The saying “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is a caution against a life devoid of leisure time, but it also seems relevant to the modern Minnesota child’s increasingly hectic schedule. Research has shown unrestricted play, unhindered by rules or adult intervention, has more of a positive impact on a child’s development than organized sports. As school begins again, I encourage fellow parents to prioritize outdoor playtime, family meals/activities, creative hobbies, and reading. New habits and routines may be the key to a less stressful year and more engaged kids.

The preparation involved in sending my kids to preschool this year has given me a newfound respect for teachers and caregivers. From supplies to clothes, doctor’s visits to paperwork, parents sacrifice both time and money for their children’s education. For some reason, extracurricular activities have become a common, even expected add-on, and they aren’t cheap. Children are starting dance, hockey, gymnastics, martial arts, soccer, and more during the preschool years, often cycling through numerous classes throughout the year.

The activities aren’t an issue on their own. Many children thrive or excel in a given sport, and their parents are happy to spend the time/money necessary. But what about all those families who are struggling? Families eating most meals on the road or juggling multiple jobs with all these extra commitments? A successful life doesn’t mean one must have a full calendar or a home overflowing with the latest toys and gadgets. Children with time to be bored can plumb the depths of their imagination, explore their local park, build model toys, learn to knit, or get lost in the perfect book at the library.

There are studies showing the benefit of family mealtime, so perhaps making meals and cleaning up together could be the new weeknight routine. Swap screens on school nights for reading real books with your kids or send them outside. Children thrive on order, routine and tradition. They may complain and resist at first, but forming more healthy habits is possible if parents provide positive guidance. Chores and responsibilities build character while reducing the workload of adults in the home.

While family time can be a luxury for many, especially single working parents, we live in a state that has so much possibility for affordable adventures year round. The DNR website has a guide to the Minnesota state parks, including an events calendar. For example, at the Mille Lacs Kathio State Park, there is a Nature Hike on Saturday, Aug. 31 at 2 p.m., where the whole family can learn about wildlife together. Your local library also provides free learning opportunities, and the Explore Minnesota website has even more ideas for family adventures.

In a time when children are more sedentary and scheduled than ever before, I also want to encourage you to move more with your kids. Maybe that means taking the bikes to your local grocery store instead of the car or walking three evenings a week after dinner. Everyone benefits from being more active, and you may discover a newfound joy in yourself and children by clearing the calendar and making time to play.

Danielle Wiener, a stay-at-home mom, has a family cabin in McGregor and lives on a farm in Stacy.

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