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KUSA – A new study by the University of Colorado Boulder shows kids who engage in less-structured activities are better to meet and set their own goals.

The study followed 70 6-year-olds through journals kept by their parents. The journals recorded the daily activities of the kids for a week. Scientists divided the children's activities into structured and non-structured categories using existing time-use classifications.

Structured activities include: chores, physical lessons and religious activities. Less-structured activities include: free play time, social outings and reading or media use. Sleeping, eating and going to school are not classified in either category.

A verbal fluency test was then administered to evaluate self-directed executive functions.

"Executive function is extremely important for children," CU-Boulder psychology and neuroscience professor Yuko Munakata said. "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. Executive function during childhood also predicts important outcomes, like academic performance, health, wealth and criminality, years and even decades later."

Researchers warn, however, there is a correlation between time use and self-directed executive function, but that doesn't prove self-directed executive function was caused by the structured or less-structured time.

"This isn't perfect, but it's a first step," Munakata said. "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 full study can be read at http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00593/abstract

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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