Summer doesn't have to be ruined due to continued COVID-19 restrictions. These genius indoor and outdoor social distancing games keep kids 6 feet apart from friends while they play.

By Jenna Autuori Dedic
June 24, 2020
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No matter which phase your state is in when it comes to COVID-19 restrictions, social distancing orders aren't going anywhere anytime soon. That's the bad news. But the good news? It is possible for your kids to play with their friends this summer and still stay safe.

If you feel ready for friends to re-enter your child's life, start by talking to a trusted friend in your inner circle to schedule a meetup at your home or in an outdoor space, advises Jaclyn Shlisky, Psy.D, a licensed clinical psychologist in Long Island, New York. Then choose games and activities that will allow social-distancing rules to still be respected. One easy example? Dr. Shlisky suggests a game of charades since only two children are needed to play. Each will take turns acting out a word from a specific category while the other watches (from 6 feet away!) and tries to guess what it is. Keep track of points, or just play for fun!

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Worried your kid will not take kindly to directed playtime? Try explaining the "why" behind the need for them to play social distancing games. Experts from The Child Study Center at Rutgers University say kids are more likely to stick with new habits if they understand their importance, so starting off with a simple explanation of how staying apart keeps germs from spreading may help your case.

To keep the good times (safely) rolling, we rounded up dozens more fun social distancing games and activities that will keep your kiddos 6 feet apart and smiling all summer long.

Noodle Tag

  • Players: 3
  • Where to play: Outdoors
  • Best ages: Grades K – 2

How to play: Grab a few friends, more than three is ideal, and give everybody a pool noodle. When someone is "it" they have to tag their buddies by using the end of the noodle. Soft and bendy so nobody gets hurt, but also social-distanced approved so no one comes too close!

Porch Games

  • Best ages: Grades K – 8
  • Players: 2
  • Where to play: Indoors or outdoors

How to play: When your kid needs a break from the sun, set him up on the front steps or porch with their Nintendo Switch, and let their neighborhood pal set up their chair in your yard. One mom said there's no need to worry about her son getting too close to his friend, but they feel like they're doing something together and look forward to these visits.

Hello Neighbor

  • Best ages: Grades K – 5
  • Players: 2
  • Where to play: Outdoors

How to play: One mom in Westchester, New York said her kids play a game called "Hello Neighbor" where they hide an old set of keys and their opponent (the neighbor) needs to find the keys and return safely back to the front door. This is easy to play with two friends, or sets of siblings living next door to one another. (Spice it up by playing "hot and cold" with the hidden keys, which helps little ones practice the idea of opposites and refine their listening skills.)

Kick It with Kickball

  • Best ages: Grades K – 5
  • Players: 5
  • Where to play: Outdoors

How to play: A popular pastime of parents growing up in the '90s, kickball is a smart way to get a larger group of your child's buddies together (ideal for more than five). Meet at a local field so there's plenty of open space and bring your pool noodles to use as bases or for keeping the distance when kids are waiting in line to kick the ball.

Fence Freeze Dance

  • Best ages: Grades K – 2
  • Players: 3
  • Where to play: Indoors or outdoors

How to play: If your kid's best buds live next door, meet in adjoining backyards and start a game of freeze dance. It's silly enough that mom and dad may want to join in, but getting close isn't in the recipe since each child only needs the spot they're standing in. In this activity, everyone dances when the music plays and freezes as soon as the music stops—hold that position until the music starts back up again. If someone doesn't immediately freeze, order them to do something like 10 jumping jacks or five push-ups. (PE teachers will be proud.)

Simon Says (Stay 6 Feet Away!)

  • Best ages: Grades K – 2
  • Players: 4
  • Where to play: Indoors or outdoors

How to play: A study published in the journal of Early Childhood Research Quarterly suggests that this classic game, Simon Says, is the key to improving kids' chances of success in the classroom. The study found that children's ability to self-regulate is a critical element in their language and literacy development. Kids who are good at self-regulating can manage their emotions and behavior in order to achieve a specific goal. Best for kids younger than first grade, asking them to play a variation of "Simon Says" (follow instructions and do the opposite of what's asked) is fun and educational without them even knowing it.

