For the past few years, the Detroit Lakes Early Childhood Family Education program, Becker County Early Childhood Initiative and the Polar Fest planning committee have joined forces to host fun, winter-related activities for parents and children age 0-5 at the Lincoln Education Center. Past years' activities were focused on a theme, like an ice castle made out of milk jugs or a life-size Candyland game.

The event, which was usually held over two or three nights, brought in hundreds of families from around the lakes area. This year, however, COVID-19 safety restrictions have precluded such large-scale, in-person events.

"It's kind of sad for us, because those are such fun events that bring in so many different families," said Annmarie Lacher, director of Detroit Lakes Community Education (which includes ECFE).

Rather than just canceling the event, however, the ECFE staff came up with a game that families can play at home together: The Little Polar Bear game.

To participate, families can download a game card from the website, dlcommunityed.com, use the one printed in the most recent Community Education catalog or pick one up at the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce at 700 Summit Ave.

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Each card has the names of all the 25 different activities printed on it, bingo card style. Guidelines for each activity are printed on the back of the game card.

There are prize incentives for completing five, 10, and 20 activities on the card: A make-your-own play dough kit is the gift for completing any five of the activities, while those who have completed 10 activities receive free coupons for a "Mini-Murph" pizza from Papa Murphy's Pizza and a cup of hot chocolate from La Barista.

Five squares: Families can email Carrie Cornwell, ccornwell@detlakes.k12.mn.us, for information on where and when to pick up their kit; the return email will also include a link to a special video that shows how to make the play dough.

10 squares: The family can email the same address as above to receive their free coupons; in addition to the coupons, they will be emailed a link to a video that shows how to make pizza.

20 squares: Families can scan or take a picture of the card with those activities crossed off and email it to the same address listed above; completed cards must be received no later than Friday, Feb. 12, to be included in the grand prize drawing.

Stephanie Torkildson, who has been participating in the game with her two sons — Kayden, 2, and Carson, six weeks — since early January, says that the activities have been a lot of fun for them to enjoy as a family.

"With this COVID stuff, it’s been nice to spend some extra time with our kiddos, doing fun things in the community," she said, adding that some of the activities included nature walks, going into the Detroit Lakes Public Library to sign up for a library card, and making "caring calls" to elderly residents in the area.

"We made a call to his (Kayden's) great grandma — she’s 103, and she met him for the first time on Facetime," said Torkildson. "Kayden also really enjoyed 'tummy time' with his little brother.

"This game has had a lot of fun, simple things for us to do, and they have a blast with it," she added, noting that they might continue doing some of the activities together even after the deadline for the prize drawing has passed.