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Third Place – Creating a Place of Connection During COVID

by Jen Hutson, CDA parent

Rachel and Ross had Central Perk. Norm and Cliff had Cheers. Jessie and Slater had The Max and Jerry’s foursome had Monks Cafe.   

And you have…   

your basement??  

The Places We Know and Love

Every morning it’s school or work, and every evening it’s home. But what about the place between the two? This between space has its own moniker, third place, coined by urban sociologist Ray Oldenberg in the 1980s. He describes third place as an environment where you connect with others without the rigidity of school or work or the privacy of home. It’s your hang out, your go-to, your refuge.   

Many venues can be a third place:

a coffee shop

gym or sports team

the local library

your church 

a park

or community center.  

And each one helps shape our identity as well as the identity of our community. Third places facilitate connection across differing backgrounds and provide an informal setting for people to decompress. It is a neutral ground where we are known and welcomed without judgment.   


A World Without Third Places

But COVID stripped many of us of our third places. Want to work out? Make an appointment. Want to worship with your family? Log on. Want to meet friends for drinks? Bring a mask and stay back.  

So, what happens to our families when our third places are removed?   

The initial answer is likely boredom. Days stretch on and the weeks appear quotidian without the respite or excitement of somewhere else to go. But look deeper at your family and weightier answers may appear: a subtle lack of connection with others, a resentment at losses, a veiled frustration with the constant surrounding of the familiar.   


Making a Third Place in the Home Place

We can respond by reclaiming some of the key elements of a third place. Certain characteristics can’t be recreated, but let’s look at the qualities we can bring home and how they will enliven our family!   


Levity is a lightheartedness that primes us for connection. How serious is the tone of your home, especially with the stress of COVID? Relationships quickly stale under the weight of prolonged stress. Levity is a lubricant for relationships. It disarms. Try using it with your spouse and children!  


When you take the focus off relating, then relating becomes natural. Activity here means not merely busy work, nor a frenetic diversion. This activity is a communal act, a side by side work that opens people up to share. Sit face to face with your children and ask questions, and you make relating feel like an interrogation. But find an activity to focus on – throw a ball, build a birdhouse, cook a meal side by side, and sharing will happen organically. 


As humans in a fallen world, we live with the law of diminishing returns. All the new soon becomes old. And yet, as God renews creation each spring, we too can renew ourselves and our relationships. Interruption is the tool! Surprise your family by interrupting the stale routines and joy will ensue! And these simple moments of connection will be fixed in your children’s hearts.   

My family still talks of the night our home became a restaurant. Like many families in the ‘80s, meal time was rote and restaurants were far between. One night, without prior warning, my mother set up dinner in the living room – the untouchable room! – at the low round coffee table. We sat on pillows with our legs stretched out, gazing around in consternation. The room was purported to be a Chinese restaurant for the night and we waited until our server appeared, looking coincidentally like our mother. During dinner she sat and joined us, as mother, and then excused herself to the restroom, whereby our server would magically appear! Dinner wasn’t extravagant and I’m suspicious it was canned La Choy. But, it stands out as a happy moment in our family because it’s surprising newness added levity and joy to our routine. We reconnected over the laughter and the moment became one small strand of a bond.

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Create Your Own Third Place

So, go and do likewise! Use these ideas to add levity, activity and interruption to your home. But, remember:   

Creating a third place is less about the extravagant and more about the unexpected. 

  • Hang a hammock – swing, read, or look at the stars.
  • Pitch a tent outside for a family campout and cook dinner over the fire pit. No tent? String a sheet or a tarp between trees.
  • Picnic on your family room floor.
  • Play board games in bed. Or clear the décor off a table and set it up with games and snacks.
  • Make a fort or tent in the basement to watch a movie or have a book reading party.
  • Instead of heading home after school, take your children on a surprise park trip. There are always new places to explore, skip rocks or look for fossils. 
  • Interrupt homework with a Mad libs break.
  • Take a night walk. In the early darkness, hand out headlamps or flashlights and roam the neighborhood. 
  • Teach family history. Share unheard stories of family and ancestors while eating family recipes. Or show old family movies.
  • Make a meal together. Assign each family member a course or have the kids make the menu and meal themselves.
  • Create an obstacle course for your kids or ask them to make one for you. Time runs to see who wins.
  • Create a new space. It doesn’t need to be large to have an impact. Take a corner of a room or a closet, or an empty space behind the couch. Hang a sheet, drop a blanket and lay out some books and snacks. Cozy is the key. 
  • Set up a restaurant in your home for an evening. The key here is to commit 100% no matter the eye rolls or laughter! Bonus points for using a fake accent.
  • Go on a surprise ride. This can become a tradition. Unannounced during a meal, homework, or at a time when least expected, tell the kids to grab their shoes and head to the car for a surprise ride! The ride could involve dinner, a new park, cookies or stargazing in a nearby field.
  • Learn a new skill. Have a chef teach a class in your home, buy a model building kit or fly balsa airplanes in your backyard.
  • Have an outdoor food fight. (Credit for this idea goes to a CDA family.) You must commit to make this one work!
  • Take a polar bear plunge. When fall hits, get the family to plunge a local cold water source and follow it up with hot chocolate.
  • Ask the kids to plan their dream vacation and present it to you. It must include visual aids. However, parents are not obligated to book said vacation.
  • Rent a boat on Eagle creek for an afternoon or take a canoeing trip down the White River. Both are affordable and easy to book.
  • Fly kites. Grab your family on a windy fall evening and surprise each of them with their own kite. Then see whose will sail the heights!
  • Require a silly scavenger hunt before dinner or bedtime. Bonus points if dinner is found on the scavenger hunt! 
  • Read a book aloud over the course of evenings and then watch the movie.

  Please share – we’d love to hear how you created a third place in the life of your family!

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