The Complete Guide To Staying Safe While Out With The Family

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The pool has reopened. The softplay’s available again. Shops, restaurants and cafes are in need of our custom. We can release some energy in the playground, and take Sunday lunch in our favourite family pub.

After a spring of total lockdown and a summer of gradual reopenings, most of the places we hang out as families have reopened. Yet coronavirus has not gone away. We need to keep wearing the masks, maintain our distance from those not in our household, wash hands regularly and avoid crowded spaces.

These general rules apply to all social situations, but every type of family activity throws up its own set of dos and don’ts. Here, then, is a guide to how to keep the family safe, whatever you’re up to.

Note: Information correct for England in early September 2020. Always check the UK Government website for the latest recommendations.

Going To A Playground

Two happy girls playing together on the swings at the playground.

Playgrounds were much-missed during lockdown. How do you explain to a big-eyed four-year-old that, yes, we can go to the park to exercise, but the swings and slides and roundabouts are all forbidden? Their reopening, just in time for the school holidays was very welcome. Playgrounds are open-air, and so less risky for transmitting the virus than, say, indoor softplay. However, your child will be touching plenty of metallic and plastic surfaces that other kids have been grappling.

Quick wins: Use hand gel more than ever, and try to avoid touching play equipment yourself.

More info: See our article on staying safe at playgrounds.

Arranging A Playdate

As things stand (September 2020) any household in England can meet up with any other, so long as social distancing is maintained. Up to 30 people can meet in this way. If you want to get more than two households together, the maximum number of people, in total, is just six. So you can only get three children from different households together if each is accompanied by just one parent (and no siblings). 

Quick wins: Outdoor playdates are much safer than an indoor-let’s-play-with-all-your-toys kinds of playdate.

More info: See our article on holding a safe playdate.

Using Softplay

Indoor play areas and softplay centres were among the last venue types to reopen. Being indoors and all about surface touching, they’re at the problematic end of the spectrum. The venues have gone to great lengths to protect people, with rigorous cleaning routines and limits on numbers. 

Quick wins: Remember your mask, use lots of hand gel, and try (try!) to keep the little ones away from other children.

More info: See our article on staying safe at softplay.

Going Back To School

All school children are returning to school for Autumn Term. Most have not set foot in a classroom for half a year. Schools have made a Herculean effort to make things safe, from socially distanced classrooms, to staggering pick-up and drop-off times. Children will be kept in a ‘bubble’, meaning that their class or year group will not be mixing with other groups. At the time of writing, face masks have not been recommended in England, unless the school is in a lockdown area.

Quick wins: Be sure to check with the school on new pick-up/drop-off times. Don’t linger around the grounds or gates chatting to other parents. Only use the school bus if you have no other transport option (walking/cycling/scootering is best of all).

More info: See our article on safely returning to school, and a focus on Reception Year.

Museums and Galleries

Two girls holding up magnifying glasses to an exhibit a The Jewish Museum.
Image © The Jewish Museum

Most of the major museums and galleries have now reopened. Almost all require that you now prebook (even if they’re free). Visitor numbers are being restricted, and one-way systems are in place. Even so, this is an excellent time to visit a museum. With fewer people around, you can better appreciate the exhibits. Plus, you’re almost guaranteed a table at the museum cafe.

Quick wins: Face masks are, of course, compulsory. If you’re a member of the museum or gallery you will probably still need to book ahead, so don’t just show up.

More info: See our list of museums and galleries opening in September.

Bowling And Ice Skating

Popular with older children, these venues reopened in August with many safety measures in place. Expect face masks for over-11s, regular hand wiping and much reduced capacity. Some bowling alleys are letting people play in their own footwear rather than hiring out those peculiar red-and-black bowling shoes.

Quick wins: You’ll almost certainly have to prebook. Remember your mask. And keep your group to one household only.

More info: See our article on the new normal at bowling alleys and ice rinks.

Swimming Pools And Lidos

Happy mum holding up her baby in the swimming pool.
Image ©  iStock

The refreshing dip was curtailed for much of the early summer, but many of us have since been for a welcome swim at a reopened pool. Chlorinated water has some effect on the virus, and you should be relatively safe while splashing about. Remember to stick to one-way systems in lanes, and be particularly wary of surfaces in changing rooms.

Quick wins: Come prepared with your swimming gear already on under your clothes, to minimise time in the changing rooms. Bring your own inflatables and flotation aids. Bring a spare face mask in case your first one gets wet (obviously, don’t take it into the pool).

More info: See our article on safely swimming, and also a guide to wild swimming with the family.

Taking The Kids Shopping

It’s still best to avoid making unnecessary trips with children to the shops, but many of us have little choice. Shopping safely is mostly common sense. Keep an eye out for one-way systems; wear a mask; try not to touch anything unless you’re going to buy it -- and make sure the kids do the same. If you’re using a shopping trolley, wipe down the handle and any areas a child might touch, if sat in the infant seat.

Quick wins: Have something to keep your child occupied, if they’re likely to become bored. Remember, you might be queuing more than normal.

More info: See our guide to shopping with children.

Pubs And Restaurants

The Eat Out To Help Out scheme has already seen many of us return to pubs and restaurants for a family meal. The scheme was designed to reassure us that eateries are safe, and to build up confidence so we might continue to dine out. Venues have taken many measures to maintain social distance and reduce surface contacts. They are one of the few indoor spaces where people can take their masks off for lengthy periods (obviously, you can’t eat or drink with a shrouded mouth).

Quick wins: Always prebook. Remember that you shouldn’t mix with more than one other household when indoors. Most venues will be card only.

More info: See our guide to eating out as a family, and visiting a pub with children.


Parents and young daughter at the cinema smiling with popcorn.
Image © iStock

Now is an excellent time to go to the cinema for anyone who hates wrangling over the armrest with the person in the next seat. Social distancing means that you won’t be seated next to anyone, other than your own family. Most venues have excellent ventilation, which helps clear the air of any viral particles. 

Quick wins: You should wear a face mask in the cinema (unless exempt), but you’re allowed to take it off if you’re stuffing your face with popcorn (for example).

More info: See our guide to visiting cinemas with kids.

Driving Lessons

And finally, older teens might now be considering that rite of passage: the driving lesson. All the precautions you would expect are in place: surfaces cleaned between lessons; windows down; no passengers allowed in the back; face masks at all times. Instructors will also wear disposable gloves and full arm/leg coverings.

Quick wins: Get the lessons in earlier rather than later, as the requirement to keep windows open may make things a bit chilly over winter.

More info: See our guide to driving lessons.

Note: Information correct for England in early September 2020. Always check the UK Government website for the latest recommendations.


Written By

Matt Brown

Although originally from the Midlands, and trained as a biochemist, Matt has somehow found himself writing about London for a living. He's a former editor and long-time contributor to and has written several books about the capital. He's also the father of two preschoolers.

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