VIRGINIA — Make hot cocoa ice cream. Build a skyscraper with Legos. Do a photo scavenger hunt around your house. Have a pool party in … well, why not … your bathtub.
These are a few of the things Virginia Parks and Recreation has challenged families to do while socially isolating in their homes to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
And for a bit of added — and much needed — diversion amid uncertain times, the department is encouraging the public to post photos of challenge accomplishments using the hashtag, #COVParkChallenge.
By their very nature, parks and recreation departments are “social” entities, said Virginia Parks and Recreation Director Brian Silber. However, “we aren’t supposed to be social right now” during the coronavirus pandemic.
That can have a negative effect on people’s mental health, he said.
Thus, Virginia Parks and Recreation started the #COVParkChallenge on its social media sites.
“Every day we are posting a different challenge for individuals and families to participate in,” Silber said. “Each of these challenges is designed to help break up the monotony of social distancing while not putting yourself or anyone else at risk.”
Participants are asked to post photos or videos of their partaking in each challenge and, at the conclusion, winners will be selected and awarded prizes based on creativity, he said.
“We will continue the challenge as long as people are encouraged to practice social distancing or we run out of ideas.”
To take part, follow the department on Instagram (virginiaparkandrec), on Twitter (VRecreation), or on Facebook (VirginiaParkAndRecreation).
The initiative launched March 20, with a challenge to do a photo scavenger hunt around the house, finding and taking pictures of “something big and blue, little and lavender, sweet and silly, great and green, round and red, orange and oval.”
One participant posted a group of photos including one of the family cat (sweet and silly), a collection of Advil capsules formed in the shape of a flower (orange and oval), and a blue exercise ball, adding: “which I am using cuz my daily routine of gym is closed.”
Challenge No. 3 asked participants to “grab a few little buckets of food storage containers and scoop up a random assortment (of Legos or building blocks) for each person, set a timer and start building.” It suggested picking a theme, such as creating a spaceship, animal or skyscraper.
One participate posted a photo of a couple youngsters proudly showing off their tall Lego creation.
Wednesday’s post challenged participants to “get your bathing suit ready” and have a bathtub pool party — tossing in a few “things from around the house that don’t usually go in the tub,” such as plastic bowls and cups from the kitchen.
In addition to the Park Challenge, the department is encouraging residents to get outside, while still adhering to social distancing.
“The staff of Virginia Parks and Recreation knows that good mental health is often related to having access to the outdoors and green space,” Silber said. “Research over the years has shown that when people are more stressed, anxious and socially isolated, as we are right now due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, having access to parks, trails and natural areas becomes even more important.”
Park and Recreation professionals nationwide “have been scrambling to respond to the abrupt demands of canceling and rescheduling programs and events, sanitizing and maintaining facilities,” he said.
Virginia Parks and Recreation “holds to the belief that many parks, trails and open spaces can continue to be used in a safe manner that allows people to enjoy the mental and physical health benefits these spaces provide,” including a chance to move their bodies, connect to nature, and “find re-creation of body, mind and spirit on a daily basis,” Silber noted.
Department employees are “working hard to maintain these spaces and keep them safe, accessible and benefiting our community during these challenging times.”
The department, however, advises people to:
• Refrain from using parks or trails if they are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, including a fever or cough.
• Follow CDC guidelines on personal hygiene prior to and during use of parks or trails.
• Prepare for limited access to public restrooms or water fountains.
• While on trails, warn other users of their presence as they pass, and step aside to let others pass.
• Follow CDC guidance on the recommended size of social gatherings (currently no more than 10 people) and maintain proper physical distance at all times (currently 6 feet from other individuals at all times). If this is not possible, users should find an alternate location or depart the space.
• Consult local and state ordinances and guidelines for the most up-to-date recommendations on park and trail use in their areas.
“As park and recreation professionals, we have the means to help improve mental health in our communities through our well-managed parks and natural areas,” especially during this time of “stress and crisis,” Silber said.
“We can learn from the needs of today and better plan for addressing stress and mental health in the future,” he added.
So, if you so choose, take a walk in the park, get creative in the kitchen, a little silly in the bathtub, and check out what’s happening next in the Parks Challenge.