Generally, the most active students in high schools, the kids with the busiest schedules – the sports team members, the musicians, actors – always seem to be the ones with the best grades, too. The research also reveals that 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. As the saying goes, “An idle mind IS a devil’s workshop”.
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. 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 areas of interest. 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. 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, and volunteering are just a few examples. 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 strengths and needs. Often, shy kids are the ones who bloom as performers in the school play or concerts. The ones who can’t sit still during class are helped by exerting lots of energy on the sports field. The ones with deeply felt opinions like to write editorials and pieces for the school newspaper. The curious ones are drawn to technology or opportunities to engineer incredibly creative “inventions.” Or the argumentative ones make great debaters.
5. Consider the supervision. There should be adult supervision. 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.
6. Consider your family’s schedule. 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.
7. 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? Who were your adult heroes?
8. 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.