The last day Minnesota children sat in a classroom was March 17, before they went home to learn until May 28. Now, nearly two months later, with an uptick of coronavirus cases in the region, many are becoming lax in their protection measures.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends cloth face coverings and maintaining 6 feet of social distancing. This begs the question: How can families enjoy their summer, during the pandemic, while maintaining their family’s safety?

When asking area school Superintendents for their recommendation on safe summer fun, Hibbing Superintendent Richard Aldrich replied via email, “For families, we ask that parents follow state and federal guidelines related to Covid.”

Safety Measures

According to the CDC, there are many steps you can take to protect your family and community. Frequent handwashing is essential to preventing the spread of unwanted germs. Hands should be scrubbed for at least 20 seconds at a time. Teach kids to sing the “ABC’s” or another fun song to time themselves.

Along with frequent handwashing, even for babies, children over the age of 2 should wear a cloth face covering. The CDC and Minnesota Department of Health recommend wearing a cloth face covering, that fits over your nose and mouth, when in public areas. A face mask can help prevent the spread of germs in those without symptoms. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth as these are prime areas for germs to infect the body.

Keep your house clean to keep your family healthy. This includes disinfecting areas frequently touched, such as door knobs, railings and light switches. Washable toys and other dirty laundry should be washed using the “warmest appropriate water setting and dry items completely,” the CDC says on its website.

Maintain social distance by staying at least 6 feet away from other people in public areas.

Cover your cough and catch your sneeze into your elbow. If you are sick, stay home and out of public areas. Also, you should avoid people who are sick such as those coughing and sneezing. Parents should monitor their own children’s health and seek medical attention when appropriate.

The state Health Department continues to recommend staying home as much as possible as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19; this includes telework if possible.

Finally, limit time spent with people at the highest risk of severe illness from COVID-19, including those who are over the age of 65 or who have a medical condition.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Department of Education recommends that children play at least 20 minutes a day outside.

Parental Decisions

This summer, it is important for parents to consider what level of exposure they are comfortable with for their children. Who can enter your house? What precautions will you insist on for visitors; will they need a face mask? Who do you feel safe exposing your children to? What precautions will you require of your children and the children they play with?

These are hard questions you probably will not have had to consider before. Include your children in your decision making so they understand the expectations and limitations you have for them and their friends. At the same time, teach your kids the importance of being good examples to others and protecting those who are more vulnerable by having healthy habits.

Some families have decided to let things go back to normal while others continue to limit their interactions. Some families only allow their children to play with others outside. Others have formed pods with other families who have agreed to safety guidelines.

Do what makes you comfortable. There may not be any sleepovers this summer, or only with specific people.

A frequent highlight of summer is the family trip. During COVID-19, it is important to consider if this trip is a good idea for your family.

“COVID-19 cases and deaths have been reported in all 50 states, and the situation is constantly changing,” the CDC says. “Because travel increases your chances of getting infected and spreading COVID-19, staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick.”

Summer Fun

This spring, MDE published documents to assist families and childcare providers to balance pandemic safety and child development called “Fun Activities Families Can Do with Their Children” and “Ideas for Provider Caring for Babies, Toddlers, Preschool and School-Aged Children.”

“A key to making family life work during times of change and uncertainty is to establish structure and reasonable expectations for yourself and your young child,” states the family activity guide. “You may feel stress—and your child may, too—so it is important to be kind to yourself. Give some rhythm to the day by balancing quiet and more boisterous activities, and help your child transition as smoothly from one activity to another.”

As a family, encourage excited play and quiet time for rest and relaxation.

Set daily goals and expectations for your family. “Choosing activities that stretch your child’s thinking, move his or her muscles and spark the imagination will help your child continue to develop and learn while you are home together. Remember that your child’s young mind is always developing and learning throughout each day!”

With summer camps being canceled and playdates at a minimum, it is understandable that families are getting restless. It is time for families to be creative, with safety in mind.

Have summer camp at home! Set a goal and theme for the week and schedule fun and safe activities such as a nature scavenger hunt in your yard. Allow children to learn independence while setting limits and maintaining safety.

Safe Activities

Across the region there are activities for families to have safe fun.

The Arrowhead Library System is hosting their annual summer reading program and this year they are sending postcards with activities straight to your door. “Kids who sign up will receive a series of five activity postcards via mail every two to three weeks, encouraging them to dig deeper and experience and learn new things during the summer months,” said Mollie Stanford, Regional ALS librarian over email, Wednesday. “Program is geared towards kids ages 0-12 and their family members, however anyone can participate!”

Each postcard encourages creativity, curiosity, being active and kind. Participants are encouraged to not only read but interact with nature, family and friends and make various types of art.

To sign up, visit https://bit.ly/3gpC31z and complete the form for each participant.

All ALS libraries are hosting the summer reading program Dig Deeper: Read, Investigate, and Discover! Check with your local library for more information. With this program, ALS is hosting a bookmark design contest. The bookmark template can be found by visiting www.alslib.info and clicking reading programs under services.

