Summertime: the term once conjured up dreamy visions of kids biking or swimming, playing with their friends, camping out with s’mores, and generally reveling in school-free splendor. Nowadays, summers are as jam-packed as the academic year, with structured activities, planned daily events, and even summer school offered for grade schoolers. But according to a small but suggestive study, kids who spent more time in less structured activities actually had better executive functioning skills, which have been associated with long-term outcomes such as better academic performance, health and wealth, even years down the road.
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Executive functioning is the ability to make decisions, set goals, and take the steps to reach them. It’s possible that less structured activities (including going to the zoo, playing outside, or having independent reading or playtime) or freeplay periods, allow kids to learn about their own preferences and how to navigate a variety of situations without needing parental or adult help. Learning to think and “do” for themselves can lead to other positive outcomes down the road. Due to its preliminary state and small sample size, this study doesn’t necessarily indicate that your child should be calling the shots all day every day with a free and clear schedule, but it does offer some food for thought. Allowing your child less-structured activities enables her to explore her own interests and learn how to negotiate them, whether it be the exhibits she wants to visit during the next visit to the science museum or simply allowing a game of pretend play to extend for some time. And bonus, it lets you rest your own helicopter blades knowing your child will benefit in the long term.