Sandpits will stay closed when most childcare centres and schools reopen this week.
A constantly changing set of rules for how education will operate in Covid-19 alert level 3 now says that sandpits must stay covered "due to the practical challenges of cleaning this area".
Some childcare centres are also advising parents to stay in their cars when they drop off children in the mornings until they can see space on the footpath where they can queue 2 metres apart from any other families.
Rules for both schools and early childhood centres will include a maximum of 10 children in each "bubble", staggering start, finish and break times to keep bubbles apart, and keeping children inside each bubble 1 metre apart from each other inside and 2 metres apart outside.
However the Ministry of Education has accepted that it will not be realistic to keep children 1 metre apart in early childhood centres.
"There is no requirement for staff and children within an early learning bubble to physically distance, although it is recommended that separation is encouraged as much as possible through the placement of resources and activities in the service," it said.
The ministry also agreed on Thursday to allow children to use outside play equipment in early childhood centres, although not in schools.
Although all schools are supposed to be open from April 29, each school board must decide whether its school can open safely, and in practice several hundred small rural schools are expected to stay closed.
An Early Childhood Council survey of 400 childcare centres found that 55 per cent will open this week despite the council's initial recommendation that they should stay closed.
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The biggest early childhood chain, BestStart, said 241 of its 260 centres will open, and another big chain, Evolve, said all of its 128 centres will open.
Kindergarten associations said all kindergartens will open each day just in case anyone turns up, and will stay open even if only one child attends.
Both schools and early childhood centres expect only 5 to 10 per cent of children to turn up on Wednesday, but numbers are expected to increase over the next few weeks as more parents go back to work.
Early Childhood Council chief executive Peter Reynolds said his members were "increasingly comfortable" with the latest changes to the level 3 rules.
He said sandpits were raised in a video meeting on Friday with the Ministry of Health's Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay.
"They just didn't know. There is quite a bit of stuff where they are having to make policy as they go along," he said.
"We all agreed that we will keep sandpits off-limits just for the interim period while the ministry does some more thinking about it."
Kathy Wolfe of Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood NZ, which represents mainly community-owned childcare centres, said it was "not easy to disinfect sand".
The Ministry of Education advises parents that centres will have "staggered entry and exit times to avoid all children coming into or exiting the centre all at once, and parental drop-off at entrance to limit numbers entering site".
One centre has told parents: "Parents and whānau dropping off and picking up children shall not be allowed past the window just beyond the front gate or into the reception area. Only one family may be on the deck and at the window at any one time. Please maintain a 2-metre distance between families. We suggest remaining in your cars until you are confident this can be achieved successfully."
Reynolds said the idea of staying in your car until it was safe to get out was suggested by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a video meeting with education sector leaders, and he passed it on to his members.
"The idea is that, if the facility allows for it, stay in your vehicle until signalled to come inside," he said.
The ministry has advised centres to take children from parents at the door rather than letting parents inside. But Reynolds said officials have now accepted that parents can go inside if a child is upset and needs a parent to stay for a while.
"The Health people came up with the idea that it may be possible for parents to spend a little bit of time helping to comfort their kids, as long as they are not interfering with the bubbles that exist within the centre," he said.
"There is scope for centres to think about how to manage that using an isolation room or getting kids back in the car to settle them."
Meanwhile a spokesperson for schools with under 100 students, Jane Corcoran of Brunswick School near Whanganui, said most small rural schools will not open their doors during level 3 but will continue to provide distance learning.
She said schools with less than 100 students make up about a third of the country's 2500 schools and many had only one or two teachers, creating problems for looking after children if one teacher had health issues or became sick.
"Most of the schools in our cluster may continue having 100 per cent of their students offsite in alert level 3," she said.
"In many of these schools there have been situations where it might be just one or two students returning, and once the families realise it's just their children returning and what the reality would look like, they have found alternative arrangements."
• Education rules for level 3: covid19.govt.nz.