Lockdown rules put tight restrictions on what we can do outdoors. We’re not supposed to go out to the park unless it’s for exercise. But what counts as ‘exercise’? The lines blur somewhat when you have younger children who aren’t necessarily going to want to kick a ball or go for a jog. Here are a few ideas for getting them active while also having a bit of outdoor fun.
The simple idea here is to see how quickly your child can run between two fixed points. Then attempt the same run on the following day, and the next, each time trying to break their ‘personal best’ You can do this almost anywhere: between two sets of goal posts and back; from one oak tree to another; three times round the mulberry bush -- whatever works best in your local park. Alternatively, do exactly the same but while dribbling a football or riding a bike (over a longer distance, and away from pedestrians).
This works best if your child has a set of related action figures or dolls (plastic so they wipe clean). You need to find a quiet corner of a park, then hide the action figures behind trees or in long grass. Then designate a central-ish spot to serve as ‘rescue base’. Your child runs around the area trying to locate and ‘rescue’ the toys. After each discovery, they have to sprint back to base with the rescued toy, before dashing back out again to find the others. Remember to keep walking round the area yourself, otherwise you might be accused of not exercising!
Walk Through The Alphabet
This one works best while out for a walk. The idea is to work through the alphabet, spotting objects that begin with each letter. “Ash tree!’, “bottle top”, “cat”, “dog poo… eurgh!”, etc. This activity combines physical exercise with observation and wordplay, so you can also count it as a bonus lesson in your child’s home-schooling.
In a similar vein, turn your walks into a bit of a treasure hunt. Before you set out, note down 10 or 12 things that the kids might be able to spy on a walk around the area. Then, see how many they can find. If you want inspiration, here’s a checklist we put together for the summer months, and one for a garden scavenger hunt.
Do What The Captain Says!
You are the captain, they are your deck hands. As you stroll around the park, give the kids orders to follow -- ones that’ll have them running off on short missions. “Deck hands: fetch me a stick”; “Go see if there are any scurvy dogs hiding behind that tree”; “Yargh! I’ve heard there be treasure hidden round the back of that hawthorn. Go report back, me hearties”. They’ll enjoy the directed exercise, and you’ll enjoy doing the pirate impression.
You could always fall back on the tried-and-tested games over every childhood. Tag, piggy in the middle, follow my leader, skipping, frisbee… we’ve previously rounded up some of the simplest outdoor games that require no, or very little, equipment.
Every Street In Town
This idea involves nothing more complicated than going for a daily walk. But instead of taking the same route, plan ahead so that you take in roads you seldom walk along. Print out a map of your local area, then mark off with highlighter every road you’ve walked down. Try to fill them all in over a set period of one or two weeks. The law is vague on how far you’re allowed to stray from home, so long as you stay in your local village, town or city area.
Although originally from the Midlands, and trained as a biochemist, Matt has somehow found himself writing about London for a living. He's a former editor and long-time contributor to Londonist.com and has written several books about the capital. He's also the father of two preschoolers.