Researchers have found that children who live a lifestyle of less structure and more exploration tend to be able to set goals and achieve them. Instead of keeping children fully occupied in a strictly scheduled day filled with school and activities such as sports, music lessons, and tutoring, parents should allow for children’s activities to be less structured and scheduled, and more open ended to promote exploration.
Children in less structured activities are free to make choices, observations, and develop interests on their own. The study found that activities with less structure enabled them to be self directed and develop abilities associated with executive functioning.
Children who are engaged in less structured activities can better set their own goals and reach them, without parental pressure, according to researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder. The researchers conducted the first study that scientifically examined the question of how scheduled/formal lifestyles can affect neural development in children.
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 University of Colorado Boulder study, “Less-structured time in children’s daily lives predicts self-directed executive functioning,” was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.