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Home > COVID-19 > Outdoor play and activity

Outdoor Play and Activity

Free outdoor play is vital to children’s health and wellbeing, especially when life is more indoors, isolated and restricted. Read updates here.

Playing outside is the main, natural way that children everywhere can be physically active, whatever their situation. It’s essentially their ‘exercise’, even though it might just look like having fun! Being able to do this safely in streets and public space is even more important when organised sports clubs and classes are closed, and when many children have no gardens. It’s also cost-free and open to all, as long as children can access safe space. Play is also the main way that children socialise and connect with others, something we all need for health and happiness. Play is also of course the way that children let off steam, and a key way they cope with difficult experiences.

What is possible now?

Throughout lockdown children across the UK have experienced hugely increased isolation at home – not seeing friends and the vast majority not going to school – as well as being surrounded by adult worries and concerns. Many parents are starting to speak of the impact this has had and is still having on children’s anxiety and other areas of mental and physical health. Experts are calling for children to be allowed to play together again as soon as possible.

As endorsed by academics recently, we need to prioritise how children can play outside in ways that are both safe and fit their needs in this time, both day to day or though organised opportunities such as play streets. We’ve started a Q and A below around what is possible which we will add to and regularly update.

What has been the impact of lockdown on children and outdoor play?

Lockdown itself was a very confusing time, with almost no government, local authority or police guidance around children playing or being outside  – guidance that we and others strongly called for. Our inbox and network told us that parents felt very anxious and confused about what was allowed. Some vulnerable residents were also extremely worried by children being out playing, even just in their family group. Many parents simply kept children indoors during lockdown, afraid of being judged or fined and wanting to do the “right thing” for everyone. The full negative impact of this for children’s mental and physical health – especially for those who had no access to private outdoor space – is now emerging, as it did for Spain.

What silver linings were there for outdoor play during lockdown?

There were also opportunities in lockdown. Traffic levels were reduced to pre-1960 levels, enabling more children to cycle, walk or play safely with siblings in the street where there was confidence for them to do so. Everybody loved the cleaner air and greater sense of community. As traffic increased – the major barrier to children’s freedom and safe outdoor play – and continues to increase, we have been calling for residential streets to be opened up more for people and campaigning for streets to be made safer for everyone, both now and in the future.

What are the rules now around children playing out?

There still isn’t any guidance specifically about this. But current government guidelines say that in England we can go outside and be active as much as we want, as long as we follow social distancing rules. Also people are now allowed to meet outside in groups of six. This allows for various possibilities of parents and children, or just children, to be playing outside together, following social distancing rules. From July 4th, outdoor playgrounds will be open and the list of what is possible broadens again. Please note guidelines are different in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

For parents who are worrying about how to manage this, particularly in terms of informal play on the street/pavement or estate, we have made this list of games and activities that lend themselves to distanced play, without needing to impose too much structure.

Whatever you do, it’s also important – as we would always advise – to listen to any concerns neighbours may have, especially now that many may be self isolating or vulnerable. We must all – and this very much goes for adults in relation to children too – be conscious of our fair use of outside space so that everyone can feel safe outside.”

Are play streets possible yet?

There are many very good reasons – for children, communities and creating more safe public space – why play streets would be a great thing as we emerge further from lockdown, and we know that many parents and residents are wanting this, and many other organisations and councils are also getting ready. See our Play Streets 2020 page for any updates.

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