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Children still need to play out in Lockdown

posted this in Children's play, health and wellbeing on 06/11/2020

So here we go again, lockdown #2 in England, joining Wales and NI and possibly soon to be joined by Scotland. This time, we must all do what we can to make sure it’s better for children, who were so unfairly impacted the first time around. In particular, they will need to get outside and play during the weeks and months ahead.

The simple freedom to play outside gives children so much, especially when their lives are more restricted: physical activity; freedom; fun; sunlight; fresh air; ‘letting off steam’ – all contributing hugely to their health and wellbeing.

In lockdown #1, we and others called for Government to put out a clear message that outdoor play counts as ‘exercise’ for children. Sadly, this never happened and as a result many families felt trapped indoors, too afraid of breaking the rules to let their children go outside at all. This fear, along with the closure of parks and playgrounds, made a bad situation even worse for children – especially the many without a garden.

And now there is clear evidence that children’s physical activity levels dropped even further than normal during this time, with less affluent and ethnic minority children most severely impacted. And their mental health has also suffered.

Fortunately for children in Wales, Scotland and NI, the rules – even under lockdown – are more relaxed around children under 12 meeting outside, based on good scientific evidence and a weighing up of the risks and benefits.

What has changed in England – and what hasn’t?

There are some positives compared to last time:

  • You are now allowed outside simply to ‘visit a public place’, including streets and parks, and don’t need to be ‘exercising’. So you can sit on a bench whilst your children play, rather than having to do star-jumps!
  • Children under 5 are not counted in the ‘rule of two’ – so you can meet one other parent outside with several pre-school children.
  • Playgrounds and parks are staying open.
  • There is no time limit on being outside.

But still:

  • All school-age children are counted in the ‘rule of two’, so unless they are able to meet up with a friend unsupervised, will be restricted to playing only within their household group.
  • Children of all ages are still meant to distance from each other, even outside.
  • Formal sports and activities are currently not allowed, so children’s opportunities for physical activity and social interaction outside school are limited.

And there is still confusion. We have already started getting calls from parents asking if children are allowed to play outside during lockdown #2.

As the many sports celebrities backing the Telegraph’s #KeepKidsActive campaign are saying, limiting children’s opportunity to be active – particularly outdoors where it is very safe, both for them and others – is unacceptable and damaging.

What can we do as individuals?

A major way that we can all help to keep children happy and active this time around is by giving them the chance to play outside where possible – in parks, streets, estates and public space. And this is possible, even under the current rules, albeit in a limited way. It is also something that ALL children can do as it is cost-free and just requires access to a safe space.

And what could the UK Government do?

A couple of key things would make this easier for children and parents. As before, a clear and explicit message from Government that children’s play is an “allowed” activity outside (and not just in playgrounds) would really help give parents more confidence to do this. And a relaxing of the rules around distancing and numbers for under 12s meeting outdoors to bring England in line with other nations would open up a world of enjoyment and activity for children this winter.

Outdoor play during Covid

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