22 February 2010 03:39 PM

Extracurricular Activities

by Dr. Rick

It’s always interesting to me that the most active students in the high schools where I’ve taught, the kids with the busiest schedules – the sports team members, the student government types, the musicians, actors, school newspaper editors – always seem to be the ones with the best grades, too.


The research bears out my observations.  Kids who are involved with extracurricular activities tend to have better grades, better attendance records, higher senses of confidence, better social skills, and lower rates of dropping out and getting in trouble.


Seems an idle mind IS a devil’s workshop, after all, just like my grandmother used to say.


Looking for extracurricular activities?  Here are some considerations to keep in mind.

  1. Consider the advantages.  Kids who participate in structured, supervised activities outside the school day enjoy improved discipline, leadership, teamwork, responsibility, and attitudes about learning.  They have opportunities to “discover” interests and talents, to increase their sense of accomplishment, and to socialize with kids of similar interests.

  2. Consider the liabilities.  I’m not sure they’re actually disadvantages, but kids need to be careful of overextending themselves.  And extracurricular activities can take over the real purpose of school – learning.  Some parents need to be careful not to put too much stress on kids with special talents.  Maybe he doesn’t want to be a sports star or the next singing sensation, despite what you see as his unique, promising, and potentially lucrative talents.  Remember, he’s still a kid.

  3. Consider exploring together.  Kids as young as elementary-school age are ready for some after-school activities.  With your child, make a list of three or four that you’re each interested in.  Let her help with the final decision.  For middle school and high school kids, activities should reinforce learning, increase time with supportive friends, and decrease time in front of electronic screens.

  4. Consider areas of interest.  What’s your child interested in?  What does she want to learn about?  There are plenty of areas to choose from.  Sports, recreation, visual arts, music, dance, drama, creative writing, school newspaper, government, and volunteering are just a few examples. 

  5. Consider strengths and needs.  I’ve often noticed how shy kids are the ones who bloom as performers in the school play or concerts.  Or how the ones who can’t sit still during class are helped by exerting lots of energy on the sports field.  Or how the ones with deeply felt opinions like to write editorials and op-ed pieces for the school newspaper.  Or the curious ones are drawn to technology or opportunities to engineer incredibly creative “inventions.”  Or the argumentative ones make great debaters.

  6. Consider the adults.  There should be adult supervision – a teacher, say, who’s sponsoring the debate club or coaching the soccer team or mentoring the student government, or editing the literary magazine.  These coaches and advisers usually have a special interest and talent in the activity and are motivated purely (or mostly) by their passion.  They make great mentors and role models.

  7. Consider venues.  Lots of places offer after-school activities.  Schools probably offer the widest variety.  But there are other places, too, like museums, places of worship, community centers, and recreation centers.  Look for convenience and safety.

  8. Consider your family’s schedule.  No one knows your family’s needs better than you do, so make sure that you can “afford” the time commitment that serious after-school activities can often require – especially in high school.  Make the commitment with your child’s learning and interests in mind.  If he’s really invested in his art or music or sports, allow him free rein as long as his grades are up to your standards.

  9. Consider sharing.  Let your kids know what kinds of activities you were interested in when you were their ages.  How did you hone your special skills?  Where’d you learn to throw that fastball, sing that high note, build that treehouse, organize the neighborhood food drive?  Who were your adult heroes?

  10. Be supportive.  Remember, middle and high schoolers, especially, go through interests like they go through the food in your refrigerator.  They’re interested in something deeply for short periods of time before moving on to the latest deep interest.  That’s normal.  They’re experimenting, discovering talents, trying out new experiences and interests.  Be patient with them.  Support them.  Show an interest.  Guide them.

Some of my most satisfying times as a teacher have been as the sponsor of one extracurricular activity or another.  My days of advising student journalists on the award-winning Parkville High School newspaper, The Pioneer, or the Chesapeake High School yearbook, Windjammer, are cherished times.  So are the days I spent directing school  plays, coaching debaters, preparing public speakers, and (most improbably, and only as a well-intentioned but totally incompetent favor for my friend who coached them) auditioning cheerleaders!  I still don’t know who had more fun, the kids or I!




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