Editor’s note: This post was updated on April 15, 2020.
Parents and children entered a strange new reality this week with schools shutting, recreational facilities locking their doors, and a sudden stop to organized sports nationwide.
There are currently many public health measures to reduce and delay the transmission of COVID-19 in communities, but that doesn’t mean that we have to stay indoors or stop being active.
In fact, this is a great time to make movement a priority to keep your body and mind healthy, and to try to reach the 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity per day recommended in the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines.
Our family is just one of millions who are feeling the strain as we try to organize ourselves and figure out what activities are both safe and responsible.
One thing we’ve been doing multiple times a day is going for walks around our neighbourhood—while maintaining a distance of at least two metres (six feet) from others we meet.
You might be asking: “Can going for a walk really make a difference in the health and well-being of our family?”
Walking is a full-body movement that helps with balance, rhythm, posture, and muscular strength; can reduce depression; and requires no special equipment other than a good pair of shoes. Walking outdoors you’ll also get the added benefits of vitamin D, improve your attention span, and reduce feelings of stress (something we all certainly need right now!).
Going outside will also put a halt to the kids using the couch as a parkour course!
But while I could walk all day, my boys (11 and seven) are finding it’s getting repetitive. The complaining has started.
“A walk? AGAIN!?”
Thankfully, there are different activities we can do as we stride along. Here are some ideas I’ll be trying in the weeks to come:
Participate in a window walk
This first one is a favourite! With schools closed on Saint Patrick’s Day this year, kids around the country got crafty and decorated the windows and doors of their homes with shamrocks for others to spot as they strolled the neighbourhood. The “Shamrock Hunt” — inspired by an American social media post that went viral — proved so popular that community groups and municipalities began encouraging similar events by sharing a list of dates and themes, including animals on March 23 and Easter eggs on April 4.
In Orléans, Ont., several local Facebook groups created Shamrock events and promoted the idea on their pages. I spoke to an organizer in one of the groups dedicated to these window walks, which has been growing by the hour. It first started as a shamrock hunt event organized by Amanda Hope, and then Andrea Overhoff volunteered to start the online group to keep things organized.
“The original shamrock event I think was 600 people,” said Overhoff. “People loved it and are excited to participate in future events as it gives them a purpose and something to participate in during these difficult times.”
In Quebec, there are similar events popping up called “le rallye arc-en-ciel” that invite residents to display a rainbow in their window or door.
Just make sure to follow Health Canada guidelines on social distancing during your walk and wave to kids you might see in the windows!
9 more ways to add fun to your walk
Here are some other activities you can try on your neighbourhood walks to keep things interesting and everyone active:
1. Explore the senses
Walking around the block with a toddler can take hours because there’s always something new. Explore and talk about different senses as they touch the grass poking through the snow, listen for trains and airplanes, or smell fallen pine needles.
2. Inspect nature
Bring along an inexpensive magnifying glass so kids can peer at a raindrop or inspect insects and nature they might meet. “Hello Mr. Ant!”
3. Take pictures
Give them an old camera or cell phone, or help them use yours to take themed pictures, or just snap ones that interest them. When you get home, you can upload and print them into a storybook.
4. Create a piece of art with nature rubbings
A pocket full of crayons, some paper, the sidewalk, a leaf, or bark. Tada!
5. Turn your ordinary walk into an obstacle course
Leap over the sidewalk cracks. Play follow the leader over a bench. Run a lap around the light pole. Skip to the sidewalk. Red light, stop. Green light, GO!
6. Go on a mission
Print out a neighbourhood scavenger hunt, and let them be detectives of their surroundings. I like these two that combine everyday objects with nature.
7. Use a pedometer
My oldest is mighty competitive, and trying to get more steps than his brother is plenty of motivation to get him moving.
You can also guess how many steps it takes to walk a certain distance or track your steps in a journal and add it up at the end if the week. Bonus math lesson!
8. Get out your inner animals
9. Leave signs of hope
Bring along some chalk and write messages on the sidewalk, draw an uplifting rainbow, or sketch out a hopscotch game. Not only will it be fun for you and your littles, but the next people to come along also get to enjoy the artwork and games!