Kids Need More Free Time, Less Structure

Kids who are given more free time to explore and play are better able to set and reach their goals than children immersed in a strictly scheduled day according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder conducted the first scientific study that looked at the question of how scheduled / formal lifestyles can affect a child's neural development.

Senior author Yuko Munakata is a professor of psychology and neuroscience at CU-Boulder. His reasoning for conducting a study on this issue was in response to the ongoing debate about parenting philosophy in the media and on parenting blogs. Are strict parents more effective, or do easygoing parents provide a better lifestyle for their children?

The study included 70 six-year-olds whose parents recorded their daily activities for a week. After compiling all of the information, the researchers grouped the children's activities into two categories: "more structured" or "less structured." Structured activities included chores, physical lessons, non-physical lessons, and religious activities. Less structured activities encompassed playing alone or with others, social outings, sightseeing, reading, and media time.

The study results revealed that the kids who spent more time involved in the less structured activities exhibited a better self-directed executive function than those involved in structured activities. The self –directed executive function was determined through a verbal fluency test.

"This isn't perfect, but it's a first step," said Munakata in a news release  "Our results are really suggestive and intriguing. Now we'll see if it holds up as we push forward and try to get more information."

Munakata says he's hoping a longitudinal follow-up study can be done with the participants to see if the findings hold up.

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

Source: Thomas Carannante,

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