10 Socially Distant Outdoor Family Activities

By Julie A Cajigas

As a mother who traipses all over town, exposing my children to cultural, musical, outdoor or athletic experiences pretty much every free moment we have as a family, COVID-19 has really stifled my spirit. After spending a lot of March and much of April feeling downright claustrophobic, I finally escaped the bounds of my driveway with my two children to watch the Lyrid meteor shower in a field at 3 a.m. 

Since then, I’ve been busy seeking experiences and outlets for our wanderlust that don’t send me into a hot panic. I thought I’d share a few of them, in case anyone else is itching to get out while being just as strict about social distancing. 

Here are some activities that have kept me sane, and a few that I haven’t tried yet, but are on my list: 

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Teacher David Palomo of Music Together Summit, holding a trial socially distant outdoor session.

  1. Music Together Summit, Fairlawn – Music Together uses parent modeling to teach children the basics of rhythm, melody and harmony and instill in them a lifelong love of music. To keep making music together during COVID-19, Music Together Summit is holding socially distanced outdoor music classes. We have attended a few practice sessions, and I can confirm that even I, social distance Sally, feel safe. Each family brings their own blanket, homemade instruments, scarves and voices to a local park. Parents sing, dance and play along with their children, in this case, on an isolated blanket in the park. Families who register for a full session get a book, CD and access to a smartphone app with all the songs to listen, sing and play at home throughout the session. Online-only options are also available for families with more strict distancing preferences.  Visit www.musictogethersummit.com to sign up for a drop-in class, or to look into the fall semester. For fall, the teachers plan to begin with socially distanced outside sessions and move online when the weather turns chilly.
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My son, Jameson, playing our drums and shakers from home.

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Our first trip to the Auto-Rama in May.

  1. The Drive-in Movies – The Auto-Rama Twin Drive-In Theatre in North Ridgeville is a bit of a drive, but they have taken many precautions to protect moviegoers from COVID-19, and show two double features every night. They have doubled the space available to each car, and are requiring masks in all public spaces. To help with distance, they are allowing outside food and the concession stand, which has pizza, chicken fingers, cheeseburgers and a lot of other unexpected treats. The stand is one-way and marked for social distance. It’s been fun taking our children to see our childhood favorites that they never had the opportunity to see on the big screen like Ghostbusters, The Neverending Story and Jurassic Park. We’ve also parked next to family and friends and let the kids say hi with masks on. Adults space our lawn chairs 6 feet apart and enjoyed some classics under the stars. The Auto-Rama operates through Halloween and may extend operations this year. 
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Hazel and Jameson enjoying the Auto-Rama from the safety of the car.

  1. Private Movie Showings – If the drive-in isn’t your thing, and you miss the cool dark and pumped in popcorn smells of the theatre, Cinemark North Canton is offering private showings of some “fan-favorite” films starting at $99. Select a classic film of your choice, including some modern classics like The Matrix, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Back to the Future. 
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Hazel and Jameson watching the Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower on May 5, 2020.

  1. Star Gazing – This is a family favorite of ours, and this summer has offered some amazing opportunities. Comet NEOWISE is no longer bright, and four meteor showers peaked at the same time July 28, but fear not – there are two astronomical events ahead in 2020 for your family to enjoy. On Halloween night, a blue moon would make for an exciting night hike or viewing with binoculars. If you can brave the chilly temperatures December 13-14, the Geminid Meteor shower will generate up to 150 meteors per hour at its peak early in the morning. If you live away from city lights, you can lay in your backyard. Use the app “Star Walk 2” to find the origin point of the showers in the sky. Willing to take a longer drive? Observatory Park in Geauga County is a certified Dark Sky Park.  It’s so dark at Observatory Park that you can see the cloud of the Milky Way with your naked eye. Take your family, a blanket and your thermals and prepare for an amazing, socially distant show. 
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Comet NEOWISE shot with my iPhone. We watched it on a hill near our home with binoculars. 

  1. Private Playdates – Café O Play in Cuyahoga Falls has created a brand-new service specifically for COVID-19. According to their website, “This is a new play offering for us and we have designed it specifically in response to COVID-19.” A two-hour session for the people in your quarantine bubble runs $200. During the time, your group of up to 30 adults, children and babies (but, who has a bubble that big?) will have exclusive use of the facility. Right now, Private Playdates can be scheduled all day Sunday, Monday, Tuesdays, and Wednesday or Thursday evenings. Visit Café O Play to book your playdate.

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Jameson next to an apple tree row at Rittman Orchard on his way to the blueberries.

