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Outdoor Play and Activity

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

Playing outside is the main, natural way that children everywhere can be physically active, whatever their situation. It 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 sports clubs and classes might close, and when many children have no gardens.
  • cost-free and open to all, as long as children can access safe space.
  • the main way that children socialise and connect with others, something we all need for health and happiness.
  • the way that children let off steam
  • a key way they cope with difficult experiences.

What’s possible right now?

Children experienced months of being stuck indoors and not seeing any friends at all during lockdown. Many also had over five months not in school.  Many parents are now speaking of the impact on children’s anxiety and other areas of mental and physical health.

In response to this, many experts and academics  have called for the need to prioritise children’s safe, outside play, both day to day or though organised opportunities such as play streets whenever possible. Our regularly updated Q and A below says what’s possible now:

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

Lockdown 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’. 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 – the major barrier to children’s freedom and safe outdoor play – increased and continues to increase, we’ve 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?

Current government guidelines in England from Monday 14th September are that it is illegal for more than six people, including children, to meet together inside or outside, with fines possible if you break this rule. This still allows for various possibilities of parents and children, or just children, to be playing outside together.

Within that, we can be outside and active as much as we want, following social distancing rules. Playgrounds may also be open. Exemptions to this ‘rule of six’ include work, education and organised sport settings.

The government will update with more detail and guidance on exemptions soon. Please note guidelines are different in Wales, Scotland (where children under 12 are exempt from social distancing) and Northern Ireland.

In case it’s helpful to managing informal play in your street, estate or park, we started a list of games and activities that lend themselves to distanced play, without needing to impose too much structure.

However you manage this time, it’s important – as we always advise – to listen to any concerns neighbours may have, especially now that many 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.

Are play streets possible yet?

There are many good reasons – for children, communities and creating more safe public space – why play streets are a great thing post lockdown. Parents, residents and many organisations and councils have been wanting to get going, and some have done so with great results. Whether this is possible at any time depends on current national and local guidelines around being outside. For the latest information, see below.

Info on play streets during Covid-19

Click here