A new study by the University of Colorado in Boulder found that children who spend more time in less structured activities — from playing outside to reading books to visiting the zoo — are better able to set their own goals and take actions to meet those goals without prodding from adults.
The study, published online in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, also found that children who participate in more structured activities, such as soccer practice, piano lessons and homework, had poorer "self-directed executive function," a measure of the ability to set and reach goals independently.
"Executive function is extremely important for children," said CU-Boulder psychology and neuroscience professor Yuko Munakata, senior author of the new study. "It helps them in all kinds of ways throughout their daily lives, from flexibly switching between different activities rather than getting stuck on one thing, to stopping themselves from yelling when angry, to delaying gratification. Executive function during childhood also predicts important outcomes, like academic performance, health, wealth and criminality, years and even decades later."
The study is one of the first to try to scientifically grapple with the question of how an increase in scheduled, formal activities may affect the way children’s brains develop.
The results showed that the more time children spent in less structured activities, the better their self-directed executive function. Conversely, the more time children spent in more structured activities the poorer their self-directed executive function.
Source: Colorado Springs Gazette