Are parents over-scheduling their kids with structured activitie - FOX 32 News Chicago

Are parents over-scheduling their kids with structured activities?

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

There are more opportunities for children than ever.

If a kid has a knack for science, send her to chemistry camp. If a kid is funny, sign him up for classes at "Second City." Piano lessons, art classes and gymnastics are also all great opportunities.

However, they may come with a cost and it's not just your money.

A study found over-scheduling our kids with structured activities might hurt a crucial aspect of their development.

Researchers at the University of Colorado-Boulder studied two groups of children. Both were ages six to seven, but one group spent a week doing structured activities -- things like soccer practice, piano lessons, and homework tutoring -- anything closely supervised by an adult.

The other group spent a week pretty much just hanging out -- sometimes at home, playing by themselves, reading or drawing -- sometimes at the park -- playing by themselves or meeting other kids.

Basically, it was "free time."

What the study found is that the kids with the free-time did better at what's called "executive function." That's a fancy way of saying they were more independent and better at thinking for themselves. A small example is a little kid who remembers to put his jacket on without mom or dad having to prompt him.

It also includes bigger things like setting and meeting goals, and being organized. The study found the more time kids spent in non-structured activities, the better executive function they had. Also, the more time kids had in structured activities, the poorer their executive functioning was.

Learning executive function early in life is a big deal. Other research has linked it to better performance in school, and even better health and having more money as adults.

The problem, though, is growing up today is not like it used to be.

Hanging out used to be all we did -- riding bikes on the street, walking to a neighbor's house, going from one kid's backyard to another.

Nowadays, if you send your kid outside to play, she'll probably be the only one outside playing. Almost everything is planned and supervision is viewed as a must. Often for good reason, but it all gives kids fewer opportunities to step-up, do things for themselves, and make decisions for themselves.

It also means they don't know how to handle boredom. So, what's a parent to do?

An expert told FOX 32 News this: make plans for your kid to not have plans.

"You have to actually schedule downtime for your kids. And you have to protect that downtime. Your kids need to go to the basement, go outside, maybe with their siblings. Maybe with a parent. Schedule things were the kids are doing nothing. Like when it snows out in February and there's three feet of snow," said psychologist Jeremy Clorfene.

“Get them outside and start making snowmen for two hours 'til they come back. Get 'em outside every day, in the summer, sometimes doing nothing in the summer is learning -- huge value," he added.

Clorfene said that the over-structuring is a result of having both parents working nowadays. Also, because there are more one-parent homes.

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