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Outdoor play and covid-19

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

Children’s outdoor play is:

  • 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 at times when organised activities are closed, and when many children have no garden.
  • cost-free and open to all, as long as they can access safe space.
  • the main way they socialise and connect with others, something we all need for health and happiness.
  • the way they let off steam.
  • a key way they cope with difficult experiences.

You can read more about the importance of free outdoor play for children here.

What are the current rules around playing outside?

We are regularly reviewing the guidance for any changes that impact children and their ability to play outdoors. However, for the most up to date information, please review the government guidance.

In England: See the full guidance on the national lockdown here. The guidance states you may leave home to “exercise with your household (or support bubble) or one other person (in which case you should stay 2m apart). Exercise should be limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area.” Children under 5 are not counted towards the gatherings limits for exercising outside. We have been campaigning for clarity for parents and a clear message from government that play is exercise for children and therefore a valid reason to leave the house.

Although playgrounds remain open in most areas, we have seen some councils closing them and the guidance states “Playgrounds are primarily open for use by children who do not have access to private outdoor space, like their own garden. Although you can take your children to a playground for exercise, you must not socialise with other people while there.

If you live in a household with anyone aged under 14, you can form a childcare bubble with one other household but you must not meet socially with your childcare bubble.

The rules in England are changing over the next few months. From 29 March, outdoor gatherings of either six people or two households will be allowed, including in private gardens. Outdoor sports facilities will be allowed to reopen, and people can take part in formally organised outdoor sports.

In Wales, although the whole of Wales is at alert level 4, the Welsh government recognises that “the benefits of outdoor play to children are significant” and therefore parks and playgrounds are open. Children are also allowed to play outside in the street in their neighbourhood however theyshould not arrange to meet with children from other households. This applies to under 11s as well as to over 11s. Where children are old enough to understand the rules, they should be encouraged to follow them and to avoid mixing with other children outside their household or support bubble.” View the full guidance here.

Girl chalking on street

In Scotlanda maximum of two people from up to two households can meet for local outdoor recreation, sport or exercise, walking, cycling, golf, or running that starts and finishes at the same place (which can be up to 5 miles from the boundary of your local authority area) as long as you abide by the rules on meeting other households.

Children aged 11 and under are not counted in that limit, and they are also be able to play outdoors in larger groups, including in organised gatherings. However, for everyone else – including 12 to 17 year olds – outdoor exercise should only take place in a way which is consistent with the two people from two households rule. Read the full guidance here and specific information for parents here.

In Northern Ireland, current rules say that you can leave your home to exercise in a public outdoor place with the people you live with, your bubble or, when on your own, with one person from another household. You can form a bubble with one other household for childcare reasons. View the full guidance here.

Our views on current restrictions on outdoor play

We are trying to keep abreast of new research and evidence around transmission of covid-19 amongst children so our views may change as more evidence emerges. For example, around the new variants of the virus, or as the external situation changes.

Our general view is that the rules should allow children under 12 to be able to play outside together in some way. This has long been the decision in Scotland where children under 12 can meet and play and don’t have to keep physical distance. Scientific evidence to date largely shows that children under 12 are far less likely to spread the virus and that it spreads far less outside. See our list of other important reasons why children under 12 need to be specifically considered.

We hope that play streets – temporary road closures organised by neighbours – will be widely possible again before too long. In the meantime it is still possible to be outside and public parks and playgrounds are open.



Games for socially distanced outdoor play

Where children are allowed to play out together, informal play in your street, estate or park might need a bit more managing. We started a list of games and activities that lend themselves to distanced play, without needing to impose too much structure.

The importance of being community minded

Whatever we are doing outside, it’s important, as always, to listen to any concerns neighbours may have, especially where people may be shielding or vulnerable. We must also all be conscious of our fair use of outside space (adults too) so that everyone can feel safe outside.

Play streets and Covid-19

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