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In the current circumstances, we’re all wondering how it’s going to be possible to keep kids’ social lives intact while minimizing the spread of the coronavirus.

While there is no strict consensus, doctors have agreed on some guidelines to reduce risk.

With many school and extracurricular activities canceled for the time being, play dates and hangouts are the only obvious way for most kids to maintain social interaction with their peers – and for parents to easily connect in person with each other and feel less alone.

Kids may only get mildly ill with COVID-19, with less chance of spreading it to others, but they also think nothing of sneezing on each other, slobbering on the same toys or wrestling on the rug – it’s true, play dates can be germ-fests!

So what should we do about kid hangouts? How much social distancing is going to be healthy for our keiki as the weeks stretch on? Are there safe activities, settings or ideal numbers for get-togethers?

Unfortunately, nobody truly knows the answer. Even doctors and public health departments are differing in their recommendations for children’s social lives during the pandemic. There are, however, some general guidelines we can all follow.

The smaller the better

Healthy children in small, supervised groups should be able to play together with a responsible adult and all recommended hygiene measures in place. What constitutes ‘small’ is going to vary depending on age and location.

For younger children playing together indoors, think really small – only a few friends at most. The smaller, the better.

Older children, who typically give each other more space, can potentially get together in slightly larger numbers, but should still avoid spending time in groups larger than 10. Crowded places, like parties, retail spaces and movie theaters, are also a red flag.

Get outdoors

One thing all of the health professionals can agree on is that al fresco play dates are ideal during this time. Outside play, such as walking, bike-riding and hiking, should be encouraged. Here’s why…

COVID-19 spreads more easily when people are close together in confined spaces, making outdoor gatherings far less risky than indoors ones. Pandemic or not, Public Health always recommends children have active outside time daily, and research shows that this time boosts the health and wellbeing of accompanying adults too.

During cold and flu season, outdoor play is always ideal to avoid spreading viruses – and should be prioritized during kids’ get-togethers.

Keep them spaced out

Because young children especially have a tendency to be very hands on with each other, doctors are advising adults to plan activities that let kids play together while still maintaining a healthy ofdistance.

Kids should be playing games that involve fewer opportunities for touching; activities like bike-riding, art projects, kicking a soccer ball or drawing with sidewalk chalk, for example, can feel perfectly normal and sociable at six feet apart or more.

It’s important not to stress too much about kids being kids during this time. The reality is you’re not always going to be able to stop them from playing with one another. Just remind them to wash their hands afterward and remember to regularly clean any toys that are being handled by multiples, like basketballs or Frisbees.

Stay vigilant

When planning social activities for your kids, the biggest thing is going to be making sure that if you or they are showing any signs of fever, respiratory symptoms or any other illness, you don’t make plans – or cancel any that you have.

Of course, a lack of symptoms is no guarantee that someone is not contagious with the coronavirus, which is thought to transmit for days before or after the illness. There is still a lot to be learned about the virus and how it’s spread, including by children.

New, unpublished research suggests that the virus remains at potentially infectious levels in the air for as long as three hours and remains on plastic and stainless steel – in other words, the stuff of toys and playground equipment – for as long as three days. We can’t be sure yet, but if that is true, no play date is safe if someone is truly infectious.

While zero social life means much less chance of transmitting the coronavirus, that’s just not a realistic prospect if your child is going to be out of school for six weeks or longer. In fact, that could probably be even more harmful to their mental health compared to what we’re trying to keep them safe from.

Still, if you’re on the fence about scheduling a play date for your little one, or deciding how much of a social life to allow, it makes sense to be cautious at this point. Information is rapidly evolving so keeping up-to-date is probably not a bad idea. From all of us here at InspiredPlay, stay safe and stay well.