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Less-structured time increases self-direction

Article

Children who spend less time in structured activities show improved self-directed executive function, enabling them to better set and pursue their own goals without parental intervention, a new study suggests.

 

Children who spend less time in structured activities show improved self-directed executive function, enabling them to better set and pursue their own goals without parental intervention, a new study suggests.

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder had the parents of 70 children aged 6 to 7 years (37 boys, 33 girls) record their children’s daily activities for a week and also provide information about annual activities and typical schedules. The investigators classified the activities as more or less structured based on categories from previous studies of children’s use of leisure time. To evaluate self-directed executive function-the cognitive control processes that support goal-oriented behavior-they gave children a common verbal fluency test.

Structured activities included physical lessons (soccer practice, karate), nonphysical lessons (music, art), religious activities, chores, homework, and tutoring. Less-structured activities included free play alone and with others, social outings, sightseeing, reading, and media time (television, Internet, video games). Activities that didn’t fall into either category included sleeping, meals, school, appointments, and travel time.

The more time children spent in less-structured activities, the better their self-directed executive functioning; the more time they spent in structured activities, the poorer their self-directed functioning (over and above differences related to age, general vocabulary knowledge, and household income). The relationships held up when researchers imposed stricter classifications of structured and less-structured time and applied specifically to self-directed executive functioning rather than externally driven functioning.

The correlation between time use and self-directed executive function doesn’t establish that one causes the other, however. The researchers hope that longitudinal studies may shed more light on the relationship.


 

 

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