Bowie Moon Porter drew this rainbow for other kids on the rainbow hunt through Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood

Dozens of Philly parents are finding solace in a social-distance-friendly activity that’s sweeping cities around the nation: the rainbow hunt.

In Philadelphia, entire neighborhoods have come together online to participate. Residents create some kind of rainbow art and hang it visibly in their windows, and then parents lead their kids on walks to find them. It’s an excuse to get outside and see your neighborhood, while keeping a safe separation to prevent the viral spread.

“All those social norms that we did every day, they’re just gone,” said Rebecca Brett, who lives in East Kensington with her 6-year-old daughter. “This really fills that void a little bit.”

Credit: Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Brad Lindell of Queen Village first heard about rainbow hunting from his sister-in-law, who noticed the colorful crafts popping up in windows all over her Brooklyn enclave. It’s also popped up in Boston, and as far away as Louisville, Kentucky.

On Wednesday morning, Lindell put together a Google form to kickstart the process in his own South Philly neighborhood. By Thursday afternoon, 55 people had entered their addresses, indicating they’d hung a rainbow to be discovered.

“Since then we’ve heard kids coming by all excited when they see our rainbow,” said Lindell, father of two daughters, 2 and 5 years old. “Both the kids really love walking around and seeing where kids put their rainbows up.”

Credit: Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

There’s also a crowdsourced map for the Fishtown rainbow hunt. Over the last few days, the activity has popped up in communities all over the city, including:

Many local parents are suddenly swamped with the responsibility of watching their children the entire day — often while also working from home. It’s tough to keep kids busy, and some have noticed a dip in morale.

Brett has to choke back tears when she remembers how life felt just last week, before the coronavirus really hit the region. The owner of a children’s boutique in Fishtown, she was constantly around neighborhood kids — and she loved it.

Now in isolation, she misses them terribly. And she can tell her daughter does, too.

“I can see little bursts of frustration with not being able to play with her friends or see her friends every day,” said Brett of her 6-year-old daughter. “And it’s so early yet. The longer this goes on the more it’s going to be a struggle.”

Credit: Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

The rainbow hunt provides welcome distraction via two time-consuming activities: first, kids are occupied by crafting the rainbow itself — and then they’re busy outside searching for others.

Parents say it’s been a huge relief.

“That’s the primary goal of walking around and doing something fun like that, to take your mind off the other things,” Brett said. “It’s nice to be able to see people’s faces and flash a smile, even from across the street.”

Even people who don’t have kids — or whose children have grown out of prime rainbow-hunting age — are into the artistic adventure. East Falls resident Carly Handley, whose son is 21, hung a rainbow in her window earlier this week. She loves how the activity brings her neighborhood together, even in desperate times.

“It’s been really depressing. There’s just general anxiety in the air,” Handley said. “But it’s so nice to be able to do this. It feels like we’re in this together.”

Credit: Kimberly Paynter / WHYY
Credit: Kimberly Paynter / WHYY
Credit: Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...