Covid safe socializing during winter for kids
September 17, 2020 5:59 AM   Subscribe

I have a kid (middle-school age) desperate for in-person time with their peers. During the summer we were able to have safe meet-ups with other kids outdoors. But I live in the Northeast and winter means potentially endless months of harsh weather. The kids are all on-line and using screens during school hours, so I’m hoping to come up with non-virtual meet-ups. Any thoughts?
posted by Phyllis keeps a tight rein to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
How do these kids feel about spending time outside? They could go sledding, ice skate at an outdoor rink, build things out of snow, have a snowball or Nerf gun battle, have a bonfire or cook over a smaller fire, snowshoe or ski.

If they would rather be inside, a meetup at the mall, with masks, would probably be pretty safe.
posted by Redstart at 7:10 AM on September 17, 2020 [5 favorites]

I grew up playing outdoors down to -2 F (any colder and the school would finally let us have indoor recess). Do things that keep you moving. Maybe the grownups can have hot chocolate or tea ready in a thermos?
posted by airmail at 7:15 AM on September 17, 2020 [4 favorites]

As you evaluate options, I highly recommend using

It helps you evaluate the worth of number of people, masks vs no masks, indoor vs outdoor, etc.

Long story short, hanging out outside reduces the chances of transmission by 20x. The time spent together, the amount of exposure by participant, and number of people in a room are also large factors in risk.
posted by bbqturtle at 7:50 AM on September 17, 2020 [9 favorites]

Lots of public land in New England is open year-round: would they hike on trails? We do that sometimes. You can stay well apart, but still share an experience and talk.

Are your local libraries doing any in-person programs? I believe that the teen librarian in my town is eager to bring her programming back to the library (from online only), using the larger meeting rooms so kids are separated by several meters.

There is a chain of climbing gyms called Rock Spot in Rhode Island & metro south that are back open: because of chalk dust they scrub the air constantly, and you all have to climb on your own course up the walls so no one is too close together. They're good people, we have done Scouting events there before, and they even have an adaptive climbing guy (named Big Matt) on staff.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:52 AM on September 17, 2020

Best answer: Many kids simply do not have suitable outdoor clothing any more. If you get brand names it can run to several hundred and when they are only going to run from the car into buildings it is not necessary. But a lot of kids have gotten more freedom to roam outside this summer (depending on your area) than they had in the previous years so they may be more interested in out door activities. Your biggest problem will be getting the buy in from the other parents and other kids.

Look for large empty indoor spaces that are not being used and which are not a place adults congregate. An example in Montreal would be the chalet on the mountain. It's a central meeting place open to the public where there is parking and the kids can be indoors on days when it is windy or wet, but there will not be a concentration of people using the space to make social distancing impossible. Another example would be a disused indoor rink until the ice goes down, or that indoor mall where most of the stores went out of business so one whole level gets no traffic. You may find that there is an indoor area suitable at an inconvenient time of day for most people, and find it worth it for the kids to meet up and hang out there from seven am until nine am with you sitting to one side using the lap top until the ordinary people of the day start to arrive.

Check out the local university. Many of the students may be doing virtual learning so that there are amenities on the campus that are not in use in the mornings. Covered bleachers for example have scope for being a place that the kids can hang out through November and into December.

For free range kids parking garages that are underused are popular as they provide some shelter from the wind and protection from rain. However I can't see you getting a buy in from the other parents on an area like that.

Another possibility is a local park that has shelters for picnic tables. Once the weather gets cold they make a good base for active kids.

You can try to get a buy in from the other families by organizing activities. If the kids are on distance learning or home schooling, organizing a weekly geocaching party might go over well with everybody and get them safely outside and moving. Other parents may be driven batty by having their kids at home and leap at the idea of some adult supervised out door activities. If you get two other parents to participate you could set it up as a regular thing where you take the kids as a group outdoors every Tuesday (and make up the missed work on Saturday) and one parent takes the kids to an activity Saturday and another parent takes the kids on Sunday.

To make it as safe as possible meet in the outdoor location, drop your kid off in the care of the other parent and the kid group and then pick up out doors, so it is really only the kids and the parent on duty meeting outside.

