Around the middle of March—when there’s still a mix of slush, dirt, and salt coating the streets and I’m really just over it—I like to write up our family’s annual “summer bucket list.”
Swimming lessons and soccer? Absolutely.
A weekend of rustic camping in
How about a beach trip with the extended family? Yeah!
But this summer won’t be like past years. The kids’ programs and lessons have been modified or canceled due to COVID-19. There won’t be a lakeside family reunion. And popular outdoor spots were overcrowded before school’s online classes had even ended.
So, what now?
Well, instead of dwelling on what we can’t do, we’re going to use the next two months of unscheduled days as an opportunity.
It’s going to be the summer of trying new things.
This summer of “new” doesn’t mean that we’re going to spend a ton of money on toys and equipment. Instead, we’ve made a makeshift basketball net out of an old barrel and plastic bin.
Little-used baseball equipment has been resurrected from the garage for batting practice in a nearby field, and we’ve been exploring our neighbourhood in search of fresh asphalt for smooth inline skating and skateboarding.
Two things I did purchase include a second-hand Swingball set that I was lucky to score for $10, and an inexpensive kayak—since this summer seems like an ideal time to explore the lakes and river near us.
There’s also plenty of time for unstructured free play like catching (and releasing) minnows in the nearby river, finding the best climbing tree, and relishing lazy evenings spent kite-flying and lying in the grass watching the setting sun: “The sky looks like cotton candy tonight!”
Related read: Free play is the best summer school!
Sales of bikes, scooters, and outdoor equipment are up
It seems we’re not the only ones enjoying new ways of staying physically active. Trails and parks are busy with families relishing a much-needed nature connection, and sales of backyard toys and outdoor sports equipment are booming as parents and kids find new hobbies and activities that engage their minds and bodies.
There’s less motor vehicle traffic now that so many people are working from home. Retailers from Canada to Australia are having trouble keeping bikes in stock as new riders take advantage of quiet streets, or head to nearby trails.
“We have witnessed some phenomenal consumer increase in the mountain bike market, with most stores and suppliers selling out of mountain bike-related goods before the end of spring,” Jason Mclean from PRFO Sports tells Active for Life.
“There has also been a significant increase in everything adventure and camping related. Looks like local road-tripping and car camping will be atop many people’s lists this summer.”
“The kids love how fast they can go—to the point I have to speed walk or jog to catch up to them on occasion,” says Iwata.
“Their friends have seen how much my girls like their scooters and have bought their own. So now we have social distancing scooter playdates around the neighborhood! I think the kids love their new modes of transport because they’re able to keep up with their friends of all ages and abilities.”
“I like that they are learning better balance and coordination with the steering and braking,” Iwata adds. “Now I just have to teach them to use their other leg once in a while to balance their muscle motor movements.”
Sharing the streets with bikes and scooters are kids and teens on inline skates. Inline skating has seen a huge surge in popularity, with hockey players, ice skaters, and skiers strapping them on to maintain movement skills and build strength.
At the end of April, Tom Hyser, product marketing manager at Rollerblade, told Powder that since the beginning of March, inline skates had seen at least a 300 percent increase in demand.
“Ever since the COVID-19 outbreak, we’ve been getting constant calls from retailers asking us to send more skates,” he said. “It’s a great way for people to get outside while still keeping their distance.”
Related read: How playing multiple sports is good for your kids
Why not give a slackline, or juggling, a try?
Chris Wright, manager of physical literacy development at the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence, offers more suggestions for fun activities kids and families can try this summer.
“Slacklines can be purchased relatively cheaply and are a fantastic way to develop balance, coordination, strength, and concentration skills,” he says.
“Ideally, you need two trees to put the line up between; if you can find that perfect spot it is an amazing way to keep fit, stay distanced from others but also be social at the same time.”
Wright shared his inexpensive backyard slackline adaptations (which I’m going to try in my own yard!): “I created a swing for our slackline using a 2×6 piece of wood and rope. It holds my 4 1/2-year-old and I have stood on it as well and it seemed to do okay. I’ve also taken some rock climbing holds that I had and screwed them into the tree to assist with climbing. It has been a great addition and the kids now climb up the tree and then hang off the elevated slackline.”
Another activity Wright suggests is juggling, which can be done using scarves, tissues, plastic bags filled with rice, or bean bags. You can purchase juggling balls online, and find great tutorials on YouTube.
“Juggling has many benefits and is a great way to develop hand speed, peripheral vision, ball tracking, anticipation, and many other traits also integral to skill and sport development.”
“Three balls can be challenging, so starting with two is beneficial. One of the best ways to develop juggling skills is ensuring that both right and left hand can throw the same arc consistently, which takes a lot of practice.”
Besides being fun, trying out a variety of sports and activities will help develop physical literacy and grow kids’ movement skills and confidence.
Is your family planning on trying out a new sport, activity, or adventure this summer? Let us know in the comments—then grab the sunscreen and get out there!
Photos of two boys courtesy of Christine Latreille. Photo of the Iwata girls courtesy of Jennifer Iwata.