Does it sometimes feel like your child constantly runs from one activity to another? Do you ever wonder how your kid’s calendar often seems much more crowded than your own? In addition to school and school-related activities, many students participate in extracurricular activities. But why are these so important for students?
Extracurricular activities benefit students of all ages because these activities promote better social, mental, and physical health. In addition, they are a great way to explore interests, make new friends, and build social skills that will last a lifetime. Further, universities often look for extracurricular participation during the admissions process.
Of course, extracurricular activities shouldn’t become overwhelming. It’s essential for your child to maintain a balance between their school work, their extracurriculars, and their home and family life. So let’s explore the advantages of extracurricular activities and their impact on kids at different ages and stages.
What Are the Benefits of Extracurricular Activities?
Participating in extracurricular activities offers students plenty of different benefits (source). Extracurriculars promote learning outside the classroom and offer kids a chance to learn everything from specific skills to broader truths about life outside school.
There are social, educational, physical, and mental benefits to participating in extracurricular activities throughout childhood. Let’s take a look at some of the top ways extracurricular activities can benefit students.
When kids participate in after-school activities, they engage with their peers in a new dynamic (source).
Whether they’re playing a team sport, making music with others, or facing a one-on-one competition, they are experiencing new social dynamics that don’t exist in the classroom. This exposure allows them to explore and grow in new social settings and skills.
Students who participate in extracurricular activities also tend to have higher self-esteem. When their passions combine with success in these activities, it gives kids a boost to their sense of self, self-esteem, and self-efficacy. In turn, these improvements can also boost their social skills and sense of confidence in all areas of life.
In addition to these social benefits, extracurricular activities can also help students improve their academic performance (source). Many skills developed in extracurricular activities – time management, perseverance, and goal-setting – translate well into the academic sphere.
Study after study shows that participation in extracurricular and co-curricular activities helps students achieve higher academic success. Education researchers chalk this up to the motivational factors and skills acquired through extracurricular and co-curricular activities.
Participating in extracurricular activities can also offer a wide range of physical benefits. For example, if your child plays sports after school, their physical health can improve drastically due to increased exercise and physical activity. But there are other, less apparent advantages in physical health, too.
For example, kids with a balanced schedule that includes invigorating and engaging extracurriculars often get better sleep. Likewise, kids who go to bed with a healthy sense of “tired” and a day well-spent are more likely to sleep more deeply and consistently. This, in turn, leads to an overall healthier lifestyle.
Are There Any Drawbacks to Extracurricular Activities?
Like all good things, it’s best to do extracurricular activities in moderation. The disadvantages of extracurricular activities become especially clear when students are enrolled in too many of them or when their extracurricular schedule becomes extremely busy.
It’s crucial for students to maintain a balance between their school work, their home and family life, and their extracurricular activities. The parent should also monitor things like competitiveness and drive: while these are great traits in moderation, they can also motivate kids to act out or behave wrongly.
How Extracurricular Activities Impact Each Stage of Child Development
Extracurricular activities can positively impact kids of all ages and stages. However, these benefits look different at each stage. So let’s explore how extracurriculars can affect your child as they grow and develop.
When a child is very young, the main goal of extracurricular activities is to help them socialize, develop age-appropriate motor skills, and learn the activity’s most essential steps or rules. There is also a strong emphasis on having fun and making new friends.
In early chıldhood, ıt’s ımportant to de-emphasıze the competıtıveness of extracurrıculars. At this young of an age, children may not be able to regulate theır expectatıons and emotions surrounding the competıtıve element, so it is best to avoid hypıng up the winning aspect of the activity.
The elementary school years represent a vast swath of a child’s growth and development, so it is vital that their extracurricular activities also undergo that same growth. Throughout these years, your kid’s interests will likely change and shift several times.
So, as your child develops rapidly throughout their elementary school years, it’s crucial to check in with them periodically to ensure that they’re still enjoying and challenged by their extracurricular activities.
Give your student frequent chances to reassess their interests and passions throughout their elementary school years. You’ll probably find that as they grow and learn new things at school, their after-school interests will also develop and change.
In middle school, the competitive element of many extracurricular activities becomes more pronounced. Kids at this stage will start comparing themselves to their peers more intensely.
While this can result in some healthy competition, it can also lead to problems with self-esteem and/or obsessive behavior towards extracurriculars.
During the middle school years, parents should encourage healthy competition while affirming and supporting their child, even if they aren’t the winner every time. Parents should also ensure that their kids’ peers and leaders show this support.
These are the years when students tend to hone in on one or two extracurriculars that they are most passionate about. Rather than trying everything, kids at this age will start wanting to get better at a particular skill, sport, or activity.
As your child progresses in their skills, make sure that their activities present enough of a challenge to promote further growth and development.
