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Reinventing the Slumber Party: Social Distancing Sleepover

Since Covid-19, I’ve had to find creative ways to try to replicate some of the more basic pre-pandemic activities that we once took for granted. As I write this, with heavy bags under my eyes and hundreds of calories burned bringing food and supplies from my kitchen to the backyard again and again, I am proud that my eighth grade daughter’s first COVID-era backyard social distancing sleepover was a success.

“How many friends can I have? I don’t want to leave anyone out,” my daughter asked.

We settled on four friends. In pre-pandemic times, the girls would have organized this event themselves. Now, I needed to step back to the days of arranging playdates, sending an inquiry letter to moms so that we (and our daughters) would all be on the same page in terms of comfort level and understanding. My email went something like this:

Hi, Moms of Alexa’s friends,

Hope you are all doing well and remain safe and healthy with your families. Alexa has loved hanging out with your kids virtually and on socially distant walks and occasional backyard visits. Now we want to try to take things to the next level.

Do you feel comfortable having your kids come this Saturday for a socially distant sleepover (movies, s’mores, etc.)? It will all be held fully outside, and each teen will sleep in her own tent. We hope that you can supply and set up a tent for your child at drop off. (We’re not big campers. I am not so skilled at tent building except for the small one that we just purchased for this event!).

Please send a sleeping pad, pillow, sleeping bag, mask, and labeled water bottle. Drop off is around 5:30 PM and pick up is 10 AM. Feel free to call me if you have any questions, and please let me know if your child can attend! And, of course, no pressure and no worries if you don’t feel comfortable sending your child to an event like this during these times. I totally understand that every family’s situation and COVID ground rules are a bit different, and you should make the decision that is right for you.

Less than five minutes after I sent the email, I received four excited affirmative RSVPs. Clearly, these moms and girls wanted to connect!

Now I needed to plan and execute the social distancing sleepover. Here are the ideas and items that helped to make our night a success:

Social Distancing Sleepover Party Ideas

  • SEATING: Arrange backyard seating with socially distanced chairs, tables, and trays.
  • FOOD PLANNING: Serve individual cheese pizzas and pre-made salads in containers.
  • DISPOSABLE PAPER GOODS: Distribute paper plates, small bowls and cups to hold popcorn, apples, and mini oranges that each girl can self-peel.
  • HYGIENE: Ensure easy access to an outdoor sink (or even a hose) for handwashing, as well as paper towels to dry hands. Provide hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes on each table and next to the sink, too. Also, figure out the toilet situation. Our guests masked up and used the small half-bathroom that we have just inside of our garage. That was the only indoor time spent by anyone.
  • ENTERTAINMENT: Purchase or borrow an outdoor movie projector or other entertainment system to show movies, play music, and watch a show when it gets dark. We ordered a small projector from an electronics store, some connection wires to allow an iPhone/computer/iPad to stream, a small outdoor portable speaker, and a movie screen. A white bed sheet or blank wall will also suffice as a makeshift screen.
  • DESSERT: A fire pit or small barbecue grill set up where kids can make s’mores makes for a nice touch. Our s’mores were pre-made in zippered plastic bags containing marshmallows, graham crackers, and a chocolate bar. Use disposable sticks to roast marshmallows.
  • SLEEP ESSENTIALS: Flashlights and lanterns; personal tent and sleeping bag, pillow, and pad; labeled water bottle; flip flops or outdoor slippers.
  • OTHER ESSENTIALS: A trash bag or trashcan nearby for kids to throw away their own food items when done eating; extra disposable masks and rubber gloves on hand, just in case.

The girls were respectful of the situation and kept their masks on while outside unless they were eating. The best reward of the evening was hearing peals of laughter as the girls made s’mores while social-distanced around our fire pit. Later, they chatted and giggled as they watched Clueless under the stars.

The next morning, four sleepy girls were greeted by a breakfast of bagels and cream cheese, as well as fresh blueberry muffins that had been prepared and dropped off by one of the other moms.

So, yes, our first foray into backyard sleepovers (aka “Camp Muchnick”) was definitely a success. I got lots of hugs and gratitude from my daughter—something I have come to cherish more and more these days—and thank yous from her friends and their parents. Careful planning and thinking outside of the box led to some great memories in a year unlike any other. And we can’t wait to do it again.

Cynthia Muchnick is the Co-Author of the new book for parents of tweens and teens The Parent Compass: Navigating Your Teen’s Wellness and Academic Journey in Today’s Competitive World. Instagram | parentcompass Facebook | TheParentCompass Twitter | CynthiaMuchnick LinkedIn | Cindy Muchnick and Jenn Curtis

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