An Ingenious Idea for Socially-Distanced Play Dates

published Feb 24, 2021
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As a parent considered very high-risk, in this past year we could not take shortcuts when it came to safety. That meant, all social gatherings for my kids always included being outdoors, wearing masks, and keeping at least six feet apart (if not much farther). And I found myself wondering: How do I enforce the rules while still encouraging effortless fun?

At first, it was a challenge. I tried adding elements of the unexpected, like letting the kids chat through the roof of the car or setting up trunk picnics with friends parked ten feet away. But the kids usually couldn’t hear each other and with no easy activity to fill the time, brief moments of joy often fizzled, fast.

But as no stranger to a challenge, I knew there had to be a solution. And eventually, I found the answer in good old walkie talkies.

Walkie talkies won over my kids and their friends on many levels. First, they were a new gadget. With buttons! That made noise! But more importantly, they helped my kids and their friends overcome the biggest hurdles of distanced dates: they could actually hear each other and the walkie talkie encouraged spontaneous play.

To set the scene for our first walkie talkie date, I made goodie bags for my eldest child and two of her good friends. Each package contained a walkie talkie (from a set of three), a nature scavenger hunt, crayons, and a few sheets of paper. With the new gear in hand, they searched the local park together, calling out discoveries over the radio. And then, with that adventure complete, they sat at a distance, drawing pictures of their surroundings, making leaf rubbings, and simply chatting away about their creations. 

After this inaugural outing, though, I never needed to provide a catalyst for play again. Whether they became archeologists digging for treasure at the beach, went on a neighborhood scavenger hunt, or felt free to play contactless hide-and-go-seek, walkie talkies helped my kids escape to worlds of their own imagination and totally forget about their hoovering adults. Suddenly, pandemic playdates started to look way more like regular playdates; maybe even better. And I finally felt like I could offer my kids an easy way to be both careful and carefree.

Suddenly, pandemic play dates started to look way more like regular play dates; maybe even better. And I finally felt like I could offer my kids an easy way to be both careful and carefree.

The Best Walkie Talkies for Play Dates

When purchasing walkie talkies, consider the age of your children, the number of friends you plan to use them with, and the type of activities and games your kids like to play.

For really little kids and preschoolers, search for products with big buttons, which will make it easier to grip and easier to push-to-talk without help. This particular product even allows both users to talk while buttons are pressed, at the same time. Meaning no one misses a 10-4! 

For older kids, who plan to literally take walkie talkies on the road, look for products that include bands, leashes, or clips so they can be safely worn or wrapped around the wrist. That way, kids can stay in touch while biking, skating, and hiking together.

Thinking beyond distance playdates, you may decide to purchase walkie talkies that provide more than just a voice function. Like this one with games, an MP3 player, camera, and a flashlight. They will not only prove useful for playing, camping, and staying connected on Halloween night! But may even serve as a midway compromise for young kids eager to have their own phone. 

In order to avoid passing walkie talkies (and germs) back and forth, you may wish to gift the second walkie talkie to a friend. So, if you want to include several friends or your whole pod, look for products that come with multiple walkie talkies per pack.

For the Budget-Conscious

To avoid more gadgets in the house or another pandemic purchase, you can also just use your phone, if you’re OK loaning it out during a playdate. Several apps allow users to convert their cell into a two-way radio. Like the Two Way: Walkie Talkie (no personal information needed for set-up) and Marco Polo (which requires access to wifi, but no in-app purchases).

This piece was created for Cubby, our weekly newsletter for families at home. Want more? Sign up here for a weekly splash of fun and good ideas for families with kids.

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