COVID-19 and Children’s Play

A new research paper commissioned by the Play Safety Forum and written by Professor David Ball, Tim Gill and Andy Yates. The Children’s Play Policy Forum supports the research paper.

The purpose of the COVID-19 and Children’s Play research paper is to summarise emerging evidence on the effects of playrestrictions in terms of a) reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the population and b) the detriments to children resulting from the restrictions.

It is concluded that the current UK interventions need to be urgently reviewed because:

  • the benefits to children of playing outside bring a host of social, emotional and physical rewards. These have long been undervalued and at this time appear to have been completely ignored. Consequently, children are suffering harm;
  • the evidence is that the risks posed by COVID-19 to children playing in outdoor spaces is very low;
  • proportionate decision making requires that trade-offs between the risks and benefits of safety interventions are part of the decision process. The evidence summarised below is that current UK policy is much more harmful to children than  beneficial.

Its other purpose is to provide factual information in so far as there are known facts to help decision makers responsible for play provision. This paper has been written partly to counter myths and misinformation but also to support more rational, evidence-informed decision making.

During the present crisis measures have been applied which severely restrict the freedom of children and adolescents. Little consideration appears to have been given to children’s welfare outside of the impact on education. Play, as has often been the case, has been forgotten or side-lined, yet there is copious scientific evidence of its importance for development. In contrast, there is little evidence that permitting children to play outside will increase risk in any significant way providing common sense measures are maintained.

On the basis of this evidence the Children’s Play Policy Forum recommends:

  1. schools and childcare settings should not enforce rigid social distancing in playgrounds and outdoor spaces, and should plan for a significant expansion in outdoor learning.
  2. children should be allowed to play outside together freely (while adopting good hand hygiene practices), playgrounds should be re-opened with immediate effect, and other measures should be taken to open up local streets and public spaces for play, particularly where families have poor access to outdoor space.

Download COVID-19 and Children’s Play