Explore new places, activities and ways of thinking The new school year often brings opportunities to try new things. Make this school year the one where you step out of your comfort zone as a family and explore new places, activities and ways of thinking. Just as exposure to new ideas, new activities, and regular physical exercise helps ward off dementia in adults, learning new ways of doing and being helps kids’ brains grow—springing new neural pathways where there wasn’t any before. Get inspired to break the engrained habits that make up your day—especially those that don’t feed your mind, spirit or body—and get inspired to try new things.

Pass on passive, get active!

Routine is good for kids, but it’s easy to fall into the same routine every day. Sometimes, routine can make us lazy—not just physically but mentally. Maybe your kids eat the same cereal for breakfast, always pack a peanut butter sandwich for lunch, take the same route to school, and play the same sport, year after year. That’s not necessarily bad, but it’s good to shake things up a bit. What if you get up an hour early one day this week and take your kids out to breakfast at a local food truck? How about you bike or ride longboards to school instead of taking the car? How about you pull out your city’s recreation guide and choose a family activity to try that none of you have tried before, like fly fishing, family yoga or going on a full moon hike at Lory State Park?

“It can be a midweek picnic at the park, a bike ride scheduled right after work, or an evening playing yard games together,” says Dr. Kathy Sigda, a clinical psychologist with UCHealth’s Mountain Crest Behavioral Health Center in Fort Collins who often works with adolescents.

Consider those daily habits that don’t feed you or your kids. Of course, everyone needs some down time to transition from school or work to home, like reading the news, playing a video game, or getting on social media, but make sure that time doesn’t dominate every relaxed moment your family spends together. How about picking a book for the whole family to read, and then having a discussion on it over dessert one night? Instead of playing video games, try learning a new card game or board game, going to an escape room together, or taking a rock climbing class and learning to belay? Even doing one new activity a week is enough to mix things up and keep your kids attuned to accepting new things. Kids who are pushed to step out of their comfort zone tend to have more self-confidence in new situations as they move through life.

“Unstructured play is hugely important. Studies on elementary kids show imaginary play is a large part of brain development. Kids who are allowed ample opportunities for unstructured play learn how to negotiate relationships and how to think critically and problem solve,” says Andrea Holt, LMFT, CAC III, Marriage and Family Therapist with UCHealth's Family Medicine Center in Fort Collins.

Expose your family to something new

Your kids are constantly developing and you may not even know that they love something, especially if it is out of the ordinary like macramé or woodworking or playing the viola. As much as you can, expose your kids to new things—and when you can, do it with them. Show your kids as much about the world and how it works as you can, then observe. Watch for clues and piece together the types of activities that make your child burst at the seams. What’s great about kids is they are often an open book, so you’ll know quickly if you’ve discovered something they like.

We’re really good as parents at exposing our kids to organized sports, and that’s fine as many kids find enjoyment in sports. But it’s also important to think outside the box when it comes to physical activities. Some kids’ personalities or temperaments simply do not fit the physical and social demands of playing on a team sport. Maybe they prefer to work on one skill and master it versus many at a time. Maybe they don’t have the aggressive qualities some team sports demand. Maybe they simply don’t like crowds. Whatever the reason, honor it. There are hundreds of individual sports for kids to try out from archery, biking, climbing, disc golf, dance, fencing, figure skating, gymnastics, martial arts, Pilates, running, skateboarding, skiing, snowboarding, swimming, and tennis just to name a few. Luckily, we live in an area where most of these are available for kids to try.

Consider your child’s nature when suggesting something new

Every child’s comfort level with activity is different. Some prefer to run from one event to the next. Others feel overwhelmed with just making it to school and a practice a few times a week. One way is not better than the other. What’s imperative is matching your child’s activity level with their nature.

“It’s important to know and honor your kids’ preferences for down time. When picking activities, take cues from your kids on how much they can handle. There may be vast differences even in your own family,” Sigda advises.

Make a family bucket list

Now is a good time to make a family bucket list. Make a wish list of things you want to do together before your kids sprout wings and leave home. Let everyone add as many items as they like, no matter how unreachable or silly they might be. You’ll be surprised what your family comes up with—and the list will reflect what your family values.

You might even form a few new family rituals, like returning to a favorite hiking or camping spot or always playing an epic game of family softball together when you visit the cousins in Kansas.  Routines that bond are ones to keep.

“Spending time to play with your children, or work on a project, is an excellent investment in overall family wellbeing,” Holt concludes.