While COVID-19 may have changed how we are able to interact with others, one thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that social interaction is vital for the development of children. Children learn and grow by being active participants and engaging with their surroundings and each other (Carpendale & Lewis, 2004). According to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA), social communication, also called pragmatics, includes the rules we use and follow when communicating with others. With the weather getting warmer, there are lots of opportunities for these social interactions to happen outside and at a safe distance. Outdoor games and activities offer ideal opportunities to practice a variety of social skills, such as following rules and a group plan, taking turns, and social problem-solving. So what games work best at a distance where kids are still able to get that much needed interaction but in a manner that is safe and fun?
Grab a pool noodle and at least 3 friends and burn some energy while enjoying the outdoors by playing noodle tag! The person who is “it” has a pool noodle and tags others. The noodles are soft and bendable so no one gets hurt while maintaining physical distance! This activity promotes turn-taking, dealing with winning/losing, and making supportive comments to others.
Have everyone stand in a circle (6 feet apart). Nominate a detective to step away from the group while the group decides upon a “leader.” Bring the detective back and the leader will initiate different silly movements that the rest of the group will copy. For example, the leader sticks their tongue out or jumps up and down and the rest of the group copies. The detective’s job is to figure out who the leader is. This game promotes observation of non-verbal cues (e.g., who has a good poker face, who does not), frustration tolerance, group decision making, and keeping the name of the leader in your thought bubble.
This is a classic group game that is well-suited for a variety of ages and can easily be played outside. Participants take turns acting out a word using gestures and facial expressions (no talking allowed!) for the others to guess.
*Here’s a word list for some easy word ideas!*
Charades always gets lots of laughs and is one that can be played for points or just for fun. It develops pragmatic skills such as reading non-verbal cues, working together as a team to guess the word, attention to others, and following rules.
An outdoor scavenger hunt is an activity that kids always enjoy and one that doesn’t take much effort to put together. The goal is for everyone to work together to collect a number of miscellaneous items. There are many scavenger hunt ideas out there; one easy one is a color scavenger hunt, where you try to find items of various colors. Scavenger hunts encourage skills such as problem-solving and working with others to find items.
Simon Says is an old-school game that can be played anywhere and is especially ideal for playing outside. Kids take turns being “Simon” and on their turn, they stand in front of the group and call out various commands to the other players. The catch is that only those commands that begin with “Simon says” are the ones they’re supposed to follow. So if Simon says, “Simon says touch your toes,” then players must touch their toes. But if Simon says, “jump,” without first saying, “Simon says,” the players must not jump, and those that do are out. This game encourages listening skills, following directions, and self-regulation.
Even though there aren’t as many opportunities for social interaction right now, there are still ways to encourage these all-important pragmatic skills in ways that are fun, engaging, creative, and safe! Happy playing!
By: Kalin Stenhaug, MA, CCC-SLP and Bonnie Chester, MA, CCC-SLP