Cookie Decorating

  • Best ages: Grades K – 2
  • Players: 2
  • Where to play: Indoors or outdoors

How to play: Even frontline workers, like one New York pediatrician, agree that socially-distanced play dates should take place. She suggests cookie decorating with kids placed at opposite ends of an outdoor dining table. Each child can have their own bowls with sprinkles, icing, and other baked goods so there's no worry about sharing germs. Then everyone gets to indulge!

Field Day

  • Best ages: Grades K – 5
  • Players: 4
  • Where to play: Outdoors

How to play: For school-aged kids, their annual field day event is the signal that summer is near and it's no doubt a bummer to have missed this year. You can recreate this beloved event and make your own field day at home and invite the neighbors to play. Try homemade competitions like the pillowcase potato sack race, "don't drop the egg" relay with spoons, and bed sheet tug of war.

Driveway Chutes and Ladders

  • Best ages: Grades K – 5
  • Players: 2
  • Where to play: Outdoors

How to play: Sketch out an oversized board game of Chutes and Ladders on your driveway using chalk—10 squares wide by 10 squares tall. The numbers of your grid should wrap around as you go from 1 to 100, then let your kids create the ladders wherever they think it'll be most fun. Add in some fun twists when you step on certain numbers, like stepping on number 10 means you do 10 jumping jacks or if you land on 95 you do five sit-ups. Use a spinner from a board game. Your kids will giggle through the game as they act as the pawns moving from spot to spot (kind of like a game of hop scotch).

Scavenger Hunts

  • Best ages: Grades K – 8
  • Players: 2
  • Where to play: Indoors or outdoors

How to play: On a rainy day, you might be tempted to just Netflix and chill with your kiddos. But Dr. Shlisky suggests the ultimate FaceTime fun for little ones by doing a scavenger hunt with an educational twist. Depending on your kids' ages (siblings on both sides of the screen can play), you can start basic with a clue like, "Find something that starts with an A, B, C ….. Z." Or you can have kids search for items they are grateful for, like something that's their favorite color. If you want to up the learning, you can use clues that start with "Search your favorite book for..." and give a list of things to find—two vivid verbs, one thing the main character wanted to do, or two adjectives.

Body Bingo

  • Best ages: Grades K – 8
  • Players: 8 – 12
  • Where to play: Indoors or outdoors

How to play: Perfect for a large group of friends the Body Bingo game is ideal for kids in grades 3 to 5 (math skills are required) but as young as Kindergarten level. Parents can print out a bingo board courtesy of the Asphalt Green Recess Enhancement Program (at asphaltgreen.org/REP). The goal is for players to complete the math problems and accompanying exercises across, down or diagonally to get Bingo. Tasks like: 5 multiplied by 3, you do that many squats or 22 plus 10 ankle circles. Your kids are staying physically fit and mentally, too!

Bust a Rhyme

  • Best ages: Grades K – 5
  • Players: 5
  • Where to play: Indoors or outdoors

How to play: Ideal for more than five players, start the Bust a Rhyme game by having all participants stand in a circle 6 feet apart. Next, choose a leader to say a word (like "cat"), then have the child to their right say a word that rhymes with it. Continue around the circle until it gets back to the leader! The next person is the leader and the game continues. If someone gets a word wrong, can't think of something or says something not in the dictionary (hey, it happens!) then all participants do five squats.

Detective

  • Best ages: Grades K – 5
  • Players: 10
  • Where to play: Indoors or outdoors

How to play: For this classic game, Have kids stand in a circle 6 feet apart, then nominate a "detective" to leave the area so they can't hear what's going on. Parents pick a leader who will start initiating movements (like jumping jacks or butt kicks) that everyone else will copy. Then the "detective" returns and stands in the middle of the circle. They have to figure out who's the leader of the group in three guesses! Next game, the leader becomes the detective and the game continues. (If the group is really big—larger than 15 —choose two leaders and two detectives.)

