Parents value structured activities over free play, according to a Gallup survey, “despite research associating unstructured, child-led play with self-confidence, social skills, and resilience,” reports NetNewsLedger. The Melissa & Doug toy company funded the poll.
Parents of children 10 and under estimate their children average 19 to 21 hours per week watching media or playing on electronic devices, but only 15 to 17 hours of screen-free indoor play.
Only one in five parents strongly agree that it’s good to let children be bored now and then. When their child is bored, the most common first strategy among parents is to intervene with potential activities, even though in doing so, they may be preventing children from developing the ability to solve their own problems.
“Today’s children are experiencing unprecedented levels of pressure, anxiety, and depression — all stemming from a lack of self-confidence, resilience, independence, connection, and sense of self,” said Melissa Bernstein, co-founder of Melissa & Doug and a mother of six children.
“The most powerful learning often happens when children are simply given the time and freedom to work things out on their own – to come up with a unique way to occupy a rainy day, to fill a blank canvas with their ideas or to follow their curiosity.”
Of course, she runs a toy company, but she’s got research on her side.
Too many adult-supervised structured activities — karate class, piano lessons, soccer practice, etc. — may harm children’s ability to make decisions, work toward goals and regulate their behavior, concludes a University of Colorado Boulder study.
Six-year-olds who spent more time in less-structured activities, such as free play, developed self-directed executive function, said co-author Yuko Munakata, a psychology and neuroscience professor.
“It helps them in all kinds of ways throughout their daily lives, from flexibly switching between different activities rather than getting stuck on one thing, to stopping themselves from yelling when angry, to delaying gratification,” she said. “Executive function during childhood also predicts important outcomes, like academic performance, health, wealth and criminality, years and even decades later.”