Extracurricular activities are integral to the high school experience: we can see this everywhere, from movies to college applications. In high school, competition becomes the main focus of extracurriculars; as long as the competition is healthy, there’s no issue there.
High school students tend to view extracurriculars as a way to express themselves. They have a stronger sense of who they are, and they impress this on their peers and the adults in their lives through participation in extracurricular activities. So, as a result, extracurricular activities help high schoolers define who they are.
We can see this in the stereotypes of high schoolers: kids are classed as “football players and cheerleaders” or “mathletes.” Basically, their extracurricular activities can define their social standing, personality, and sense of self. For this reason, extracurriculars play an especially important role in their self-confidence and self-esteem.
Benefits of Extracurricular Activities on Mental Health
Extracurricular activities have many advantages, especially as it applies to students’ mental health (source). For instance, students who participate in after-school activities often report lower overall stress levels. Also, extracurriculars are great for building intrinsic motivation and perseverance, which positively impact mental health.
Furthermore, students involved in extracurricular activities tend to have stronger social connections with their peers and support from coaches, instructors, or faculty sponsors. These extra social supports are a fantastic boost for overall mental health, too.
This sense of belonging also helps build up a child’s sense of belonging and self-confidence, ultimately leading to lower instances of depression, anxiety, and stress across the board. Plus, it can boost their self-efficacy, allowing them to regulate their mental health while helping those around them co-regulate.
The social stimulus of extracurricular activities can also draw kids away from recreational screen time. And when children and teens spend less time looking at a screen and more time interacting with others, they often report feeling more optimistic and positive about life and themselves.
One Disadvantage of Extracurricular Activities on Students’ Mental Health
Despite all of these benefits to students’ mental health, it is also essential to note that there can be some drawbacks. The most common is intense, unhealthy competition: many extracurriculars are competitive, which isn’t bad in itself.
However, when the competitive nature of a sport or activity becomes a source of stress and anxiety (rather than motivation for success), this can harm the kid’s mental health, especially their sense of self-esteem. So, it’s crucial to keep competitions in perspective and remember that while winning is incredible, it’s not the only thing.
How to Help Your Child Choose Extracurricular Activities
There are so many different extracurricular activities that your child can choose from, and finding the right fit can seem a bit daunting. The most important thing to remember while helping your child choose an extracurricular is that it should reflect their own interests and passions.
Of course, every parent has big dreams and goals for their kids, whether it’s about sports, music, or mathletics. But more important than those dreams are the interests of the child. To reap all of the benefits of participating in extracurriculars, a kid must first be interested and passionate about the activity they are pursuing.
The next step is to ensure that the extracurriculars are age and level-appropriate for your child. Make sure you’re not signing them up for something that will be too easy or prohibitively difficult. Instead, talk to a coach or instructor about your child’s ability so they can join an activity that offers a fair challenge.
Finally, you should remember that it’s common for kids to change their interests and extracurricular activities as time goes on. Just because your child played soccer last season doesn’t mean they’ll play in the World Cup! Give your kid the chance to “check in” with their interests and adjust their extracurriculars accordingly.
For more on describing your interests, check out our article Finding, Understanding, and Explaining Your Academic Interests.
Social and Emotional Development in the Classroom
Social and emotional development (SED) refers to teaching children – even from a very young age – about how to live, act, and react according to the social norms around them. SED often focuses on skills such as active listening, self-regulation, working together with others, and communicating effectively (source).
SED is integral to a well-rounded education, as it focuses on the softer skills students need to succeed inside and outside the classroom. SED starts in the home before a child has ever entered a classroom, while formal activities and training in social and emotional development start as early as Pre-K and Kindergarten.
There are many different methods and activities that can bring SED education alive in the classroom. One of the most popular approaches is team-based projects or assignments that require students to work together. This way, students will have to use communication and cooperation skills to complete the assignment.
SED also focuses on defining and eliciting descriptions of the social norms in the classroom. For example, teachers may explain the classroom rules and then ask kids to give instances of this same acceptable and polite behavior outside the classroom.
In this way, the main goal of SED in the classroom is to help students transfer these skills to their lives outside the classroom. There is a robust and explicit emphasis on teaching kids that these social and emotional skills are applicable in the wider world. In a way, the actual test of SED taught in the classroom actually happens outside the classroom.
Extracurricular activities are a great way to promote social and emotional development, too. For example, after-school activities can help reinforce and drill the self-regulation, communication, and cooperation skills that fall under the SED umbrella.
There are many great reasons students should participate in extracurricular activities: they offer opportunities for social, mental, physical, and educational growth. Plus, they look great on college applications. But, most importantly, extracurricular activities allow children to explore their own interests and passions and persevere to meet their goals.
However, parents should be careful to keep a balanced schedule when enrolling their children in extracurricular activities. Too much of a good thing is actually a bad thing! As long as kids have a healthy balance between school, home, and extracurriculars, the benefits of these after-school activities can really shine.