Summer camps have gone virtual, the inflatable pool industry is booming, and children across the US are jumping into their first summer in the midst of a pandemic.
Although there are some camps that are still open, COVID-19 has caused many to close their doors for the summer or switch to an online format, leaving more children sitting at home for the summer than ever before.
Since the virus is more likely to be spread indoors, playing outside is probably the safest way for kids to still be able to see their friends. Add the combination of summer weather, more free time, and the cabin fever that’s been growing since March, it’s no wonder that children will want to spend extra time outside this summer.
In fact, 43% of Americans over age 13 are planning on spending more time doing outdoor activities like hiking or swimming due to COVID-19 social distancing rules.
This additional time outdoors is a reason to celebrate. There are many benefits of being outside, particularly for children:
- Sunshine is a great natural source of vitamin D — an important vitamin for growing strong, healthy bones — which children tend to not get enough of on a daily basis.
- Being outside — especially in nature — reduces stress and fatigue, while boosting mood and improving mental health.
- Children are often more likely to be active and get in physical activity outdoors, since being outside typically means being away from video games and couches.
- Spending time outdoors improves memory and concentration, and children with ADHD have been shown to concentrate better after even just 20 minutes in a park.
However, spending extra time outside does come with a few risks.
If your child is planning on going outside more this summer, here is how you can keep them safe:
Remember that going outdoors can mean lower risk — not no risk
Being outside might decrease the risk of getting COVID-19, but only if done safely.
If your child is playing in public, make sure they follow any local rules about mask-wearing. In many places, masks are no longer required but are still encouraged, especially if it’s not possible to stay socially distant. If your child wants to meet up to play with a friend outside, they should stay 6 feet apart from each other. And even though playgrounds are reopening, it might still be best to avoid them — playgrounds are full of high-touch surfaces, and they are not disinfected.
Also, have your child stay away from activities that involve physical contact with others or shared equipment.
Whether your child is playing with others or you’re going out as a family, choose where you’re going carefully. If a park or pool is too crowded to keep 6 feet apart from others, go back another time.
Practice sun safety
The sun may give your child a healthy dose of vitamin D, but it can also give them an unhealthy dose of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. Too much exposure without protection can increase the risk of skin cancer later in life. It can also weaken the immune system and even cause eye injuries.
There are several ways to help your child avoid the dangerous effects of overexposure to the sun:
- Apply sunscreen that is at least SPF 15 about 30 minutes before going outside. Make sure to get the often-overlooked areas, like the hairline, lips, and ears. Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours and after swimming or sweating.
- When possible, plan outdoor activities for before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m. to avoid peak sun exposure.
- Have your child take breaks, whether it’s under an umbrella or inside.
- Give your child a hat that shades the face, ears, and back of the neck, and sunglasses with at least 99 percent UV protection.
Pay attention to what your child is wearing
Clothing that covers the body, like pants and long-sleeved shirts, are best for protecting the skin. If possible, have your child wear loose cotton pants or lightweight long-sleeve shirts.
That being said — covering up can also lead to overheating. If it’s particularly hot out or if your child tells you that they’re hot, let them wear shorts and a t-shirt, and pay extra attention to applying sunscreen to their entire body.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
During physical activity, the body sweats. When sweat evaporates, it cools the body back down. Dehydration occurs when fluid loss is greater than fluid intake. It can cause chills, headaches, dizziness, dry mouth, and weakness. If dehydration goes on for too long, it can increase the risk for severe heat illnesses, like cramps, fainting, or heat stroke.
Your child may get dehydrated easier if playing outside, especially if it’s hot. Whenever your child goes out to play, make sure that they:
- Drink water before, during, and after activity
- Eat foods that are high in water content, such as watermelon, cucumbers, lettuce, or oranges
- Avoid caffeinated drinks before and during activity, since these can increase fluid loss
- Understand the importance of staying hydrated
If your child is young, you may need to monitor how much they’re drinking and remind them while they’re playing to take water breaks.
Take pool safety into your own hands
In an effort to enjoy summer activities without risking exposure in public places, families are stocking up on equipment like pools. In April, pool and pool product sales on Amazon almost doubled from the same time in 2019.
If you’re one of the lucky ones who snagged a pool before they became a hotter commodity than toilet paper, brush up on pool safety:
- Always supervise your kids in the pool — and this means actually watching them, not scrolling through your phone or reading a book.
- Don’t rely on inflatable pool toys or flotation devices, which can deflate or slide off, and only use US Coast Guard-approved life jackets as directed on the label.
- Be within an arm’s length of infants or toddlers who are in or around the pool.
- Prevent pool access when it’s not in use, such as putting fencing around the pool or installing an alarm system so you know if your child sneaks outside.
- Remember that even shallow or inflatable pools can be drowning hazards. Empty the water after each use.
This is also a good time to get certified in CPR (an important skill to have regardless of whether or not your child is swimming). Some organizations, like the American Red Cross and the National CPR Foundation, offer online classes. Depending on the organization, your child may be able to take the class, too.
Start swimming lessons
The Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) developed ISR Self-Rescue®, a program that teaches children as young as 6 months old to roll themselves onto their back, float, rest, and breathe until help comes. The program has saved hundreds of children from drowning.
ISR Self-Rescue® training is temporarily on hold due to COVID-19, but visit their website to learn more about it, and add your email to their mailing list so you can sign up as soon as they reopen.
Whether your child is simply getting an extra 20 minutes in the sun each day or they’ve practically moved outside, practicing summer safety is one of the most important things to do this summer.