Family, Kids & Relationships

Beyond Bike Rides: 10 In-Person Playdate Ideas That Follow Social Distancing Rules

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As restrictions slowly begin to lift across the country, parents are beginning to think about playdates again, if only to have their children connect with a peer for a short time. Keeping children at least six feet apart (aka social distancing) is highly recommended by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention—something that’s easier to do during an outdoor visit, but certainly not impossible indoors if you have enough space. 

In a live Q&A with parents, Dr. Dara Kass, an emergency room physician and Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, explained some of the new basics parents should keep in mind. When it comes to playdates, she says, “Outside is always better than inside. Masks are always better than no masks [for kids over the age of 2].”  But depending on the kids’ ages (and how much you can trust them to stay apart), they might not necessarily need to keep masks on the whole time. For reference, her own school-age kids have a limited number of friends they’re allowed to see in person right now, and they wear masks until they’re seated six feet apart to chat or play video games together. At that point, since they’re not moving around, they’re allowed to take off their masks.

But, of course, preschoolers can bring special challenges, since it can be tough to get them to wear masks. “The hardest age group to do is probably four to six, because they do miss their friends and they do need engagement, but they’re not exactly great at the distancing,” Dr. Kass says. For them, she recommends setting up parallel play stations six feet apart “where they can have a competition of who can build the biggest castle, or maybe they each do their own LEGOs.” The key is to set up the environment and activities to control their movement before the playdate starts, so they’re less likely to start their own impromptu game of hug-tackle (and be giggling right in each other’s faces).

But for older kids who are a little more in control of their impulses, there are plenty of ways to have fun together while maintaining a safe distance—beyond the walks and bike rides they might have already been doing. Here are a few playdate ideas that may ease your concern about reengaging. 

Have a (faux) water balloon fight. The warmer weather makes this a great time to let your kids play with water balloons—plus, it’s something kids of all ages love to do! Use biodegradable balloons for a more earth-friendly game, or better yet forget the balloons completely and let them toss big sponges instead. They can “refill” their sponges by dipping them into water-filled buckets, just make sure each child has their own bucket so they’re not constantly running to the same spot. Use jump ropes, sticks, or some other marker to indicate two lines that are six feet apart, and make a rule that each child can’t cross their line—they’ll like the challenge, plus it will help keep them from getting too close.

Charades. Another all-ages activity, a game of charades can easily be played from a safe distance. Split up your teams across a driveway, in an outdoor space that’s free of crowds, or on opposite sides of a large room, so long as everyone’s keeping at least six feet away from each other (and preferably wearing masks, especially if indoors—hey, they’re not allowed to talk during this one anyway!). Try going for themes, like summertime or sports, especially if you’re playing with younger kids who are just learning the basics of the game. 

Kickball. While there are several sports that can probably be played at a safe distance, kickball is a game that just about everyone can play, from the wee ones to the bigger kids, and still keep a steady, fun momentum. 

Hopscotch. All you need is a piece of chalk or some painter’s tape (which can even be used on floors inside) and this classic game is on! We also recommend drawing or taping off a “waiting circle” at least six feet from the action, so the person waiting for their turn knows where it’s safe to stand.

Obstacle course race. Speaking of chalk, with a couple of pieces and some simple objects, you can easily make a fun obstacle course in your backyard or driveway. We love this easy DIY obstacle course using Dollar Store items like pool noodles and duct tape, but “stations” can be as simple as a circle on the ground where players have to hop on one foot. Rather than running the course at the same time, let the kids race individually (you can time them if they still want it to be a competition) so they’re not passing each other. They’re likely to do some yelling and get out of breath with this one, which spreads more respiratory droplets (and therefore carries more risk) than just talking, so going one at a time will help them get some extra space.

Simon Says. This is a game where everybody can easily spread out, whether it’s played indoors in a large space or outside. It’s also a fun one that the whole family can play, even Grandma. 

Corn Hole. A little competition never hurt anyone and in recent years this classic lawn game has become quite trendy. Walmart has a portable version for $29.99 that you can take on road trips later, or you can make your own with this easy DIY tutorial. Again, marking off a “waiting circle” for each participant will keep them from gradually drifting too close to each other.

Water or Nerf Battle. One Facebook mom told us there’s never been a better time to let her kids play with water or Nerf guns. To extend the time spent outdoors (and set up some barriers to keep people at a distance), her family stacked boxes for barricades on either side of the driveway, placed a target stand in the middle, then spray painted them all for what she called “hours of fun.” 

Porch Karaoke. If you’ve got a smartphone or laptop, Kara Fun is a karaoke-on-the-go app with a special collection of nearly 500 kid-friendly songs. A two-day pass is only $5.99, which is great for a playdate, and a monthly pass is $9.99. Use your porch, stoop, or deck as the makeshift stage and have the kids take turns singing their hearts out. If you can get a small group together (assuming that’s allowed in your area and you’re comfortable with it) you can turn it into your own version of the TV show The Voice, complete with judges and perhaps even prizes. 

Host a DIY “Drive-In”. Our favorite new playdate idea for younger kids came from a mom who set up a drive-in movie theatre in her driveway. Start by asking each child to bring a laundry basket or kiddie pool that could double as their “car,” then start the movie either indoors or out (if you have a projector, you can watch movies against a garage or blank wall). Be sure to line up the baskets and kiddie pools so they’re six feet apart and try handing out s’mores or popcorn during the flick. 

The former Content Director at Parenting, and several other brands, Ana Connery is a writer and content strategist whose work appears in USA Today, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, Cafe Mom/The Stir, Momtastic, and others.