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How to Have a Safe – and Fun – Summer Close to Home

By June 15, 2020 No Comments

A safer-at-home season of life does not mean your summer will be void of fun. Experts say the best way to enjoy the next few months is to come together – 6 feet apart – and keep your mind and body in motion, mostly outside.

There are benefits to being outdoors. “We get Vitamin D from the sun, which helps significantly with our mood,” said Ashley Mattek, mental health therapist at Catalpa Health, a Be Safe Wisconsin partner. “It also helps our brain release a good-feeling hormone called serotonin, the mood-booster which also helps us feel calm and focused.”

Mental health therapist Gina Day added: “Exercising is a mood-booster too, so enjoy the great outdoors on the move.” Day also is with Catalpa Health, which is located in Appleton, Oshkosh, and Waupaca, but currently meets the mental health needs of kids through telehealth, or virtual therapy. “Being active helps improve our mood because our body releases endorphins, which can help alleviate pain and improve sleep.” Catalpa Health also provides tips and updates via its website and social media channels.

This year, there might not be summer camps, travel teams, municipal pools or concerts in the park to be active outside and connect with others, but you can replicate these experiences at or near home.


“In a time when answers to most questions are ‘no’ or ‘I’m not sure,’ find ways to say ‘yes!’” said Amy Gunderson, mental health therapist at Catalpa Health. When children ask questions such as: Can I have a sleepover with friends? Can we see grandma and grandpa? Do I get to play baseball this summer? Gunderson said be creative and suggested, “Find opportunities for yourself and your kids to respond with a ‘yes’ to activities,” activities such as backyard camping in individual tents, meet-ups with grandparents in a nature preserve close-by or playing catch in the front yard.


Mental health experts said in a time when you are disconnected in so many ways, we need to keep close to family members and a few friends and come together as much as possible in Wisconsin’s great outdoors close to home. Be sure to sanitize hands often, social distance (keep at least 6 feet apart) and wear your face mask. Be deliberate in what you do together and make it meaningful. Here are some ideas from our Be Safe Wisconsin partners, including Catalpa Health and United Way Fox Cities.

Plant a garden. Grow your knowledge of organic eating as a family. Nurture fruits and vegetables in your yard and watch them flourish throughout the summer. Prepare a salad or cook them. “Enjoy the harvest together,” said Susan Perri, vice president of Marketing & Communication at United Way Fox Cities.

Cookout collectively. United Way Fox Cities added: Make dinner together, foiling packs on the grill that kids can create themselves. “Eat together as a family, picnicking in the grass over a healthy lunch or snack.”

Engage in outdoor activities. Social distance with friends or family while throwing a Frisbee in the park, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, biking, rollerblading, playing your favorite sport or turning on music and dancing. You pick the activity and move.

Walk with adventure in mind. “Add a fun twist to your family walk by creating an outside photo scavenger hunt, while observing proper physical distancing, if in a park or on a trail,” Perri mentioned. She suggests brainstorming a list of items to find and take a snapshot before you begin your walk. Items could include a flower, pine cone or bird’s nest in the woods. Or consider a bicycle, brown mailbox or the number 3 in a neighborhood. Another thought is going abstract and capturing images of something yellow in color, triangle in shape or tiny in size. Whoever finds the most items on the list or takes the most creative photo wins.

Build a backyard water park. No city pool to swim in this summer? Create your own wet and wild experience. Break out hoses, sprinklers, water guns, water balloons and even the Slip ‘n’ Slide and enjoy with friends and family.

Learn actively. Boost a young child’s literacy and language skills by exploring a United Way Born Learning Trail, with proper physical distancing, at one of its 12 Fox Cities locations.

Read among nature. Spend time reading together every day. Move story time outside. Sit under a tree in the shade by day or cuddle up with blankets and a flashlight by night.

Watch a family-friendly movie. Create your own outdoor silver screen experience from home. Find an evening each week to pop in a favorite DVD or select a movie on-demand. Open the windows or set up a fan to create a cool summer breeze. Make it special with popcorn and root beer floats.


Mental health experts say connecting with nature and community gives Wisconsinites an opportunity to reassess recent months, explore new adventures and reimagine a new life together. They said summer is a good time to actively seek new skills and, in turn, learn new life lessons.

Exercise your mind. On rainy days, focus on your brain power more than your physical might. Start a project. Think artwork, Legos or sewing. Have you always wanted to learn to play an instrument? This might be the summer to do it. “Creating and building something can give kids, even adults, a feeling of accomplishment and keep their brains stimulated at the same time,” noted Day.

Connect creatively with the community. “Find creative ways to connect and be kind. Create handwritten notes or small care packages for your neighbors,” Perri suggested. Around the 4th of July holiday, plan a patriotic scavenger hunt through the neighborhood. Create red, white and blue artwork to share with the Fox Valley Veterans Council, another Be Safe Wisconsin partner. Or chalk the block with festive drawings on driveways and sidewalks for neighbors to step into on an evening walk.

Create a coping toolbox. COVID-19 has created unique, stressful situations that have presented many people with difficult emotions to manage. “Kids may find that they need to develop new skills to use during a crisis,” Day said. She cites this scenario as an example: A child who may normally escape the chaos of their home life by going to a friend’s house may not have that option due to the need for social distancing. “Even if it cannot be in person, using social supports will still be important,” Day noted. She added this summer is a good time to learn and implement other coping skills – distracting activities such as counting, relaxation strategies like deep breathing and keeping a daily routine.

“It’s important that we find outlets for our stress and emotional difficulties,” Mattek added.Sometimes, we may start bottling things up and not even realize it, which can cause our emotions to be kind of like a shaken-up soda bottle. When you do open it, it explodes. Take the pressure off little by little by doing something for yourself every day.”

Practice self-talk. One of the best ways to manage anxiety is to use self-talk. “Labeling the feeling may help you have more of a sense of control over it and determine which coping skills would be most appropriate to return you to a state of calm,” Day said. She recommended telling yourself encouraging messages like, “I can do this!” Also, remind yourself of difficult situations you have worked through in the past. Mattek added: “Be your own cheerleader in times of uncertainty. Remind yourself that you’ve gotten through 100% of your bad days – keep it up!”

Be grateful. Talk about the big and little things that you appreciate and express feelings of thankfulness. Gunderson added, “It will foster a greater sense of resiliency and help you and your family as you move toward creating what your life is evolving into.”