Keeping spirits bright: Neighborhood activities in times of social distancing

“We’re going on a bear hunt. . . I’ve got my binoculars . . .” The poem from the popular children’s book  by Michael Rosen (Walker books, 1989) is not just a preschool activity song, it’s a neighborhood activity that’s cheerfully being shared across the country. In Kingsport, bear sightings are recorded on a Facebook event page, and the activity is a contagion we like to see—providing a delightful walking or driving adventure for Kingsport families. How does it work? Neighbors participate by placing a teddy bear or other stuffed animal friend in a window or on their porch or balcony. Families can then enjoy a “Bear Hunt” on their walks or drives while following all the social distancing guidelines. In Kingsport, bears have been seen all the way from Bloomingdale to Colonial Heights—with sightings reported here. Do you want to get involved? Put a bear in your window or on your porch and when you venture out, bring your binoculars and keep your eyes peeled. Because—even in the COVID-19 crisis—we are a community and “We’re not afraid.” Bear Hunts are such a great idea, it got us thinking. . . . what are some other fun ways our Kingsport neighborhoods can entertain the kids and encourage one another?

Sidewalk chalk messages

Dig that sidewalk chalk out of the activity cabinet and head out to the driveway. This big, washable canvas is a great spot to share a message of encouragement, a fun drawing, or just add a great big heart to let your neighbors know you care. Watch what happens. . . soon positive thoughts will spread throughout the neighborhood and other driveways will be sporting cheerful messages, too. If chalk’s not your thing, make a bright sign of greeting to share via your front window.

Book and entertainment swaps

If your neighborhood has a communication network already in place, invite everyone to post lists of books, videos, board games, craft supplies, and other fun things they have to share or swap. As a non-electronic alternative, one neighborhood put out swap tables on a clear Sunday afternoon. Neighbors took a stroll, made the swap, and came home with a movie to watch or a game to play. (A canister of disinfectant wipes on each table kept germs out of the picture.) You say you don’t have a neighborhood communication in place? Get one started—using social media channels like Facebook or WhatsApp, or a dedicated free application such as Nextdoor or Lotsa Helping Hands.

Yardwork and the neighborhood wave

Did you wake to a sunny day? Take a walk around the neighborhood. The spring weather is joyous. . .  and there’s lots of yard work to do. When you see your neighbors out, share a safe-distance-wave and shout of greeting. (Take a minute to make sure everyone is safe and well.) When you’re back home, it’s time for some exercise and the day’s PE class as you and your family dig in the dirt, rake up the last of the fall leaves, and do a general clean-up and trim. It will be great to have all those chores checked off your list so you’ll be free to play when the stay-at-home requirements end.

There’s time for horticulture class, too

Combine your yard work/PE class with a horticulture lesson as you teach your children about the plant life in your yard and neighborhood. If you’re not a plant expert yourself, get some help with PlantSnapp, Google Lens, or PictureThis.  How many different kinds of trees do you have in your yard or your neighborhood? What is the flower that is peaking up at the edge of the woods? Get a little competition going by sharing information with friends or family via text. Or call Grandma or Grandpa on Facetime and get a real pro involved in the challenge.

Neighborhood drives and downtown excursions

Are you feeling a need to explore beyond your own, local neighborhood? If so, hop in the car and go for a drive. Besides the bear hunts, greater Kingsport has several entertaining explorer-type excursions you can try.

Follow the Quilt Trail

The Quilt Trail in Northeast Tennessee has 11 patterns on display in downtown Kingsport. Walk or drive to find them all: Old Maid’s Patience, Bowtie, Grandmother’s Fan, Grandmother’s Flower Garden, and more. When you get home, learn about the history, culture and art of our region on the Quilt Trail website. The videos and slideshows of the Quilt Stories project really bring our region’s history to life. Finish up your quilt train journey with your art lesson of the day and make a Nine Patch quilt of your own.

Sculpture Walk

Another downtown Kingsport excursion is the Sculpture Walk.  Eight new pieces are on display, and a Guide by Cell feature provides information about each of the installations. Dial 423-200-3205 and enter the item number from the images at this link and press # to hear the description. Park near the library to begin your walk. You’ll find most of the sculptures are on New Street, with plenty of room for social distancing. If you’re more comfortable in your car, a sculpture drive works, too. Several downtown restaurants are offering food for carry out so you can grab lunch or dinner to take home. Follow up with a hands-on sculpture activity using found objects in the junk drawer—then share your creation with friends and family via social media and messaging.

Kingsport selfie trail

You can have a great time following the Kingsport selfie trail while keeping the proper 6’ of social distancing. Follow the map to capture the amazing sights around the city. When you find the selfie location marker, take a selfie and share it using the hashtag #CaptureKingsport.

Looking for Signs

Any day is a great day to drive around town and check out local marquees to see what’s up. Right now, a family drive around town to collect the best could be an entertaining and inspiring way to spend some time. On a recent journey we were advised to wash our hands, love our neighbor, stop hoarding the toilet paper, and put people first—all good things to remember! The experience may even inspire a little creative writing as you come up with your own marquee slogans. If you have some ideas to share, submit them to Pal’s Thought for the Day for a chance to appear on Pal’s marquees throughout the region.

That’s it for now!

Being a good neighbor and encouraging one another is something that should be part of our lives every day. Here in Kingsport, we don’t have to hunt far to find support. Good neighbors are on every side and across the street. . . I see them waving now.
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