Social distancing is our reality for the foreseeable future. Friends and families are, rightly, taking their small gatherings outdoors and masking up for optimum safety. The question becomes, how can we make social distancing, or as I prefer to call it, physical distancing since we all need to be social right now, a fun part of our get-togethers? My own five-year-old daughter is happy to walk around yelling, “TEN FEET! STAY BACK TEN FEET!” at friends and strangers alike, but that is. . . not realistic for civilized adults, nor is it any fun at all when you’re purposefully trying to get loved ones together to create memories and maintain the connections we all need for emotional and mental health. Here, we’re going to share some fun ways to practice social distancing—you can have fun with your friends with the physical distancing baked right into your good time! By making a game of social distancing, it becomes part of the entertainment rather than an obligation.
If you have a large patio or driveway, use sidewalk chalk—it’s commonly available and comes in lots of colors! —to map out individual seating areas. The chalked-off zones can be any shape you like and in all sorts of colors. You can let your guests choose their spot or have them draw a color. You can let them stay in a single area or have everyone switch a few times throughout your gathering so they can be adjacent to different people. Make a rotation for getting snacks and drinks so that only one person or household is out of their area at a time. Consider “fining” people a dollar if they leave their spot when it’s not their turn and donate the pot to a local food bank. This is a fun way to practice social distancing and can be as low-key or as over-the-top as you wish. Camp chairs and blankets in chalk circles or indoor recliners moved to the driveway just for the hilarity factor—the sky is the limit, and it makes keeping your physical distance part of the fun!
Did you ever go “speed dating” back when that was trendy? Think of using that concept, but for visiting with friends! Out on the patio or lawn, set up inner and outer circles of floor pillows, bean bag chairs, lawn chairs—whatever you’ve got—properly spaced for physical distancing. Provide blankets and throws if it’s chilly out. Have everyone take a seat and set a timer for 15 minutes. When the timer goes off, the people of the inner circle all move one place to the right, to visit with another friend. If you have an odd number of guests, the un-paired person on each rotation gets that 15 minutes to have a snack, take a mask break, etc. Having stations set up enforces social distancing in a fun way while rotating encourages (safe) mingling!
This idea makes more of a game of physical distancing so that you have a fun way of practicing social distancing that is sure to lead to lots of laughter and silliness. Get a bunch of pool noodles—they are readily available cheaply online, or you can raid your friends’ garages—and run a lightweight rope through the middle channel, tying a loop on either end; that’s a handle. When each guest arrives, they are issued a pool noodle, and when they want to chat with someone, they have to hold their pool noodles between them! If three or more people gather, they can make a “circle” out of their pool noodles. The pool noodles become a kooky party game, and everyone will make fun, funny memories of the hijinks that are bound to ensue when you give a bunch of responsible adults mandatory pool noodles!
Did you know that adult hula hoops up to 48” and 50” in circumference are readily available online? It’s true! Imagine what a small outdoor gathering would look like if you procured a bunch of those large hula hoops and fashioned “suspenders” out of ribbon or stout string so that each guest could wear their personal space. Frankly, it’s a hoot! It’s funny to see, funny to maneuver, and is sure to become a story that people tell for years to come! Make social distancing fun for your friends, so that they laugh about keeping safely distanced, rather than anxiously backing away from one another.
You’re never too old to “camp out,” as we called it when we were kids. For the fun of camping without involving our parents, we would set up our tents in someone’s back yard, haul out sleeping bags, and stay up late telling creepy stories. Adapt that to an outdoor, socially distanced get-together for your own friends! Invite others to set up camping tents in pre-determined, safely distanced spots—a circle would be nice for visiting—ahead of your event and include whatever they personally want for comfort and style. Some people like air mattresses made up like real, luxurious beds, and some people enjoy roughing it on the ground. Some people like to string up battery-operated twinkle lights, and some people prefer to use a regular camping lantern. Invite your grown-up friends to really play pretend here! Around twilight, you start a roaring fire, and everyone turns up to lie around in their tents, or sit at the flap-door, and spend time together. The tents are especially terrific for socializing safely because each person or household has a personal space to snack, take a mask break, etc. It’s the best of all worlds—a party with your own private crash pad!
There truly are fun ways to practice social distancing so we can keep ourselves and our loved ones safe as we maintain the connections we need for mental and emotional health. Parents and educators have been using fun to make the things children must do more palatable forever; right now, during this very challenging year, every single one of us deserves the same help and grace as children receive. Make what we must do fun so that we can keep making memories and building our social and emotional connections safely.