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Public health officials are encouraging people to engage in “social distancing” to limit the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19).   Social distancing is the conscious effort people must make to limit contact with one another.  The Centers for Disease Control recommends that people stay out of crowded public areas.  While people are encouraged to stay home as much as possible, you can go out in public so long as you can maintain six (6) to ten (10) feet between people.  These precautions have led communities to close schools, encourage working from home, and ban visits to assisted living facilities and nursing homes.

Small social gatherings may be fine in small groups of low risk individuals who have no symptoms.  However, you can be a coronavirus carrier several days before you start exhibiting symptoms.  If you carry the disease  to your loved ones who may be at high risk, like an elderly loved one who lives with you, you can be endangering them.  High risk individuals include individuals who are over the age of 60 and those with underlying medical conditions.  If you are at high risk or have a loved one who is, the CDC recommends that you take additional precautions.

Because social distancing requires limiting contact with others and eliminating contact with high risk populations for the next few weeks, families may be spending a lot of time together.  They may need to find creative ways to have contact loved ones who are at risk for severe complications due to coronavirus or to entertain across multiple generations.

To help families cope with social distancing, we compiled a list of eleven (11) activities that can help pass the time and remain connected with the outside world and our loved ones with limited risks.

  1. Communicate electronically. Even when social distancing, we can still call, email, or video call friends and families.  This will be especially beneficial to elders who are isolated for their own protections, such as those in assisted living facilities and nursing homes.  Since most schools are closed across the United States, this will also be a good time to have grandchildren talk to their elderly grandparents.  In a time of stress and panic, calling them daily can ease fear and assure each other we care.
  2. Communicate Through Letters. If you have loved ones or friends that have difficulty using the telephone or other electronic communication, write them letters or cards and mail them.  With school age children out of school, it is a good time to have children write “old fashioned” letters to aging relatives.  Draw pictures, write stories, and create poetry.  If a child is looking for inspiration, many of the other activities in this list can help inspire a beautiful picture, a poem, or an exciting letter.  All these things will be a bright spot for elderly family members who are isolated without visitors.  If you are sending the letter to a loved one who is in a facility, the letter may be delayed by a day or two ensure it is properly sanitized.
  3. Drawing for Isolated Elders. With children out of school and confined to home, they will need projects to keep them busy and engaged.  One way to keep them engaged and helping others is by having them draw pictures and write letters to the residents of local nursing homes and assisted living facilities.  With states banning visitors to these facilities to protect the residents, it is vital that these residents have social interaction.  If you are unsure of where your local assisted living facilities or nursing homes are located, an internet search will quickly located those nearest you.  Call the facility and find out how to get the drawings and letters to them and what requirements they may have.
  4. Nature Walk In Your Yard Or Neighborhood. Since so many children are out of school with only a few things to do, a nature walk can be a great way to get outside with minimal contact with others.  No matter how small your yard, balcony, or common green space nature is always present.  Describe the weather.  Spend time identifying the plants, insects, birds, and animals that are present.  There are numerous smartphone apps and websites such as iNaturalist that can be used to identify plants, animals, and insects and compare them to others in your neighborhood.  Children can keep a journal where they draw and document their finds.  Later, they can call or write an elderly loved one and tell what they have learned.
  5. Read Aloud to One Another. We are often too busy to read a good book.  If we are engaging in social distancing, there is additional time to read.  Why not read out loud to allow everyone in the family to enjoy a good story.  Whether the book is a hardbound volume on your shelf or one that is on your virtual reader, reading aloud is a good way to help children improve their reading skills, allow elders with limited eyesight to hear a good book, and give everyone a break from the stress of isolation.
  6. Take a Museum Virtual Tour. Through Google Arts and Culture you and your family can take a virtual tour of dozens of museums around the world, explore collections, and discover artifacts from ancient times.  These tours are educational and fun for everyone, regardless of age.  One of the most famous museums in the world, The Louvre, also offers a virtual tour.  In addition, more than 100 museums have created coloring books or pages of their famous works of art that can be printed and colored by everyone in the family.
  7. Take A Virtual Tour of a National Park. National Parks are a uniquely American idea and place.   Yellowstone National Park, the very first national park in the Untied States, is a common family vacation destination.  While you may not be able for visit the park this spring break because of the coronavirus, you can still take a virtual tour.  You can take a virtual tour with the whole family.  Webcams located throughout other national parks, including Glacier National Park allow you to explore American’s most beautiful lands from the comfort of your home.
  8. Explore Space and NASA. From your living room, your family can explore America’s space program and outer space through NASA’s website.  It includes photos, videos, historical information, podcasts, and virtual field trips.  Whether you and your family are interested in asteroids or Voyager, there is plenty to see and do.
  9. Online Educational Activities. With many children out of school for at least two (2) weeks, continuing additional education activities will be important.  There are several websites connected with institutes that provide educational games and activities appropriate for all ages.  The Smithsonian Institute offers a large range of educational activities associated with the Smithsonian Museums and National Zoo.  PBS Kids offers games and videos designed to help children learn from home.  The San Diego Zoo has online educational videos, games, and activities revolving around the Zoo and animal conservation.
  10. Play A Board Game. Even though online resources are abundant, human connection is still important.  Board games can be hours of multi-generational fun.  From Chutes and Ladders, to Monopoly, to Sorry, board games can be a great way to spend time with each other.
  11. Interview Each Other. With some much time to spend together, it is a good opportunity to get to know one another.  Interviewing one another about each other’s lives is an activity that any family member can participate in regardless of cognitive limitations.  Good interview questions that allow answers from every member of the family regardless of age include:
  • Who is the first president you remember?
  • What was the first vacation you remember?
  • Where is you favorite place to visit?
  • Which states have you visited?
  • Which countries have you visited?
  • What is your favorite car?
  • What is your favorite movie?
  • What is your favorite animal and why?
  • What is your favorite hobby?
  • What is the weirdest thing you have ever seen?
  • Where is the weirdest place you have ever visited?
  • What was your first pet?
  • What bands or singers have you seen in concert?
  • What is your favorite book?
  • What do you/did you want to be when you grow up?
  • What is your favorite sport?
  • Which National Parks have you visited?
  • Have you ever met any famous people? Who?
  • Who was your first teacher?
  • Who is/was your favorite teacher?

During the next few weeks, it is important that we all take precautions to protect ourselves, our families, our friends, and our colleagues.  We are here to support our community in every way we can.