Playtime is back: How to get kids out and moving again on their own

Organized activities are great—but experts say a little risky free play has lots of benefits for children.

Heather Cwiklinski took full advantage of the great outdoors during quarantine, exploring local forests and streams with her husband and nine-year-old twin girls near their Wilmington, North Carolina, home. But like many children, the girls were left unsupervised while Cwilinski and her husband worked during the day.

“The kids would get really bored, so they got more creative,” she says. “The free time made them want to pretend, explore, build, and make things.”

Cwiklinski was far from alone. According to a study by USC researchers, free play—unstructured activities that kids initiate themselves—became the activity of choice for 90 percent of kids early on in lockdown. That’s something that Neeru Jayanthi, associate professor of orthopedics and family medicine at Atlanta’s Emory Healthcare, hopes parents will continue even as organized activities reemerge.

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