By: Liz Merrill, LCSW

Outdoor Activities:

COVID-19 may have made our world more internet-centric – and this article so far has been centered around activities that keep you plugged in – but when it comes to finding peace, tranquility, better mental and physical health and wellness, fun, adventure, and a brighter, more positive outlook, the great outdoors is one of the most effective remedies available to us for reducing stress. Scientific studies have shown that – very much like exercise – the natural environment has calming and mood-boosting effects on the brain. Whether it’s going for a hike in the woods, spending time in your backyard, taking a walk around the block, or just stepping out on your balcony for a break – nature engages all the senses and allows us to slow down and be in the moment. It gives us a quick “get-away” from the parts of life that bring little satisfaction, or that feel unsolvable and beyond our control.

And while technology has been a gift in many ways by keeping us connected to loved ones and giving us access to work, learning, and a wealth of creative ideas and resources; it’s important for everyone to take breaks from those screens and get outside.

· Backyard Games and Activities:

Websites like Wayfair, Overstock, Amazon, and Zulily have tons of backyard games for sale at discounted rates; and if you’re comfortable with buying pre-owned, Facebook Marketplace, Mercari, and E-bay offer even cheaper options. Some examples of backyard games the whole family can participate in are:


Ladder Ball


Wiffle Ball / Softball / Baseball

Volleyball / Badminton


Bocce Ball


· Backyard Play Equipment

Most public parks and playgrounds are now open for use as well, but for those who aren’t comfortable with that yet, getting a slackline with various attachments to create an obstacle course and securing it with a ratchet between 2 trees can be a much more affordable option than buying an entire jungle gym.

Click below for a couple of different options for that:

· Option 1

· Option 2

Because pools are either closed or heavily restricted, baby pools are your best bet for cooling off if you aren’t lucky enough to have an in-ground pool in your own backyard. Some brands are making these pools a lot larger and deeper now, so it feels a little closer to the real thing. And if you’re not picky and like to go old-school with your water play, a good ol’ hose and sprinkler will do the trick as well! Here’s a link to some of the pools you can purchase:


All of these backyard recreation items are particularly hot right now, so just remember that you might find that many are back-ordered. Keep checking back, though, as they do keep re-stocking the shelves!

· State and National Parks Access

If you’re feeling adventurous and want to go beyond the backyard, many state and national parks are open for hiking and camping activities. Here are some websites that explain guidelines and what options you have right now:

DC Metro area:

Great Falls Park:

VA Parks:

MD parks:

· Sports Games

Also, restrictions have been lifted in the DC metro area enough to allow access to golf courses and tennis courts, and some parks also have pickleball courts, which is a racket sport that’s sort of a hybrid of tennis and ping-pong. Click below for some places where you can find those, though some have decided not to open or have very restricted hours:

o Pickleball




o Frisbee Golf: And if you’re into Frisbee Golf, here is a link to the courses in the area with a map to show different locations.

So, life definitely hasn’t been the same since mid-March, and this Summer of COVID definitely doesn’t resemble any summers from the past; but there are ways to try to make it work better. There are also plenty of people who prefer this lifestyle and hope to keep and incorporate some of that slower pacing into the next phase. But for those who are stir crazy at least some of the time, I hope the resources I’ve shared in this post will spark some ideas and help you feel you have at least some control over how you spend your free time, even if (or maybe especially if) the activities are not what you’d typically do.