Moms today are guilty of overscheduling their kids but the research indicates that too many activities might not be best for them. Time for unstructured, free play is important for children's development.
We have all seen the mom whose kids are in every activity out there. And many of us may actually be her. Kids today go from school to soccer to ballet to math tutoring to bed. They seem to always be in an activity or en route to one.
Parents all want the best for their kids and getting them signed up for piano lessons and karate hardly sounds like it could be bad for them. Lessons and activities themselves are not inherently bad and can provide lots of benefits. However, filling up our kids' days so that there is no room for free play hurts their cognitive development.
A recent study at the University of Colorado-Boulder showed that kids with more free time in their day had improved self-directed executive function. Executive function refers to the ability to set a goal and independently figure out how to reach it.
The study, conducted by Jane Barker and her team, compared parents' reports about their kids' schedules with how well the kids created a mental strategy. The kids were asked to name as many foods as they could over a time period.
Kids with good self-directed executive function formed a strategy. For example, they spontaneously divided food into categories like fruits, vegetables, and grains. They listed all the foods in one category, enabling them to come up with more in total.
Basically, the kids with self-directed executive function took it upon themselves to make a plan. Kids who were over-scheduled did not come up with a plan and ultimately named fewer foods. Presumably, they are used to looking to adults for directions, while those with free time had practice problem-solving on their own.
It is worth noting that the kids in this study came from affluent backgrounds. Previous studies in low-income communities have shown a need for more structured activities in these populations.