“These programs are designed to inspire kids and to encourage family engagement at home during the summer months,” Stanford said.

Another option to get out of the house is a visit to the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm offers family fun through the various oncampus activities including: the new Redhead Mountain Bike Trail, Museum, Trolley Tour, 19-hole mine themed mini golf, research center, Rustic Pig Food Court, Gift Shop and the Northern Lights Music Festival at the outdoor theatre. Puccini’s opera Tosca will be performed for up to 250, in the 1,600 seat amphitheater. Masks will be required for opera goers.

“Precautions are being taken to keep our staff and guests safe including reopening our facilities, activities, and attractions on a reduced scale. Masks, gloves, sanitation stations, and sneeze-guards are just some of the safeguards in place to ensure our guests that we are keeping our campus as safe and clean as we possibly can,” said Jordan Metsa, the MDC fund development and marketing coordinator, in an email Wednesday.

In his email, Metsa wrote that social distancing is in place throughout the campus and employees are screened with no-touch thermometers.

“We have limited occupancy capacity for trolley tours to less than 50%, posted friendly reminders to sanitize and social distance, and encourage guests to wear masks,” Metsa wrote. “As for mini-golf, we are regularly sanitizing all the necessary equipment after each individual use and are keeping guests spread out as they play the course.”

Along with local entertainment, there are plenty of family activities available online.

The United States Census Bureau has attempted to address the difficult situation many families are in. The traditionally in school program called Statistics in School now offers parent/caregiver tool kits to encourage fun learning.

“This summer, parents and caregivers may be looking for activities their children can do with them or independently and for ways to keep their kids’ minds sharp for the next school year. Let them know that Statistics in Schools (SIS) can help!” stated a Tuesday press release.

Toolkits are available to print for four age groups: Pre-K, Elementary, Middle and High School. “This toolkit provides instruction on using resources and activities that build skills in subjects like history, math, geography, and English,” states the description of the Elementary School Toolkit. “With these activities, your elementary school children will interact with data tools, maps, and videos while learning the value of census statistics and why it's important for everyone to be counted in the 2020 Census.”

Resources can be found by visiting www.census.gov and clicking Stats for Schools.

Support mental well-being during COVID-19

Both the CDC and state Education Department recommend that parents talk with their children about the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Children will have questions and it is important for caregivers to show concern and address these fears. MDE recommends families establish new routines because “Certain words and practices can help children cope with their feelings and help guide discussions.”

“Maintaining routine is important for children, especially when there is increased uncertainty and stress,” states the MDE website. “As school and home routines are disrupted, children may have trouble regulating their emotions and behaviors. Maintain basic daily routines as you normally would, such as getting ready for the day and bedtime schedules.”

As you are discussing the pandemic with your children, remain calm, listen to your children, be aware of what they are exposed to on TV, radio and online. Remind your family that most kids are not getting very sick but we should all do our part to keep everyone healthy by washing hands, staying home, wearing face masks and keeping social distance.

Take advantage of tips to reduce your anxiety such as these from the Minnesota Health Department: focus on what you can control, do what you can to reduce risk to yourself and others, model peaceful behavior, be gentle to yourself, maintain a healthy diet and exercise routine, reflect on your reactions and reach out when you need to talk.

State agencies have tips for managing anxiety and stress during COVID. There are also various hotlines to immediately assist those in need. Examples include: SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline 1-800-985-5990 or by texting TalkWithUs to 66746; National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255); Crisis Text Line Text “MN” to 741741; and Minnesota Mobile Mental Health Crisis Line Call: **CRISIS (**274747).

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Ideas for Safe Summer Family Fun

Go for a walk as a family. Count the bears you see in windows along the way.

Ask your kids to wave to your neighbors.

Explore new swimming areas. Can you find a new favorite pit?

Send the kids outside with sidewalk chalk and a funny picture idea.

Make a fun jar! On each sheet of paper or popsicle stick, write a fun activity. When they kids are bored, send them to the jar!

Family dance party- crank up the tunes and wiggle away.

Blow bubbles.

Set up an obstacle course.

Give your child age-appropriate chores like sort the laundry or clean up after dinner.

Go for a drive.

Encourage pretend play.

Play card or board games.

Set up a drive-in in the yard. Make cardboard boxes into cars filled with blankets. Using a projector or laptop, watch a movie.

Go on a scavenger hunt.

Make an art project.

Become a chef and plan a meal.

Encourage writing by making up stories and writing letters.

Play in the kiddie pool with the dogs or make a slip and slide!

Read a book together or have the child tell you what the pictures are saying.

Allow for a set amount of fun time with electronics. Setting timers is a great way to monitor and follow-through with tasks such as playing on electronics or reading.

Escape into a good book.

Video conference with friends and family. Host a virtual game night!

Take virtual tours or check out live webcams around the world.

Teach mindfulness while building strength by doing yoga as a family.

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