Children free from class are running around Covington, going into businesses, drawing on rocks and eating ice cream. It’s not just a mess of bored kids, it’s groups of families and students trying to earn badges during Covington’s Play Unplugged campaign.
This is the fourth year the Covington Chamber of Commerce has hosted Play Unplugged, a summer-long event to help kids get out of the house and away from computers and into local business to exercise, do crafts and complete challenges. Covington Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jennifer Liggett said the summer event has been a big success for both families and local businesses.
“Businesses don’t have to be chamber members to participate,” Liggett said. “We partner with the Kent School District’s marketing team to go to Covington elementary schools and promote the challenge.”
Play Unplugged was created by two Utah residents in 2013 to help parents give their children incentives to go outside and get away from screens.
“Play Unplugged is all about encouraging kids to put down their electronics and get out and play,” the Play Unplugged website states. “This is done by creating a symbiotic relationship between kids, parents and their local community. This relationship creates an incentive for all to participate as one motivates the other.”
Covington and Kent students start the challenge by going with their families to Covington City Hall or the Covington library to pick up their own badge lanyard. The families then head to participating businesses to complete a challenge, a task or a craft and earn a “brag badge.” Children can earn up to 26 badges this year, and those who earn all the badges can receive a three-month swim pass to the Covington Aquatic Center.
“For business owners, they want to give back. This way they can be a part of the ultimate give,” Liggett said. “Businesses get to choose their activity. Some have a picnic, some do paper airplane contests, rock painting, walk-a-mile, make a card…”
The event is held from the first day school is out until Labor Day, which is on Monday, Sept. 2. It’s not too late for parents to sign up their children either, and many families find they can earn all 26 badges and a free swim pass within a couple of weeks.
Seven businesses have participated since Play Unplugged Covington’s conception, but the program has quickly grown. In 2018 over 600 kids played to earn badges, and so far 75 kids have earned a 2019 three-month swim pass.
The City of Covington also promoted the summer event with help from its new mascot, Karma the Chameleon. Karma visited many local shops to help kids earn their badges one weekend.
“Tech can be addictive,” City of Covington spokesperson Karla Slate said. “This gives kids’ brain a break, and we see so many families enjoying it.”
“It’s huge,” said Liggett, who is also a Covington mom. “I have kids in age ranges from Pre-K to teens. And sometimes teens need encouragement to use their imagination. This program helps foster that.”
Business owners said besides getting a chance to attract new customers, one of the best parts of the program is getting to be involved with the community.
“So we fell in love with Play Unplugged last year,” Vanessa, a Covington resident, told the city in an online Facebook video. “We learned all about geo-caching, that’s been our new favorite activity. And we love that the aquatic center is giving us such a generous prize, that’s really giving us real incentive to do all the activities. I’m a mother of three and I babysit three on the side so this gives us something to do during the week when we don’t have things planned.”
Residents can still sign their children, ages 5 – 12, up to play and try to earn badges before Labor Day. Even if students don’t earn all 26 badges by the end of the challenge, they can bring their badges to the chamber’s Fall Festival from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 21 to receive a prize from the city.