Study Shows Children Saw Improved Mental Well-Being Early on During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Study Shows Children Saw Improved Mental Well-Being Early on During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Conducted by nonprofit Let Grow and analyzed by Dr. Peter Gray, the study shows children benefitted from unstructured time during the initial lockdown last spring

Let Grow, a nonprofit promoting childhood independence, and Dr. Peter Gray, a professor of psychology at Boston College, recently published their study results on the positive effects of the lockdown on children in April and May 2020. The study, published in the American Journal of Play, found that for many children, their mental well-being improved early on during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Let Grow conducted several large-scale, demographically representative surveys online of children, ages 8–13, and their families in April and May 2020. The results are the opposite of what health experts—both in journals and the national media—feared at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While many anticipated negative impacts on children such as increased stress, heightened anxiety, and depression, Let Grow and Dr. Gray found the opposite to be true.

“The sudden cancelation of school and other scheduled activities that typically occupied our children’s time led to a greater discovery of self-exploration,” said Dr. Gray, a professor of psychology at Boston College and one of the leading researchers on play and education. “With less schoolwork and more free time, we found children enjoyed their increased independence.”

Other key findings of the study include:

  • “Happy” was one of the most frequently checked options by children in the surveys when describing their past week, and “sad” and “angry” were the least.
  • Children self-reported helping more around the house, reading for fun, and doing arts or crafts.
  • Greater autonomy support allowed and encouraged children to discover what they liked to do, which improved their mood and freed up parental time to fulfill their own needs.

With the lockdown last spring, children went from a condition of little autonomy, because their time was filled with school and other adult-directed activities, to a condition of increased free time. While some children reported experiencing boredom, boredom motivated them to action an exploration—suggesting that children benefit from more unstructured time.

In addition to his research on play and education, Dr. Gray is the mind behind “Let Grow Play Club”, a program that encourages mixed-age, device-free play where adults don’t intervene, except in true emergencies. The Let Grow Play Club promotes social-emotional growth in children, as well as the development of real-world skills like critical thinking.

“There’s so much pressure on children to succeed from an early age,” said Dr. Gray. “I hope that one small thing schools and districts take from all of this is that children need more unstructured time, whether that’s less homework, more time at home, or something else.”

To read the complete study in the American Journal of Play, please visit http://www.journalofplay.org.


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