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A boy kicks a football during a game with his family

Debbie McCoy, assistant vice president for education at The Strong Museum of Play, is crystal clear about something.

“People think play is a frivolous activity, something you do with your disposable time,” McCoy says. “That’s wrong. It’s absolutely critical for development across all areas.”

Play builds life skills: social, emotional and physical development; coordination; stress release; creativity; agility; confidence; self-regulation and more. Play is not just for children. Adults need it to continue development of the very same set of skills.

Want more benefits? Play with your kids. It will strengthen that core relationship and give both you and your children a chance to get to know one another better.

“Resist the temptation to manage and direct your time together,” McCoy says. “Share your child’s role in creating and exploring freely.”

Here are some healthy, playful activities families can do together.

Coloring

Studies link coloring to decreasing stress, reducing anxiety and improving fine-motor skills and coordination, and this is true for adults and children. Just remember, do not manage the activity. Let yourself and your kids play freely with techniques, colors and styles. Legos, blocks and playdough work, too.

Nature Walks

Have a grumpy tween or teenager? A restless preschooler? Maybe you are feeling particularly stressed. A walk in the woods is the cure. In addition to burning off excess energy, spending time in the woods has been shown to reduce negative thoughts, stress and inflammation.

Cooking

Try a simple, healthy recipe with your younger children. With teens, accept a challenge to try a more advanced recipe together. Or attend a cooking class with your kids where all of you share the role of being the student.

Catch

When was the last time you played catch? Baseball is the classic version, but there are many variations. For preschoolers try tossing a blown-up beach ball. As kids get older switch it up with a Frisbee or trac ball. Consider kicking versions of the game using soccer balls or even a hacky sack for more advanced challenges.

Organized sports

Get off the sidelines and participate alongside your son or daughter. You will improve your fitness while sharing new experiences and deepening your relationship with your teenager or adult kids. Training for an athletic event such as a 5k, organized bike ride or triathlon is one option. Or consider signing up for an over-18 athletic league. Baseball, softball, bowling, soccer, fishing leagues, pickleball and tennis are just a few examples.

Group exercise

Not the competitive type? Check out an exercise class. Spinning, yoga, Pilates, barre, CrossFit, boot camp – there’s no shortage of options.

Outdoor fun

Challenge yourself to get outside and play freely with your grade school kids. Grab chalk and draw all over the driveway. Play hopscotch. Let your child be the director while you provide the power to build an obstacle course. Just remember, you must participate, too.

Notice a theme with the activities listed above? Each one puts you and your kids together as equal participants working toward a common goal. It’s play time — get out there together and have some fun.

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