Storytellers

  • Best ages: Grades K – 5
  • Players: 5
  • Where to play: Indoors or outdoors

How to play: Think of this Storytellers game as Mad Libs in real life. Have players stand in a circle 6 feet apart and select one person to start as the storyteller. The storyteller then kicks off the game by either saying one word or one sentence and players around the circle add on their own word or sentence. When you get back to the storyteller, they have to retell the story and all it's add-ons! (For an extra twist, once a player says their part, make them do a physical activity like run in place or hold a position like tree pose until the circle is complete.)

Sun, Moon, Earth

  • Best ages: Grades K – 5
  • Players: 5
  • Where to play: Outdoors

How to play: For the Sun, Moon, Earth game, set up cones in a row at least 6 feet apart and designate the cones as the sun, moon, or Earth (kids can draw pictures of each to tape to the cone for added artistic fun). Have all the kids line up 6 feet apart and a parent calls out one of the three sun, moon, or Earth as kids go consecutively one after another at a fast pace. Children have to run to the sun cone, hop on two feet to the moon cone, or bear crawl to the Earth cone. If players make a mistake performing the move they have to step away and do five jumping jacks then rejoin the game.

Driveway Snowman Spelling Game

  • Best ages: Grades K – 5
  • Players: 2
  • Where to play: Outdoors

How to play: A traditional yet interactive game that encourages your child's spelling and subject knowledge, but also enjoyable—and can be played 6 feet apart! Played with two people or two teams, one side comes up with a word and draws lines in chalk on the driveway to indicate each letter in the word. The other person/team guesses a letter and if it's in the word, the other team draws it in, but if it's not in the word, a snowman gets drawn one line or body part at a time.

Line Math

  • Best ages: Grades K – 5
  • Players: 6
  • Where to play: Outdoors

How to play: Split a group of neighborhoods kids into two teams and have them sit in two lines, 6 feet apart. Place cones in the distance in a line in front of the teams and designate a number to each cone (keep it simple with 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ). A parent comes up with a list of math problems and asks a member from each time to stand up and get ready to run. The parent calls out a math problem (3+2=5 or 2x2=4), but lets the players guess the answer. They have to run as fast as they can to the correct cone—whoever is first to the correct cone gets a point. Add a twist: make players hop, run backwards, or bear crawl to the cone; for older grades, use multiplication and division.

Lawn Letter Scramble

  • Best ages: Grades K – 5
  • Players: 2
  • Where to play: Indoors or outdoors

How to play: Prep for this activity by writing the letters of the alphabet on large pieces of paper, and come up with a list of age-appropriate words for the participants. Then have your child and their friend(s) sit in your lawn in 6 feet apart spots and scramble the letters in one of your words in front of them in a line and give them a hint (person, place or thing; or Disney character, sport, name of a state). One child gets up at a time to move one letter to its correct spot. For every word that can't be figured out, tell players they must do something silly like dance in place for one minute.

The Maze

  • Best ages: Grades K – 5
  • Players: 2
  • Where to play: Indoors

How to play: Use painters tape and crepe paper streamers, construct a zig-zagging maze down the hall. Just attach to your walls from one side to the other in any order variation. The tape or paper should create a maze so the kids playing have to try to get from one end to the other without breaking the tape or paper in a designated amount of time (30 seconds to one minute). One player goes through the maze while the other players wait in a socially-distanced appropriate line until they each get to try it alone.

Fence Art

  • Best ages: Grades K – 5
  • Players: 2
  • Where to play: Outdoors

How to play: Leave inspiring messages for neighbors and friends with fence art. Whether your child has one friend or many coming over, create individual art stations around a large outdoor table or sitting in a circle in your driveway. All you need is construction paper, markers, paint, and paper plates for designing "fence flowers". To make one: cut small slits into the parameter of a paper plate, color your plate like your favorite flowers, and then make a small hole in the middle of the plate. Place a piece of string through the center hole and tie your flower plate to your fence. Everyone driving will look twice when they see!

Lab Rats

  • Best ages: Grades K – 5
  • Players: 2
  • Where to play: Outdoors

How to play: Turn the backyard into a science lab! The Awesome Science Experiments For Kids has 105 science experiments to choose from that involve materials you have around your house or can easily and inexpensively find at the store. Your little scientists—as many neighbors and friends that can safely sit 6 feet apart—can help construct their own experiment and see results in minutes.

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