With school back in session, children of all ages are immersing themselves in school work as well as other activities and sports. 

Whether it’s dance lesson, computer projects or art classes, children keep busy these days when they’re not in school. While these activities can be enriching and fun, experts say that many children aren’t spending enough time outside. 

“Finding time for the kids to play outside can be such a challenge for parents,” Keri Wilmot, a pediatric occupational therapist and expert contributor to The Genius of Play. “As a parent, I worry about ‘stranger danger’ or whether my kids will be able to navigate social issues on their own. Without spontaneity, playtime has lost some of its fun.”

Cleburne ISD Community Relations Director Lisa Magers said the district supports the idea of free play for students.

“We are continuing to monitor and review research now coming out relating to best practices,” Magers said. 

Officials with The Genius of Play give the following ways of how important playing outside is for children:

• Physical development: Research has shown that physically active children tend to be leaner and healthier, while an inactive childhood can lead to a sedentary — and likely unhealthy — lifestyle in adulthood. Physical play builds gross and fine motor skills necessary for success in school and beyond. Hanging from the monkey bars, for instance, helps children develop the hand muscles needed to grip a pencil.

• Risk taking: Through outdoor play, children are given the opportunity to step outside their comfort zones and try new things. While taking risks won’t always lead to success on the first try, moments like a first bike ride without training wheels are critical for building the confidence and resilience needed to pursue a future career, start a business or handle life’s many challenges. 

• Social skills: Childhood games played outdoors can help build social skills and teach children to follow directions. They can teach them about communication, teamwork and other important skills. 

• Problem solving: Children’s imaginations are often stimulated by the world around them. Being outside widens their horizons and can encourage them to tap into their creativity in order to come up with solutions to challenges, such as how to build a sand castle or figuring out how to climb a jungle gym.

• Reducing stress: So much outdoor play involved physical activity, thrilling moments and a sense of freedom, all of which can boost endorphins and help lower stress levels, anxiety and depression. 

For more tips, visit thegeniusofplay.org.  

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