As families across Delaware are forced to keep their distance from neighbors to curb the spread of coronavirus, some communities have devised clever ways to lift residents’ spirits – while, importantly, providing children a much-needed diversion.
The fun initiatives are visible for anyone strolling through the leafy neighborhoods of Westhaven and Westover Hills west of Wilmington, where last week you could see brightly colored rainbows or dozens of adorable teddy bears peeking out from windows and other hiding places.
The activities like bear and rainbow hunts have taken off around the country but are being applied with uniquely local twists here in Delaware to engage kids of all ages and even their parents, all at a very safe and healthy distance.
Neighbors could now consider Stacy Gatti the new “Family Fun Director” of Westover Hills Section C – a title she never had until the coronavirus struck. As soon as she heard the news that Delaware kids would not return to school in the foreseeable future, she swung into action.
Gatti plans to organize weekly activities for families in her neighborhood through May 15th, while schools remain closed to fight the spread of the virus. “People who know me through my work as an Event Coordinator at Wilmington Friends School know how much I enjoy planning activities and making them fun!”
“I pitched my idea to the president of our board and he loved it, and then I came up with a calendar of ideas,” said Gatti.
Her first idea was to host a rainbow hunt, which took place last Thursday. “All of the activities entertain younger kids because they can walk around with their families and go on a little neighborhood tour and see all the fun things. And then it also engages the older kids and parents because their job is to make a rainbow and hang it somewhere,” said Gatti.
With trees edging toward their spring bloom and bright blue skies, Westhaven chose last Friday to host their bear hunt, drawing families and couples alike who strolled down Dickinson Lane to ID the bears. Some were hidden on car windshields, others inside windows, some on front porches or gardens. Children reveled in their discoveries – steering far from any other families.
Westover Hills kicked off their weekly family fun activities with a rainbow hunt.
“Rainbows were all over the neighborhood, people got creative about it, and the children really had to look, and it wasn’t patently obvious,” said Alexandra Kirtley, a Westover Hills resident. “We walk our dogs twice a day, so as you’re waking hour dog you can see them, too.”
The Kirtleys dusted off a crib mobile with a bright puffy rainbow and dangled that inside their front door.
“It gets the neighbors together, even though they might be six feet apart,” said Angela Gustavsen of Westhaven Park. “You get more faces to wave and smile at and kind of share that knowing look of being in captivity now.
“We have probably 12 to 15 bears so we had a lot to work with. You can see our youngest is walking around with his giant bear now,” said Gustavsen as she pointed to her child.
One count had 69 bears in Westhaven and 50 rainbows in Westover Hills.
Gatti said the impetus for her idea was to bring the community together “because everybody’s walking around, and this gives us a little purpose and some fun.”
“In this time of social distancing, it’s important we find some diversions for our kids in the community,” said Westover Hills resident Michael Toth in a letter to fellow neighbors as he thanks Gatti for putting together the Westover Hills Family Fun activity calendar.
Teachers admire creative ways to expand a ‘bear hunt’
Christ Church preschool teacher Annie Williams says she thinks the bear hunt and rainbow hunt ideas are great because they help kids connect to each other and give them something to look forward to.
“From a teacher’s perspective, you can count how many white bears did you see, how many brown bears did you see. You can extend the math part of it depending on the age group. You can even have them write a story about it. Some were hidden here or there. It brought excitement and entertainment to kids and everybody’s not locked in. It added a fun dimension to the day.”
Gustavsen says the momentum will continue to grow behind the stuffed animal project.
“At Easter time we’ll be ready because we have twice as many bunnies. So we’re set for Easter, too!”
Beyond Easter, Gatti is now devising other fun ways neighbors can connect at a safe distance, meaning not really near each other at all, or even at the same time. She came up with a countdown to May 15th and filled in with weekly family fun activities like April Fools Day Fun, Driveway Chalk Talk Saturday and Taco Tuesday.
And she shared the colorful Neighborhood Family Fun Activity Calendar with neighbors. She even shared it on the Hockessin Gossip Girls Facebook page. “I thought hey, why not spread the wealth because there are other moms and communities that might enjoy these activities, too.”