Every school day should be followed by active, child-directed outdoor play!

Your child needs time to decompress when the return home from school. Active and imaginative outdoor play is perfect for this! Upon completing your after school rituals, such as snack and conversation, send your kids outside to play!

Why outdoors? Children (and adults) benefit from fresh air, dirt, the open space and sunlight. Play outside helps build up healthy antibodies. Studies show that playing in (even eating a little) dirt can help improve a child’s immune system. One study suggests bacteria found in soil can make us happier! Children who spend more time outdoors are less likely to suffer from nearsightedness, according to this study. Exposure to the sun increases vitamin D which is known to provide all sorts of benefits, including an improved immune system and bone healthy.

If you are worried about poor weather, you can mix up both indoor and outdoor play. For outdoor play in bad weather, do your best to have your child dress appropriately, wearing sunscreen and wicking cloth, waterproof boots and jacket, or warm layers. Give your child plenty of water to drink. Then send him or her out to play for a reasonable period of time given the weather.

Make after school play time great by encouraging imaginative play. During imaginative play, children often play out previous experiences and feelings. This play can be very therapeutic and help your child learn more from their day. Encourage imaginative play by providing not toys, but loose parts found in nature and simple objects. Sticks, rocks, tree cookies, buckets, shovels, rope and cardboard are just some examples of objects to encourage creative after school play.

After school is also a great time for kids to gather with their friends. Talk with your neighbors about giving kids time to play together at the same time each day. Or arrange a few after school play dates each week. These don’t have to be long, but they can be convenient after school. You may be able to take turns with after school pick up with your child’s friend’s parents.

Keep in mind, however, some children will need some time for alone play before joining friends and family for play. If this is the case, make it a part of their daily routine. After your child gets 20 minutes of individual play, encourage him or her to join the group until it’s time to come in and help with dinner or complete homework.

How do you encourage healthy after school play?

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