'll need at least a 18-ft rope. Beyond the rope, you'll need some space for the players to line up as well as a center-line marker. You'll want the ground to be even and have similar texture so that one side doesn't have a grip advantage over the other. Grass is preferable for this activity because usually someone will fall on their butt and softer ground is always safer. Depending on how much space you have for the players to backup, you can decide how far a team must pull in order to be declared the winner. Typically, the game ends when the first player from the opposing team is pulled across the center line. While one might ask "what's so challenging about pulling rope?" there is a strategy to tug-of-war as each team may not be applying force consistently, in efforts to throw off their opponents. A team captain on each side may observe the pulling action of the opposing team and command her team to either pull or "hang" (rest). If coordinated correctly, one team can "hang" or give slack to the opposing team right when they commence a pull and cause the opposing team to lose balance, at which point the hanging team can immediately start their pull action in efforts to gain lost ground while the opposing team is trying to regain balance.
Tag is the most traditional game worldwide because just about everyone knows how to run and chase. During these times while we're trying to enforce social distance, giving each player a pool noodle to extend their arm length is a great alternative to the traditional activity. Not to mention, players running around with multi-colored pool noodles just looks and sounds like hilarious and ridiculous fun and will probably degenerate into players play hitting each other with the pool noodles. Pool noodles can be purchased from your local dollar store in various colors. The colors can be used to indicate teams or have other role meanings. There are so many variations on tag that I cannot possibly mention all of them here but here are a few notable ones I had fun playing as a kid: Noodle tag --- just one player has the noodle and is considered "it", all other players just freely run around within a designated boundary. When the "it" player is able to contact another player with the noodle, that new player will obtain the noodle and become "it" and the cycle repeats again. Capture the flag is another fun game where opposing teams are trying to steal the flag from each other and bring it back to their own side. A player who has the flag but is tagged must return the flag to the original position and sit in "jail" for a limited time before re-entering the field.
Hopefully these game ideas will help get you and your kids outdoors for some simple, active, and socially distanced fun!
ZTAG is a non-contact game of digital tag where players tag each other and tag at 6 feet. To find out more about our products, please visit ztag.com