This is interesting:

When children spend more time in structured activities, they get worse at working toward goals, making decisions, and regulating their behavior, according to a study.

Instead, kids might learn more when they have the responsibility to decide for themselves what they’re going to do with their time. Psychologists at the University of Colorado and the University of Denver studied the schedules of 70 six-year olds, and they found that the kids who spent more time in less-structured activities had more highly-developed self-directed executive function.


Ellen Wexler defines executive functions, which develop dramatically during childhood, as “any mental processes that help us work toward achieving goals — like planning, decision making, manipulating information, switching between tasks, and inhibiting unwanted thoughts and feelings.” Children who develop higher executive function skills are more likely to find better health, more wealth, and a more socially stable life as an adult, Wexler says:

The researchers conjecture that when children are in control of how they spend their time, they are able to get more practice working toward goals and figuring out what to do next. For instance, the researchers write, a child with a free afternoon ahead of her might decide to read a book. Once she’s finished, she might decide to draw a picture about the book, and then she’ll decide to show the drawing to her family. This child will learn more than another child who completes the same activities, but is given explicit instructions throughout the process…

“The ability to self-direct can spell the difference between an independent student, who can be relied upon to get her work done while chaos reigns around her, and a dependent, aimless student,” former teacher Jessica Lahey writes in The Atlantic. “When we reduce the amount of free playtime in American preschools and kindergartens, our children stand to lose more than an opportunity to play house and cops and robbers.”


Outside the classroom, which is a heavily structured environment that benefits most young learners, it appears that unstructured play may enhance children’s learning about the natural world around us, especially our part in it. This doesn’t mean that any parent should do what my folks did on a Saturday morning and tell their daughter or son to “go outside, take your bike, and be home by dinnertime.” But it does speak to a much larger point: Most children have all the tools necessary to learn important lessons on their own by simply using their senses (which includes, of course, common sense). Discoveries will be made — as will mistakes — with just a little bit of adult direction when asked for, and, of course, supervision when needed.

Always remember: Safety comes first.


(Google Images)