Explaining social distancing

My 3 year old is finding it really hard to understand why his world has changed around him so much due to the coronavirus. He's actually not impacted very much compared to many children (he's at home with me 3 working days a week anyway), but he's nonetheless noticed that Daddy is working from home (and I will be too, although that's going to be tricky...), he's not going to preschool and we aren't going out and about to the usual places we go. He's clearly worried, and I wanted to find a small child friendly way of explaining why we are doing what we are doing on social distancing which isn't too scary and might help him process it in his own time. A version of this may help children who are of primary school age, and you could modify the level of detail/description you give to suit individual children.

I went for the medium of Lego Duplo. Any small world people would work. We talked through two scenarios, moving the people around between 'work', 'preschool' (could equally be school) and the 'hospital'. We showed people with Covid-19 by sticking a sticker on their head.

Duplo people ill with coronavirus

Both scenarios started with a lady with the virus. In the first - with the social distancing measures we now have in the UK - the lady goes home and infects her family. They all get Covid-19 (realistic based on transmission rates) but only one adult is ill enough to need to go to hospital. He goes to hospital, there is a bed for him, he is treated and leaves healthy. Everyone else is staying home and they don't get it spread the coronavirus.

The second scenario was where people go to work and children to school/preschool. This was longer and more involved and is why I've made a video to show it (below). The video is in no way slick or professional but it's hopefully easier to follow if you are trying to replicate this at home.

e lady, who is the same as in the first scenario, infects someone she meets at work. She goes home as before and one person in her house needs to go to hospital (as before). The person she met goes home too and infects his family, including one (on a chair, meant to signify he's old...).  The children of her work colleague pass the virus on to another child at preschool. You could expand this to show more social contacts with other children but I wanted to keep it simple. The other child infects his family, including another vulnerable adult. Four people (I picked all adults as this is more representative of reality and is also less scary for children) need to go to hospital, and this is more people than the number of beds so one ends up sitting on the floor.

I didn't stress the consequences of more people than beds, and we didn't send anyone back home or anywhere else. For him, it was enough to see that people get sick and that if we don't go out we can stop ourselves and other people getting sick and spreading the virus. We didn't talk about being asymptomatic and still spreading it when you don't know you've got it. And we didn't show just how exponential the number of people infected can be with lots of social contacts. But hopefully it was enough to help my son feel like he's helping and there's a good reason why I'm telling him he can't do things he wants to do. 

I wanted to share, even though the video is rubbish quality (I did it very quickly after we'd played with it as I realised it may be worth sharing after we'd done it) because I suspect there are lots of parents struggling to explain the unprecedented situation to their children. I hope this helps a few people and their children. If you can think of a better way of doing it, or improve on what I did, please comment below so others can read your ideas too. 


  1. For anyone reading this blog now, a few weeks after my son and I did this activity, Nosy Crow published a book, illustrated by Axel Scheffler to explain Coronavirus and social distancing to children and my son has found it useful. It's here: https://nosycrow.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Coronavirus_INSwith-cover.pdf


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