  1. Rittman Orchards – If you haven’t taken a drive down to Rittman Orchards to pick berries or apples, you’ve been missing out. The orchard did a fantastic job providing safe and distant blueberry and strawberry picking this summer, so we’re pumped for apple season. The orchard has a pay station right in the picking area, and all staff members are wearing masks. They have brought food trucks out during picking for socially distant dining, and have added an online order option for curbside fresh produce. Place your order online 24 hours before your visit, and they’ll bring all of their picked market goods right to your car. If you haven’t visited, the other thing about Rittman is that it’s got multiple gorgeous views. It’s relaxing to walk the rows with your family and enjoy some late summer or fall weather. Visit the Rittman Orchards website and Facebook page to see what’s fresh in the market/ready to pick, and to plan your visit.
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Hazel visiting the Elephants with thunder rumbling behind us.

  1. Crafty Zoo Visits –  Both Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and Akron Zoo are requiring face coverings at this time, and both are limiting the number of guests. Akron Zoo has even created a wonderful social story to help your children prepare for some of the changes they will encounter on their first return trip. But, if the thought of that many people in one place still worries you, here are some ideas that may help. Pro-mom tip: go in the rain. It may make you feel like a meteorologist trying to purchase advanced tickets, but if you’re willing to get a little wet, you’ll find social distancing much easier. We recently attended the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo Asian Lantern Festival on the evening of a thunderstorm, and though we waded through a torrential downpour, we had a great time and had the lanterns all to ourselves. If getting wet isn’t your thing, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is offering the opportunity to drive through the lanterns on several nights between now and the end of the event, which they have extended through September 20. If you didn’t attend their first drive-thru event, it was fun, accessible, and extra safe. Akron Zoo has its own socially distant event – a VIP experience where families get a behind-the-scenes tour of the zoo. Though recently announced, these are going fast, so if a private VIP zoo experience speaks to you, don’t hesitate to book as soon as possible. Visit http://akronzoo.org and https://www.clevelandmetroparks.com/zoo to get more information on visiting the animals. 
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Hazel and Jameson huddled under one umbrella, all alone at the Asian Lantern entrance.

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Hazel enjoying the downpour with her stuffed seal “Sheila” in an oceanic lantern installation.

  1. Start a Family Hiking Spree – Summit County Metro Parks will reward hikers who complete eight trails. First-year hikers earn a hiking staff and shield. Veteran hikers earn the shield. Spree rewards are FREE to Summit County residents. Out-of-county residents pay to receive their hiking rewards ($10 for first-year hikers, $5 for veteran hikers). We have friends that complete these hiking sprees every season and find that it’s a great, healthy bonding activity for their family. Visit https://www.summitmetroparks.org/hiking-spree.aspx to sign up for the Fall Hiking Spree and enjoy the great outdoors this fall.
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Hazel and Jamie hiking in Brunswick, Ohio.

  1. Visit Crown Point Ecology Center – While the main house/visitor center at Crown Point isn’t open, the property is still available for families who want to take a stroll. Their website says, “Please feel free to come & walk our property and explore! Check out the labyrinth walk, the pond, the bees, the flowers, our greenhouses, watch the farmers, see the wildlife & more.” The property welcomes families to bring a picnic lunch to eat at one of the tables, or to take a rest in their lawn chairs. A hut near the entrance has information about the property. Crown Point notes that Wednesdays and Fridays are co-op pick-up days, and there may be increased traffic. Visit https://www.crownpointecology.org for more information.
  1. Miss Katie’s Preschool Playgroup, Tallmadge  –  Some of us with smaller children are looking for a completely online option for preschool. A popular center for children’s fun, Miss Katie’s Preschool Playgroup, announced that they intend to offer their Fantastic Friends online class for preschoolers starting in September.  Families get a borrowed bag with an instrument, scarf, bubbles and more. There’s a monthly curriculum and a private Facebook group with videos posted daily. Like many online programs, its success will depend heavily on enrollment. If you are looking for an online program to introduce your child to preschool or to take the place of in-person preschool, visit Miss Katie’s Facebook Page here and reach out to enroll.

I hope that you are able to give some of these ideas a shot, and please comment or send in your own ideas to family@thedevilstrip.com and maybe we’ll write them up to share with the community. One thing is for sure with COVID-19: Even though we can’t physically stick together, we need one another’s creative parenting ideas more than ever.

Julie is a mother of three and Professor of Practice at The University of Akron. Her hobbies include singing in the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Instagramming her kids and sleeping standing up.