CU research reveals whether the playground, or multiple activities are better for kids

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BOULDER, Colo. — A new study out of CU Boulder could be welcome news for parents.

It turns out putting your child into a whole bunch of activities from soccer and ballet to piano lessons, might not just be tough on your wallet, but also may hinder your child’s ability to set and reach goals.

Professor Yuko Munakata spent three years developing a study to look at the ways children set goals.  The way kids spend their free time, could predict how they think.

“The more time kids spend in less structured activities, the better able they are to set their goals and organize their actions to meet those goals,” said Munakata. Read the study results here.

Researchers found that the more time kids spend in structured activities, like piano lessons and soccer practice, the less able they were to organize their actions to reach their goals. With less structured activities, kids have to self-direct. Munakata said, “Having to think on their own, ‘Well what do I wanna do, what should I do and when?’”

The researchers looked at 70 six-year-olds, and had their parents record their activities for a week, then had the kids perform standard cognitive tests.

She says this is just one aspect of a child’s development, and there are certainly benefits to things like soccer. In fact, she’s a mom, so she knows from experience.

“My kids have a mix of activities, they are in soccer practice,” Munakata said. “They also have a lot of time where they can decide what they want to do.”

Amanda Deane’s son was part of the study. She says her parenting style falls right in the middle. Her kids have some free time and some scheduled things. “I allow each child to do between two and four activities each week, which can get a little crazy,” she said.

But, she said by doing this study, she realized how much time her family is spending in the car and that’s something she might look at changing. “I could definitely see as a result of the experiment, what they’ve already found, and possibly scaling back.”

It’s important to note, this study just shows a correlation between time spent and how kids set their goals. It’s just the first step but researchers are hoping to go one step further and look long-term.


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