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Outdoor play and covid

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 might close, 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.

What are the current rules around playing outside?

In England: during lockdown from 5 November, you can “exercise outdoors or visit an outdoor public place with the people you live with” or one-to-one with someone from another household. For children, outdoor play is exercise and “outdoor public places” include parks, playgrounds and streets. Importantly, “children under school age…will not count towards the limit on two people meeting outside”. So two adults can meet with several small children from two households. Unfortunately, school-age children do currently count in the limit of two.

In Wales, the Welsh government recognises that “the benefits of outdoor play to children are significant”. Parks and playgrounds were open during the Firebreak which ended on 9 November but households were not allowed to mix. New national rules were introduced following the firebreak. These state that up to four people from different households can meet up outside (socially distanced) and this does not include children aged under 11. The rule of four does not apply to organised sports and exercise; “You can play sport or exercise in a group of up to 30 people outdoors or 15 people indoors, if this is part of an organised activity managed for example by a gym, a leisure centre or a sports club. Children aged under 11 and those organising the activity (such as coaches) are not included in these numbers.”

The Welsh guidance also say that “For young children (those of primary school age or younger), it is less essential to attempt to rigidly maintain continual 2 metre distance between them, or between the children and any adults they do not live with. However, you should still make the best efforts you can to make sure they do.”

Girl chalking on street

In Scotland, the Scottish government introduced a new 5 tier system from 2 November. Even in the highest tier, children under 12 are exempt from rules limiting the number of people meeting outside from different households. Across all tiers, “Children under 12 do not need to maintain physical distance from others.  This is to allow children under 12 to play with their friends outside”.

In Northern Ireland, current rules (due to end 13 Nov) say up to 15 people can meet in a public place with social distancing.

Our views on current restrictions on outdoor play

Our view is that the rules should allow children under 12 to be able to play outside together freely, without social distancing, as is the case in Scotland. Scientific evidence to date largely shows that children under 12 are not spreading the virus and that it spreads far less outsideWe list other important reasons why this rule is needed here.

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

When, if and 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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