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Social Distancing with Outdoor Activities in Early Learning Programs

Early learning centers are re-opening after closures from COVID-19 with the goal of keeping children as safe and healthy as possible. This means making big changes to classrooms, curriculum, and the activities that children will be engaging in while they are at school. Effective safety practices include social distancing, avoiding shared materials, and moving as many activities as possible to outside spaces.

In this article we list activities for even the youngest children in your care that encourage engaged, creative play while safely social distancing:


Simple Outdoor Sensory Exploration

No toys? No problem! With the littlest learners, getting outside to explore the sights, sounds, and texture in nature is a fun experience in itself! Bring infants outside without shoes to feel the sand and grass between their fingers and toes. If you have a blanket available, set it up under a shady tree where the infant can practice tummy time while looking around at all of the interesting sights. Or, help the infant lie on his or her back to look up at the leaves in the trees. Because it’s warm outside, you’ll need to be careful of the baby’s skin. Make sure you have sunscreen or a wide-brimmed, protective hat. Click here to find more information about how to get the most out of outdoor play with infants.

Nature Sensory Bag Suncatcher

Sensory bags are easy-to-make, low-budget, and a wonderful way for infants to safely explore different textures. Using large ziploc bags and hair gel, you can add a variety of natural materials for infants to investigate! To keep infants safe from spreading germs, you might consider making several bags and having individual ones for each child. They can be stored in their cubbies for easy grab and go access! Click here to find quick instructions to make your own sensory bags.

Toddlers love messy, sensory art projects that use unusual materials — especially ones that give them a fun chance to slap paint and watch it splatter! For this art project, you will need large sheets of paper, or recycled cardboard, and several fly swatters (to ensure one for each child so sharing won’t be necessary). Set the toddlers up with some big globs of paint and let them smash, hit, and squish using their swatters. Click here for more detailed instructions for setting up this activity.

DIY Balance Beam

Using scrap pieces of wood, make a balance beam for toddlers to walk on one at a time. This is a great opportunity for toddlers to practice gross motor skills, in a way that is socially distanced and safe from their peers. Be sure to set the wood pieces up on the grass, or another soft area in case the children slip. Click here to see more detailed instructions.
*Quick tip: This activity can also be set up using a pool noodle, if you don’t have any wood available, but children will need something to hold onto for added stability.

Preschoolers & Pre-K

Sidewalk Chalk Shadow Art

Image via Rhythms of Play

Invite children to trace their shadows with chalk for a creative and engaging STEAM activity. After children’s shadows have been outlined, they can be filled in with regular sidewalk chalk, or with chalk paint. To keep this activity safe, make sure that children are spaced apart from one another when they begin tracing their shadows to make sure that they will be at a safe distance from one another while they fill them in. You can make individual bags and sets of chalk that are labeled with children’s names to avoid sharing.

Shaving Cream and Blocks Building

Image via Happy Hooligans

Playing outside is a great time for children to get messy. Using foam blocks and shaving cream, children can enjoy a playful STEM activity that incorporates building, problem solving, and creativity. Set up distanced stations for children, each with its own shaving cream, blocks, and spreading knife. Encourage children to use the shaving cream to help the blocks stick together, and see what kinds of fun buildings they create! For more detailed information on this activity, click here.

If you have playdough available and access to the outdoors, you can set up this quick activity that will give children a fun opportunity to engage with natural materials. You can collect the nature items yourself, or take a few children at a time out for a walk to collect leaves, sticks, and flowers for their impressions. Then, give each child some playdough and encourage them to place their nature items in the playdough to make prints.  This activity gives children a chance to investigate the unique details of each item.  You’ll want to give each child her own items from nature as well as a unique spot to sit that is socially distanced from the other children. Click here for more detailed instructions to set up this activity.

Rock Painting

Painting rocks is a low-budget, individual activity that can be enjoyed with toddlers and older infants. Look outside for some large, flat stones and offer them to children with paintbrushes. You can use tempera paint, or even just water! Keep each child’s rocks and paint brushes in a separate bag or container to prevent spreading germs. Click here to find more details and ideas for this activity.

Ice Cube Painting

Using an ice cube tray, food coloring, flour, and popsicle sticks, you can make simple ice cube paints that will be a fun sensory and art experience for young children. Not only is this paint fun, but it is safe for curious little ones to eat. The popsicle sticks make this a single-use activity, so they can be tossed when finished. No need to sanitize or save for later use! Click here for detailed instructions to set up this activity.

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