Kids whose time is less structured are better able to meet their own goals

June 17, 2014

June 18, 2014                                      Yuko Munakata

          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, according to a new study by the University of Colorado Boulder.

          Yet, participating in more-structured activities -- including soccer practice, piano lessons and homework – has the opposite effect, says senior author of the study, Yuko Munakata.

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Kids whose time is less structured are better able to meet their own goals

June 18, 2014                                                          Yuko Munakata

              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, according to a new study by the University of Colorado Boulder.

             Yet, participating in more-structured activities -- including soccer practice, piano lessons and homework – has the opposite effect, says senior author of the study, Yuko Munakata.

CUT 1 “The main finding is that the more time kids spend in less structured activities, the better their self-directed executive functioning. Kids who have had more practice, had more experience in these less structured circumstances would then be better able to organize their behavior on their own and that’s consistent with the results we found,” (:17) 

             Munakata is a professor of psychology and neuroscience at CU-Boulder.

             She says self-directed executive function, the characteristic measured in the study, is extremely important for children by helping them 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.

CUT 2 “Executive functioning is this umbrella term that includes a lot of different abilities, and they’re all kind of goal-directed and they often involve having to overcome more automatic behaviors, more habitual behaviors. (:17) So rather than doing something because it’s easy or because you’re used to doing that, you have to break out of that habit and do something new.” (:24)

             Good executive functioning in preschool translates into better academic performance, social relationships, wealth, and health, and even reduced likelihood of criminality, years and even decades later, Munakata says.

             The researchers say the next step is to track the children over time to try to help answer the question of causality: Is it that the child is naturally more self-directed or is it that the less structured activities influence the child’s development?

CUT 3 “One possibility is that the child’s executive functioning is shaping how they spend their time rather than how they spend their time shaping their executive functioning. (:13) So it could just be that some kids are really self-directed, independent, able to organize their behaviors and so on. (:21) And it may be that they are able to shape their environment, so that they have more unstructured time.” (:26)

            The study, published online in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, had parents of 70 6-year-olds record their children’s daily activities for a week. The scientists then categorized those activities as either more structured or less structured, relying on existing time-use classifications already used in scientific literature by economists.

            For more information on the study go to http://www.colorado.edu/news/releases/2014/06/17/kids-whose-time-less-structured-are-better-able-meet-their-own-goals-says.

-CU-

 

                                   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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