Like many of you, I heard Gov. Eric Holcomb’s address last Monday instructing Hoosiers to stay at home for the next two weeks to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

If your gut reaction was, “What will I do with the kids all afternoon?,” I have some great news for you. Go outside!

Social distancing and a stay-at-home order do not prevent you from going outside of your home to get some fresh air and sunshine. It just limits where you can go to do it. Think about your possibilities: backyard, front yard, porch, sidewalk and driveway. For some of you this adds up to acres of space, and, for others, just a few hundred square feet. Whatever you space, use it well and use it often!

There are many ways to experience nature play at home — many are fun and entertaining for all ages. I want to encourage you to use what you already have on hand, and choose long-term reusable options whenever available so these activities can provide your family more than two weeks of entertainment.

Nature Art: Take your kids outside with a basket or box and gather up all the loose nature items you see: sticks, pinecones, interesting leaves, rocks and pebbles. Now, decide what kind of art you want to make. Freestyle art is letting the kids choose what to create, like a flower or a fairy house. Focused art is good for older children and adults. For this you need to find a famous painting or other artwork and try to recreate it with the natural objects from your box. It can be as simple as Eric Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” or as complex as Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” Every day try a different picture.

Outdoor play is good for us both physically and mentally. Your family can play with sidewalk chalk, play tic-tac-toe on the driveway, or practice making and following trail signs around the backyard.

I know your kids miss their friends, but this is not the time to see them in person. You can, however, text their parents pictures of your nature play ideas and have a friendly competition of sidewalk or nature art.

Another option: While it is still too early to direct sow seeds for this year, you can start some flowers or vegetables in mini greenhouses you make out of all those empty milk jugs and juice bottles in your recycle bin. For instructions, search “winter sowing.”

We do not know how long this will last, so start thinking about long-term, at-home outdoor ways to entertain your kids and yourself after e-learning is finished for this school year. The National Wildlife Federation put together a resource in 2012 to help you. Go to natureplayandlearningplaces.org, click on resources, then Nature Play at Home.

Play outside, stay healthy!

Carol Emmert lives in Anderson. She is a founding director of Heart of the River Coalition.

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