"Executive function during childhood also predicts important outcomes, like academic performance, health, wealth and criminality, years and even decades later."
The study, which is published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, is one of the first to try to scientifically grapple with the question of how an increase in scheduled, formal activities may affect the way children's brains develop.
Munakata said a debate about parenting philosophy-with extremely rigid "tiger moms" on one side and more elastic "free-range" parents on the other-has played out in the media and on parenting blogs in recent years.
But there is little scientific evidence to support claims on either side of the discussion.
Jane Barker, lead author of the study, said, "These are societally important questions that come up quite often in social commentary and casual conversations among parents.
"So it's important to conduct research in this area, even if the questions are messy and not easy to investigate."
For the study, parents of 70 6-year-olds recorded their children's daily activities for a week.
The scientists then categorized those activities as either more structured or less structured, relying on existing time-use classifications already used in scientific literature by economists.
"These were the best and the most rigorous classifications we could find," Miss Barker said. "They still fail to capture the degree of structure within specific activities, but we thought that was the best starting point because we wanted to connect this with prior work."
In that classification system, structured activities include chores, physical lessons, non-physical lessons and religious activities.
Less-structured activities include free play alone and with others, social outings, sightseeing, reading and media time.
Activities that did not count in either category include sleeping, eating meals, going to school and commuting.
The children were also evaluated for self-directed executive function with a commonly used verbal fluency test.
The results showed that the more time children spent in less structured activities, the better their self-directed executive function.
Conversely, the more time children spent in more structured activities the poorer their self-directed executive function.
As some of the existing time-use categories might not reflect the real amount of structure involved in an activity, the researchers also did several rounds of recalculation after removing categories that were questionable.
In each case the findings still held. For example, the time-use categories classify media screen time as unstructured, but the degree of structure depends on whether a child is watching a movie or playing a video game.
However, when media time was removed from the data, the results were the same.
"This isn't perfect, but it's a first step," said Professor Munakata. "Our results are really suggestive and intriguing. Now we'll see if it holds up as we push forward and try to get more information."
The researchers emphasize that their results show a correlation between time use and self-directed executive function, but they don't prove that the change in self-directed executive function was caused by the amount of structured or unstructured time.
The team is already considering a longitudinal study, which would follow participants over time, to begin to answer the question of cause.
Studies show homework doesn’t benefit young children, so why are we forcing them to do it?
No, my elementary-aged children will not be doing homework. Why? Because they don’t have to. Schooling is mandatory, homework for elementary children isn’t. And forcing my 5-year-old child to sit down and concentrate on homework after he’s already spent six hours at school is something I actually have control over.
There are plenty of things parents are complaining about these days, and they have every right to. Recess is vanishing and high-stakes testing is putting a strain on teachers and students alike. Art for art’s sake is disappearing and so are daily physical education classes. Kids in my local school district get one 20 minute recess a day and a P.E. class every four days. Maybe we can’t physically go into school and force administrators to give our children more time to play. We can lay down the law in our own homes though, and refuse to take any more of our child’s precious free time away by forcing them to learn “responsibility” for completing homework at age five.
Anyone who’s done homework with a kid in elementary school knows that it’s basically just an extended period of begging them to focus and finish. No thanks. I’m good. Is my kid going to be held back because he didn’t draw 14 triangles or circle a bunch of different trucks on a page? I don’t think so.
You may have had some fleeting thoughts about how ridiculous it is that your grade-schoolers were coming home with a ton of homework, but did you know opting out is an option? So often we fall into this “must follow the rules” mentality when it comes to dealing with any kind of bureaucracy that we forget that we actually have choices. What would happen if we followed the advice of basically every study out there and stopped asking our elementary school children to do homework? Pretty sure the earth wouldn’t spin off its axis.
In her article,Why Parents Should Not Make Kids Do Homework, Heather Shumaker — a self-described “advocate for play” — makes the point that parents should not be making their young children do homework: at least not for hours every night. “A comprehensive review of 180 research studies by Duke University psychologist and neuroscientist Harris Cooper shows homework’s benefits are highly age dependent: high schoolers benefit if the work is under two hours a night, middle schoolers receive a tiny academic boost, and elementary-aged kids? It’s better to wait,” Shumaker writes.
We’ve all heard the complaints about standardized testing. But with such a huge focus on it, students are being sent home with homework that will hopefully help them “prepare” for the tests. Oh, please. Parents are struggling with children and children are getting frustrated. Why don’t you try to take an informal poll at school pickup next week. Find out how many parents in your kid’s elementary school class have finished their child’s homework for them this week. Whoever doesn’t raise their hand is a liar.
After reviewing extensive research on the effects of homework on young children, Valerie Strauss, a reporter who covered education for The Washington Post, wrote:
“First, no research has ever found a benefit to assigning homework (of any kind or in any amount) in elementary school. In fact, there isn’t even a positive correlation between, on the one hand, having younger children do some homework (vs. none), or more (vs. less), and, on the other hand, any measure of achievement. If we’re making 12-year-olds, much less five-year-olds, do homework, it’s either because we’re misinformed about what the evidence says or because we think kids ought to have to do homework despite what the evidence says.”
So what are we doing? The answer to that is easy: what we’re told. We get that little homework folder and we’re told to make them do it. But why? If we know our elementary-aged kids aren’t even focusing on their homework, much less finishing it or benefiting from it — why are we making them do it?
The internet went crazy this week when a teacher’s no-homework policy went viral — proving we’re all dying to take this load off ourselves, and our elementary school kids. With research claiming it’s pretty useless at such a young age, why don’t we?
I’ll report in a few weeks when I inform my kindergartner’s teacher that he will not be participating in homework assignments.
I’m sure that’s going to go over well.