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Education Now

The Protective Powers of Out-of-School Play

How do activities like sports, music, and dance sustain kids’ mental health and well-being?

Creativity. Movement. Connection. How do activities like sports, music, dance, art, writing — and all sorts of playful, self-directed passions — help sustain kids’ mental health and well-being? How can adults — caretakers and educators — best support children’s hobbies and passions? And how can they support and encourage activities that protect mental health in adolescence?


  • Sean Cassel, assistant principal and supervisor of instruction, Seneca High School, Lenape Regional High School District, Tabernacle, New Jersey
  • Molly Easterlin, M.D., assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California and Children's Hospital Los Angeles; lead author of study on team sports participation and mental health outcomes
  • Lorraine Orr, executive vice president and COO, Boys & Girls Clubs of America


Aysha Upchurch, lecturer on education and artist in residence, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Key takeaways:

  • Providing​ young people with opportunities to help others can reduce stress and create a sense of community and purpose. ​
  • Play​ is the work of childhood and parents, caregivers, and educators should create time for it throughout the day.
  • Remind​ students about teamwork and having fun. Nurture joyful activities to boost confidence and self-esteem.


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