What’s safe and what’s not during coronavirus school closures: the latest news

What’s safe and what’s not during coronavirus school closures
Wondering what you can or can't do during the UK-wide lockdown? Here's our guide to what's allowed and what's not during the coronavirus outbreak in the UK.
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As the UK goes into another lockdown for an unspecified period, many of us are worrying not only about how we’ll manage our children’s learning outside school, but also how we’ll keep them entertained.

Is it safe to go to the park? What about visiting relatives? We answer your questions on keeping your child safe and helping to stop the coronavirus spread.

Schools

Primary and secondary schools are now closed across all four UK nations. In England, they will remain closed until at least February half-term. In Wales, they will be closed until 18 Jan when there will be a further review. In Scotland, parents can expect schools to be closed at least until the beginning of February, and in Northern Ireland, there will be an as-yet unspecified period of remote learning.

Schools will remain open to vulnerable children (e.g. children in care or those who have a social worker or EHIC plan) and the children of critical workers. Children who will find it difficult to work at home, for instance because they don't have access to IT equipment or a quiet place to study may also be able to attend school; if this is the case, speak to your child's headteacher.

The government has published a list of critical workers whose children will be able to attend school.

Childcare

Some childcare is still available during this period of lockdown:

  • Early years settings, including nurseries and childminders, may remain open.
  • Vulnerable children and children of critical workers can still use registered childcare, including childminders and wraparound care.
  • Nannies can continue to work, including in your home.

You can also form a childcare bubble if you have a child under the age of 14. This is an arrangement where two households can link up to provide informal childcare. It must be the same two households every time. This is intended mainly to allow parents to work, and should not be used socially. 

Play dates

Although it may seem pointless to keep children apart when they’ve been at school together for weeks, play dates are on the list of banned activities, which prohibits visiting others' houses.

Children may not show any symptoms of coronavirus but still be carrying it, and mixing with others could transmit the illness to others.

As we know, coronavirus can be severe and fatal, and this new strain transmits particularly easily, so it’s important to keep your child away from their friends to minimise the spread to other people in the community, especially those who are higher risk due to underlying health conditions or pregnancy.

Understanding social distancing is difficult for all of us – Can you save the world? is an interactive children's video game to help kids understand why physical distancing is important.

Try this instead: Arrange a time for your child to catch up with their friends on FaceTime or Skype.

If they’re into online gaming, they can use that as a way of socialising, but make sure you’re supervising them to make sure they only play with people they know.

Parks and playgrounds

Most of us will be keen to make sure our kids get some daily exercise and fresh air, and unlike in lockdown one, outdoor playgrounds will remain open.

Bear in mind, though, that children naturally come into contact with other kids when playing in the park. Even going to an empty playground could be risky, as some studies have shown that coronavirus could last as long as nine days on metal and plastic surfaces – the very things that your child comes into contact with in a play area.

If you do go to a play area, follow these simple steps to protect your family and others:

  • Do not arrange to meet other families in a playground, unless they are in your support bubble.
  • Supervise your child closely to make sure they stick to the 2m social distancing rule.
  • Sanitise hands before entering and after leaving the play area.
  • If the play area is busy, go away and come back later.

We are also being asked to limit outdoor exercise to once a day, and to stay local, which means not travelling outside the town, village or area of the city where we live.

Try this instead: Go on a family walk, bike ride or scooter ride. Make it more appealing by turning it into a scavenger hunt, finding a good tree to climb, or building a den.

Why not take the opportunity to visit a new place while keeping your distance from others? Cafes and restaurants will be shut, so take a picnic with you.

Swimming

Although swimming pool chemicals are thought to kill coronavirus, public swimming pools, indoor and out, are closed during national lockdown.

Try this instead: Think about trying a new, non-contact sport with your child like badminton or tennis, which can be played in the garden.

There are also lots of YouTube fitness videos that are suitable for kids and will help them keep moving, and ‘The Body Coach’ Joe Wicks is once again livestreaming a 20-minute PE lesson every morning at 9am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from Monday 11 Jan.

Visiting grandparents and other relatives

Sadly, we've now been told not to visit family members who don't live with them to avoid the spread of coronavirus.

There are exceptions, though. You can form a support bubble with one other person who lives alone, such as a single grandparent. You can also form a support bubble with another household of any size if you have a child who was under 12 months old on 2 Dec 2020, or if you have a child under the age of five who has a disability that requires continuous care.

Ideally, your support bubble should be local to minimise travel, but you are allowed to stay overnight together.

If you share custody of your child with another person, typically an ex-partner, your child can move freely between your two households.

Try this instead: Keep in touch by phone, on WhatsApp (on your phone and supervised by you – the age limit is 16), or by Skype or FaceTime.

Writing letters is also a lovely way to keep contact going, and it’s a good literacy exercise for your child, too.

Shopping

We can now only leave home for essential shopping and medical needs, and while we've not explicitly been told that we can't take children with us, it makes sense to avoid it.

As well as exposing them to other people, it’s difficult to stop children touching their faces and other surfaces in the store, so they could be at risk of picking up the virus in a busy shop.

Home delivery slots are heavily oversubscribed and we're being encouraged to leave them free for older and vulnerable people and those who are self-isolating, but if you really can't get to the shops child-free and can book one, it’s a good idea to do so rather than taking your child to a supermarket.

If you do have to take your child shopping, take disinfectant wipes with you and clean the handles of your basket or trolley, and make sure they wash their hands immediately afterwards.

Take a shopping list so you’re focused and spend as little time in the store as possible, and steer clear of aisles that are full of temptations, like the toy aisle and sweets aisle, to avoid unnecessary touching.

Try this instead: Treat it as a challenge to make as many meals as possible from scratch with your child, using ingredients that are already in your store cupboard.

It’s a great way to use up those tins that have been hiding at the back of the cupboard for months, as well as teaching your child useful kitchen skills.

Holidays

We're being told to stay at home with no unnecessary journeys or social contact, which includes holidays in the UK and overseas. You may, however, stay overnight with your support bubble.

If you’ve yet to book a holiday for the months ahead, it’s wise to leave it until as near the time as possible to avoid being caught out if travel advice changes.

Try this instead: If you’ve got a tent and some outside space (and the mettle to survive the winter weather!), pitch it in the garden and have a family sleep-out. Cook your dinner on a barbecue or camping stove, and toast marshmallows afterwards.

If not, get the sleeping bags out and camp for a night on the living room floor (if you decide to creep off to bed once the kids are asleep we won't blame you, obviously!).