Playing helps children explore, learn about their world and feel happy. Also, being up and about and playing burns energy and helps prevent serious illnesses like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer in later life. Making sure there is time, space and freedom to play is a great way of making sure everyone is moving around and having fun!

The onset of coronavirus has hit us hard. Parents and carers are facing a worrying time as schools and activities that normally keep their children active are closed. Despite this new stress, children will still want and need to play. Until the threat of illness passes, playing may need to be mostly inside or if outside, following Welsh Government and Public Health Wales guidance around social distancing.

The importance of play in times of stress

During times of uncertainty, playing:

  • helps to give children a feeling of normality and joy during an experience of loss, isolation and trauma
  • helps children to overcome emotional pain and regain control over their lives
  • helps them make meaning of what has happened to them, and enable them to experience fun and enjoyment
  • offers children an opportunity to explore their own creativity.

The physical activity guidelines

There are four Chief Medical Officers in the United Kingdom. In 2019, they published information and recommendations about physical activity, known as the Chief Medical Officers’ Physical Activity Guidelines.

The Chief Medical Officers recognise the importance of play for children’s development. The guidelines recommend that children should have as much active play as possible.

The guidelines say: ‘children are recommended to be active for an average of 60 minutes a day across the week.’

The overall message is any activity is better than none, and more is better still.

Active play

Active play is physical activity with regular bursts of a normal to energetic pace movement, such as crawling, jumping, or running. Playing actively raises children’s heart rate and make them ‘huff and puff’.

Modern life has made things comfortable for us and many of us spend a long time being inactive at home and at work – this doesn’t burn off the energy we are consuming. The added responsibility of social distancing or isolation means that we find ourselves taking part in more sedentary activities.

During these changing and challenging times, it is important that we find time in the day to get up and about. This is good for both our physical and mental well-being.

Guidelines for early years (birth to five years)

 Infants (younger than a year old):

  • Should be physically active several times every day in lots of ways, including interactive floor-based activity, such as crawling.
  • Babies should have at least 30 minutes of tummy time spread throughout the day while awake. They should also have chances to reach and grasp, push and pull themselves up independently and roll over.

Toddlers (1-2 years):

  • Toddlers should spend at least 180 minutes (three hours) a day doing lots of different of physical activities, including active and outdoor play, spread throughout the day.

Pre-schoolers (3-4 years):

  • Pre-schoolers should spend at least 180 minutes (three hours) a day in a variety of physical activities spread throughout the day, including active and outdoor play. More is better and at least 60 minutes should be normal-to-energetic physical activity.

Older children (5-18 years)

The physical activity guidelines for children and teenagers aged 5 to 18 years recommend that:

  • Children should take part in normal to energetic physical activity for 60 minutes a day. The activities can be spread throughout the day.

Normal physical activity should make children feel warmer and breathe harder, such as:

o   brisk walking

o   riding a bike

o   dancing

o   rollerblading

o   playground activities.


Energetic activities make talking harder and include:

o   running fast

o   playing tag

o   skipping rope.

  • Children should also take part in some activities that develop movement skills and muscle and bone strength across the week. These activities include hopping, skipping, and swinging on playground equipment using body weight or working against resistance.

  • Children should not spend long periods of time sitting still or not moving. Adults need to help children and teenagers to spend less time doing things like screen-time (watching television, computer use, video games), sitting to read, talk, do homework, or listen to music. 

Ensure children are active when being asked to socially distance

Social distancing requires everyone – children and adults – to stay six feet (two metres) apart at all times. So, being outdoors is still possible. We just need to think about places where it’s easier to keep the recommended distance. Current guidance says that we can go on walks through neighbourhoods, bike rides and scooter rides. It is very difficult for children to control their distance when they are playing, particularly when they are engaged in energetic physical activity or there are other children nearby, so they may need our help with this. Remember, any activity is better than none, and more is better still.

For practical ideas for playing whilst social distancing go to Play ideas for parents