Keep in mind that your child may only really know kids in their own grade at school and only expect to hang out with them. But groups that involve slightly older and younger siblings used to be the norm and are much better for helping all the kids develop social skills. So a group that involves the nine year old, eleven year old and thirteen year old from one family, your kid, and the twelve year old and ten year old from another family makes quite a gang with lots of potential but still only involves three families. Whether that helps prevent Covid transmission is one thing, but what it does is make the logistics easier for the kids and the parents. You only have to talk to two people when arranging things, and it is less likely to lead to friendship break-ups, where a group of three onlies can lead to one kid being the odd one out and not wanting to meet up any more.

Thinking of organized activities such as kickball, geocaching, a run around the lake, bird spotting, etc make it more likely to get people to buy in, even if when the kids are out there they neither run, nor actually bother to look for the geocaches. As long as the kids are entertaining themselves your activity is not the important thing. It just gives people a better reason for the kids to meet than "hang out together" Get suggestions from your kid. You don't want anything that costs a ton of money, but something as simple as stomping out an enormous figure in the snow of a flat field gives the group purpose. Look up the games people used to play outdoors in the winter and seriously consider trying to source skates, if there are any outdoor or ice that is verifiably thick enough to take multiple people, or cross country skies. Lightweight plastic toboggans are cheap and can provide a lot of fun and utility for active kids.

If anyone has an enormous back yard, that can be used for some more weeks, especially if a dining fly or pavilion tent can be put up so the kids can stash back packs and have a slightly sheltered place to stop moving for awhile. If you have any parent in your kid's friend group willing to put up a shelter like that and allow out door meet-ups treat them like gold and do everything you can to make it easier on them.

If you can work from a laptop in the car you can hang out very near, ready to assist with anything and supervise but still actually do some work and not interact with anyone except your own kid unless necessary.

Once the snow hits you can organize activities like sledding. Much depends on how much snow you get. It is still possible to play ball on hard frozen ground but not so much if the ground is covered in lumpy semi-trampled snow. People used to shovel areas to play outside back in the day - out door rinks had to be either shoveled or swept and it was a lot of work. This is something that might potentially be delegated to the kids. They used to bring their shovels down to the out door rink and shovel it off themselves with push scoops; when it had snowed they would show up forty-five minutes early before the hockey game to prepare the surface.

Cold weather is not nearly so hard to prepare for and cope with as transition weather where it is wet. Once the feet get wet and the boots are soggy kids become too cold to keep going and need to head home. For this reason it is smart to have spare boots and socks, as well as spare hats and mitts and kids dressed in layers. When we played outdoors we used to run inside just long enough to get fresh gear and then back outside again.

If you review the basic safety rules around hypothermia and do periodic wellness checks it will keep the kids safer and reassure the other parents. You cannot trust every twelve year old to come home or complain once their feet begin to freeze if it means having to leave their friends, so you have to keep tabs on them and make sure they aren't in significant pain and toughing it out.

Patio heaters are pretty much sold out everywhere but they can also be used to shorten the can't-hang-out-outside season by a week or two at either end.

If the kids are old enough to be left alone at home that makes it harder. Otherwise you can set up arrangements with other parents that when they need to go out to run errands or have appointments they can bring their kid to yours and you will supervise them outdoors until the errand is done. This can be very helpful for all parents and kids concerned, and where the meet-up might be only for an hour or two and have to be quite impromptu, if you can be flexible enough to drop everything, this is a viable way to introduce some in person contact. If your kid can meet with another kid for only forty-five minutes in the morning and half an hour in the afternoon for outdoor activities before they get too cold it is still very worthwhile.

The big thing will be getting in touch with the parents and keeping communication going. I'd try and contact all the families that have potential parents. Your kids three first choice friends may not be available, but his fifth choice kid may have parents who will leap at the chance and the kids might become much closer after a few more meet-ups.
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:28 AM on September 17, 2020 [15 favorites]

I’m in MA and I actually prefer to hike in the winter: fewer ticks, no poison ivy, and no heat and humidity! You need appropriate clothing and, potentially, some chemical hand warmers and a thermos for hot drinks.

I’m hoping to keep my own kids socializing outside as long as possible. My son is actually in outdoor pre-K for the year and the only thing they do indoors is eat lunch on miserable days, otherwise it’s layers and rain gear and out they go!
posted by lydhre at 8:49 AM on September 17, 2020 [3 favorites]

Toronto's snow is sort of iffy at best - we tend to have a lot of freeze/thaw cycles that result in ice.

