A Nation of Overscheduled Kids? Maybe Not

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On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Nicko Corriveau, 11, goes directly from school to two soccer practices. It is usually 7:30 p.m. before he begins the trek home.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, it's hockey. If transportation is smooth, he gets home at 9 o'clock and sits down for dinner at 9:30 p.m.

But his activities do not stop there. He also has drum lessons on Tuesdays. Nicko is a busy kid. He is constantly running from one item on his list of scheduled activities to the next. But is he doing too much?

A pair of studies are at odds on the question -- with one saying kids need more time to let their minds dream, and another saying a busy schedule can correspond with success.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, which published one of the studies, warns that children today need more downtime, more time for free play.

"Everybody should understand that play is a very important part of childhood," says Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, a member of the academy and co-writer of the group's report. "But there are so many forces in society right now that are wiggling away at play that we needed to take a stand and say, 'We need play to remain central to childhood.'"

He says that kids no longer play with blocks and dolls. They do not sit back and see the monsters and dragons in the clouds. Kids today have their schedules completely blocked, with little or no time for free play.

But a new study by the Society for Research in Child Development states otherwise, concluding organized activities are good for kids.

According to that study, busy kids -- those who are engaged in 20 hours or more of scheduled activities a week -- only make up between 2 to 6 percent of the entire population. What's more, they love what they are doing -- staying busy because they want to, not because their parents pressure them to, and not even because they think it will make their college application look better.

The study finds that kids engaged in organized activities perform better academically than their peers who do not. Busy kids are more likely to get straight As, graduate from high school, go to college, and less likely to use drugs. In short, contrary to popular belief, participation in organized activities is associated with positive outcomes.

But Ginsburg says that unstructured free time allows the child to reboot, and adds that play is essential to a child's development, according to Ginsberg.

"There's wide variety of evidence," he says, "that shows that play is essential to creative growth, to intellectual growth, to brain development, to social and emotional skills."

Following a long day of classes, Ginsburg says, kids need to do something completely different. This allows them to absorb information in a new way. Parents might see kids running around on the playground as a waste of time, but something important is happening during those moments: The child is learning and making decisions, he says.

Sonya and Arthur Penn agree with Ginsburg. They only have one structured activity for their kids -- chess club.

"I think free time and play time is very important, because I think they help expand their imagination and [that] helps them figure things out about the world around them," says Sonya Penn.

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