Playing During Pandemic – Part One – Essentials

Mo Major plays in the back yard with his children Max, 5, and Marley, 4, in Mount Vernon, New York. — John Moore / CNN Photo John Moore

While I’ve written books hundreds of articles on children’s play, none of those offer succinct and developmentally sound recommendations that are appropriate for these times. I can’t be comprehensive here as that would be a book-length effort, but I can give you some ideas you can do right now to get your kids active and help them thrive. I will share these ideas in several posts over the coming days, so like this post to get the full story.


There are no toys or play equipment that is more fun or more beneficial than other kids to play with. This means that families will eventually form trusted cohorts where they can allow their children to play together. This trend will emerge gradually as we achieve community spread and sufficient reliable testing. This means that whatever you do now to provide play experiences for your children should be scalable to accommodate several children later on.

The issue of social play for your child is an intensely personal choice. I would not dream of making a recommendation except to note that this a very active discussion that you can access locally and online. The photo above is from a good example;

Since the goal is getting kids active and outdoors, we should think about ways to “gamify” their play. Here’s an example. Arrange for a playmate’s family to create similar challenges in their backyard. An obstacle course will do nicely. A measured distance to do a timed run is another example. Then video their activities to share back and forth. While you can start this sharing process, let the kids come up with their contests as soon as possible.

Bang for the Buck

In my practice as a play systems designer, I use the rule that everything must serve as many functions as possible. Kids master challenges at a prodigious rate, so finding recourses that can be reconfigured, repurposed, and made more complex is the key. As we go through proposed equipment, we will give suggestions for multiple uses. Of course, kids will find many more ways to use things, but if we start with flexible use materials that will be easier for them.

Save Bucks

In my experience, the worst thing parent do is spend too much money to provide play stuff for their children. This is especially true with active play and constructive play where low cost and disposable stuff work best. It also eliminates the sort of problem that I hear too often that sounds a lot like, “Hey, we spent $3,000 on that playset, and by God, you’re going to play on it.”

It’s Not Swings and Slides

While playgrounds are great, they don’t do a great job meeting all of the children’s developmental needs. Rather than talk about equipment, we will couch our suggestions based on the aspects of physical and neurological development. In this way, you can extrapolate from the examples to come up with local resources to provide the same benefits.

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