That said this is what parents in my parenting group are discussing:
- evening/nighttime snow walks, which can be magical
- "who's getting snowshoes? Thinking of organizing weekly meet ups in parks"
- sledding and skating are kind of givens

The Art Gallery of Ontario insists it is safely distanced and a lot of its spaces are grand but...I am not convinced. If I were, this would be my top pick for my kids to meet up with friends.

I love the bonfire idea, I might have to invest in one of those open fire pit things...I'm not actually sure they are legal but I'll find out.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:19 AM on September 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have a kid (middle-school age) desperate for in-person time with their peers.
Desperate enough to wear weather-appropriate clothing? I'd check in with other parents and see if you can rally your kids to figure out what heavy, lined boots and outdoor gear they are willing to wear if it means they can keep meeting up outside. If there's a parent who is tight on money, maybe other parents can discretely help out buying one or two things for that family, if they're up for that. I can see a way to make this semi-fun and adventurous.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:54 AM on September 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Jane the Brown: Look for large empty indoor spaces that are not being used and which are not a place adults congregate.

In other words: go hang out at the mall!
posted by wenestvedt at 10:44 AM on September 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

You don't need to buy a North Face ski jacket or other expensive clothes to do winter activities. My go-to cool weather (down to 0C) activity clothes are a windbreaker on top of a thin down vest on top of a warm base layer. If it is colder than that I'll replace the windbreaker with my Uniqlo ultralight down jacket. These are all items that most people would wear in the fall instead of winter, but layering them means you'll be warm enough in the cold and as your body heats up you can potentially remove a layer too. For bottoms It'll be hiking pants or wind-pants, possibly with long underwear underneath if it is really cold. You do need to put more consideration into gloves as you can't really make do with layers of your existing stuff.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:48 AM on September 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

As a kid growing up in New England, winter was the best! My siblings and I all loved playing outside in the snow (and even just when it was cold), so long as we had decent enough gloves/coats/hats/snow pants/etc.). In person socializing *outdoors* in winter should not be difficult so long as the parents can invest in some nice outdoor clothing for their youngsters.
posted by aecorwin at 1:41 PM on September 17, 2020

We live in Duluth, and bonfires are the thing this fall/winter. (I've been seeing lots of folks hanging out around a fire dish. There were three in the neighborhood last night.)

Luckily, most kids around here have appropriate clothing for hanging around outside, and used outdoor play clothes are always being passed around. (And it's not about expense, but rather layers and mittens and waterproof outers.) I'm meeting with a sixth grade homeschool pod around a fire once a week. And though some parents are worried about the cold, I've told them that as long as it isn't actually snowing or windy, I think we can carry on. Last night they got a little chilly, and I challenged them to race each other around the block. They loved it. Then they played Ghost in the Graveyard until their parents came. I see SO MANY kids outside this year. Friluftsliv is where it's gonna be at.

They were so happy to hang out together, and it's very soothing to be around a fire. We talked about handling stress, entering sixth grade, how weird things are, and then we talked about local history and books and stuff. We're going to be reading local literature, and they really love the idea of sitting around a fire and reading together, interspersed with outdoor activities.
posted by RedEmma at 2:04 PM on September 17, 2020 [3 favorites]

PLAY OUTSIDE. For heaven's sake. There is no reason they can't meet up, hike, play a game, hang out around a firepit, have a BBQ outdoors.

Don't get super hungup on technical specs for clothing. Layering is the strategy. Go to a thrift or secondhand store and stock up on leggings/tights/long johns - 2 layers on the legs adds hours to comfortable outdoor time. On top, a light underneath layer, a long-sleeve pullover or sweater, and a warm fleece or wool sweater, under a down vest or light water-resistant jacket, takes care of it. Always have a hat and gloves.

I've spent lots of time - full days - outdoors with kids in Northern New England. Properly dressed, cold is not an issue. Take on the challenge, be hearty, be outdoorsy.
posted by Miko at 8:55 PM on September 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yeah, Red Emma, having fires is very good. My small, Rhode Island suburb actually has a thing going to get the town council to regulate them, so that they are explicitly allowed (and distinct from a backyard burn barrel).

My teens are happy to hang out and tend to it themselves, though sometimes they will permit adults to approach if they bring s'mores ingredients.

Which reminds me: have you seen a Fryin' Saucer? My parents in St. Paul have one, and it is wild: the last time we were in town and used it, we ended up cooking basically everything not nailed down from the kitchen & pantry. The kids ate it all!
posted by wenestvedt at 5:50 AM on September 18, 2020

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