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Outdoor play and Covid

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

For children, outdoor play is:

  • Fun! Children play out because they enjoy it.
  • Exercise. Outdoor play is essential for children’s physical activity, especially when other opportunities are limited.
  • Cost-free and open to all. All that is needed is easy access to safe space near home.
  • Social. Play is the main way children connect and make friends.
  • A way to let off steam and process difficult experiences.

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 most up to date guidance here. The road map out of lockdown has begun and as of 29 March, six people or two households can meet up outside, including in a private garden. Outdoor sports facilities are open, and people can take part in formally organised outdoor sports. From 12 April, some small outdoor events can take place and all childcare and supervised activities are allowed indoors (as well as outdoors) for all children. Parent and child groups can take place indoors (as well as outdoors) for up to 15 people (children under 5 will not be counted in this number). Read our play streets and covid page for guidance on when we think play streets can restart.

In Wales, as of 27 March six people from two households can meet outdoors, socially distanced and outdoor children’s activities can take place.View the most up to date guidance here.

Girl chalking on street

In Scotland, lockdown restrictions are gradually lifting from 2 April. Outdoor contact sport for 12-17 year olds has resumed. By 26 April all children should be back to school full-time and outdoor socialising will be permitted for up to six people from up to three households, along with allowing 12-17 year olds to meet outdoors in groups of six from up to six households. View the most up to date guidance here.

Children aged 11 and under have not been counted in the limits on number of people meeting up in Scotland, and children have also been allowed to play outdoors in larger groups, including in organised gatherings throughout lockdown.

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. The current restrictions will be reviewed on 15 April. View the full guidance here.

Our views on current restrictions on outdoor play

We are trying to keep abreast of new research around Covid-19 and children so our views may change as more evidence emerges.

Our general view is that any lockdown rules should allow children under 12 to play outside together in some way as it’s low-risk and essential for their wellbeing. This has long been the decision in Scotland where children under 12 can meet outside without distancing. 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, read our Play streets and Covid-19 page for the latest info. 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

Info here