How to choose extracurricular activities


The gap between the end of school and the end of the working day can present a challenge for parents.…

The gap between the end of school and the end of the work day can present a challenge for parents. This after-school time, typically two to four hours, provides children with an opportunity to learn skills and explore their interests. But time, transportation, and cost sometimes get in the way.

A national survey earlier this year of more than 2,000 parents and guardians in Kindergarten to Grade 8 showed that 65% have children enrolled in extracurricular activities. Interestingly, childcare was not the main motivation, according to a survey conducted by the nonprofit parent support organization Learning Heroes. The most frequently cited reason, cited by 74% of parents, was “to expose children to new experiences, ideas and perspectives beyond their daily lives at home and at school”.

“These providers play a dual role of childcare and enrichment,” says Karen Pittman, co-founder of the Forum for Youth Investment, a non-profit organization whose mission is to ensure that children are ready for life. university and career. “They are safe and nurturing places to learn for your child while you are at work.”

In some cases, extracurricular activities can also provide the necessary stability and a foundation for academic success. However, for every child participating in an after-school program in the United States, there are three more pending, according to Afterschool Alliance, a non-profit advocacy organization.

A household survey titled America After 15PM released by the organization in December 2020, which surveyed more than 30,000 families, found significant inequalities, with black and Latin children disproportionately missing out on opportunities after school. Families who live in rural and low-income urban areas or who have limited incomes are also often underserved.

Yet even under these circumstances, education experts say parents can often find options.

The benefits of extracurricular activities

Exploring a range of activities, rather than specializing in just one, is more beneficial for K-5 students, Pittman says. Once a child shows a particular interest in an activity, parents can then add more instructions or focus on it at home.

The same rule applies to sports, say experts. Parents should expose their children to many sports and then engage in a sport their child seems to be having fun at, says Sheila Ohlsson Walker, senior scientist at the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University. Another option for parents is to choose a coach who focuses on fun, well-being, and character.

“When they can have fun early and learn to enjoy moving their bodies, they have this amazing built-in system for managing stress and mental health,” says Walker. “It’s important for everything in the long run.”

Extracurricular activities offer many benefits to elementary school children. They can lead to improved grades, school attendance and behavior, according to the Afterschool Alliance.

[Read: 10 Fun STEM Activities for Kids.]

Students can put into practice what they learn in school (for example, reading a script for a drama class). They can explore different activities that may not be available elsewhere, such as STEM or dancing, and discover new interests. Additionally, because after-school programs are sometimes more diverse than classrooms, with students of different ages and backgrounds, children can develop empathy, communication and teamwork skills.

“This kind of group play is essential for socio-emotional development,” Pittman says.

Navigate extracurricular activities

Many parents struggle to manage the costs and transportation issues that come with trying to create a personalized range of interest-based activities. On the contrary, many families use facilities that offer a range of activities in one place.

Some schools offer “extended day” options that include supervised play time and basic activities such as drawing or painting. Other options include organizations like the YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, or local community centers, which offer a combination of activities that often include – in addition to childcare – art, music, dance and sports, as well as homework help and quiet. time.

There are also more specific activities, which can be added to larger after-school programs. Sports teams, for example, usually require registration with a separate organization, such as a football or hockey league. Some parents also opt for private lessons in music or other subjects. The Learning Heroes survey indicates that parents use an average of two program providers to keep their children busy during after-school hours.

Education experts say there are many different options, although they caution that parents should choose organizations and instructors well versed in child development. “Don’t take your 5-year-old to take lessons with the conductor,” Pittman says.

Popular extracurricular activities

Here are some suggestions for parents to investigate:

Art. Art is fundamental to education as an inter-brain experience that involves the mind, body and heart, Pittman says. A 2019 study from the Brookings Institution examined an initiative for elementary and high school students in Houston that provided an average of 10 rewarding arts education experiences through dance, music, drama, and the visual arts. For elementary schools in particular, the study showed that “increasing learning of the arts positively and significantly affects students’ academic engagement, their aspirations for college and their tendency to rely on works of art. of art as a means of empathy with others ”.

Foreign languages. Research shows multiple benefits when children learn another language, according to ACTFL, an organization representing language teachers and administrators. Benefits include a correlation between language learning and higher academic performance (including higher standardized test scores); improved cognitive abilities, such as memory; and a positive attitude towards the new language and the people who speak it.

Martial Arts. Martial arts are a great form of physical activity, and they also teach respect, honor, and discipline. A recent Martial Arts Unleashed article lists five styles that are beneficial for children: Karate, Taekwondo, Brazilian Jiujitsu, Judo, and Wrestling.

Music. Music is another cross-brain experience, and countries like Japan and Denmark are incorporating it into early childhood education, Pittman says. When students in Kindergarten to Grade 12 have the chance to play an instrument, sing in a choir, or participate in other musical activities, they are more likely to stay in school and perform better by English, math, science and second languages, according to a 2018 report from the NAMM Foundation, a nonprofit organization supported in part by the National Association of Music Merchants.

Sports. This is another type of multimodal learning that involves your child’s brain, physical activity, and social interaction. This makes learning “stickier” for kids in Kindergarten to Grade 5, says Walker. “Exercise creates a rod for the brain,” she says. “It helps us to think more clearly, to be more creative and strengthens the ability to learn.” The Aspen Institute’s Project Play offers advice for parents trying to find the best local sport or program, mobilize their community to improve play, or train children more effectively.

STEM. Science, technology, engineering, and math, commonly referred to as STEM, are key skills for students today. The Afterschool Alliance’s Afterschool STEM Hub offers information on the importance of programs that immerse children in these subjects. Many after-school programs try to do more with STEM.

Options in underserved communities

Shannon Christian, executive director of the Worland Youth Learning Center in rural Worland, Wyoming, has seen the power of after-school programs firsthand. It tells the story of an elementary school student who performed in school but was always at his best when he visited the center.

He eventually switched from traditional school to home schooling, but continued to follow the after-school program, where he enjoyed science and writing activities and helped teach other children. “If you could keep his mind engaged and challenged, he was an amazing kid,” Christian says.

Not all communities are fortunate to have a school like Worland, which accepts all students regardless of their ability to pay, and parents in these communities may have to work harder to find solutions after school. .

[READ: Private School vs. Public School.]

In urban areas, parents can check with coaches or teachers, who may be up to date with activities, or with the city’s parks and recreation department. The YMCA and Boys and Girls clubs are also often located where they can meet the greatest needs, Pittman says.

Schools, libraries, faith-based organizations, and 4-H often have after-school programs in rural areas, and individuals sometimes provide after-school care at home. Parents may also consider carpooling with other families to participate in sports or partnering with schools and organizations to launch new after-school programs in their community.

The Afterschool Alliance offers general advice for parents who are looking for or trying to create programs. Parents may be able to find charities, local organizations or grants to fund new programs.

Looking for a school? Explore our K-12 repertoire.

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