Why Extracurricular Activities Are Crucial to Learning

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photo credit: still searching... via photopin cc
photo credit: still searching… via photopin cc
With summer in full swing, many parents are still looking for ways to keep their child occupied and on the path to success.  Extracurricular activities, regardless of the student’s age, are a great way to do this.  Rather than just plopping them down in front of the T.V., getting kids involved with a soccer camp, swimming lessons, or a chess club can have many benefits. Summer is an ideal time for this. 
Like sports, drama is also a positive social activity, as it brings kids together to perform.

There are fewer scheduling conflicts and students have lots of free time to involve themselves in something fun during the summer.  There are many surprising benefits associated with extracurriculars and (with a little adaptation) many activities can segue into the school year, leading to year-round engagement.

So what are the benefits to doing extracurricular activities? That it depends on the activities, but they all build valuable skills. Sports are a wonderful option. In addition to being a lot of fun, sports improve hand-eye coordination and motor skills. There are also numerous health advantages.

Sports are great exercise but they also teach the importance of staying active. Exercise reduces stress and participating in sports at an early age can have health benefits that last a lifetime, reducing rates of diabetes and heart disease. Sports also teach cooperation and teamwork. They are a great way to build social skills and strong friendships. Perhaps this is particularly true with team sports like basketball, soccer, or baseball. However, even more individual sports like swimming can have huge social benefits: kids are introduced to other kids with similar interests as they practice together.

Sports are not the only extracurricular option. There is also drama, music, and art. These are great activities for improving creativity. Like sports, drama is also a positive social activity, as it brings kids together to perform.

Music develops the part of the brain associated with language. This means that kids who are involved with music tend to have better verbal skills, more advanced reading skills, and they are more likely to pick up a second language. Art of any kind is a marvelous activity for visual-spatial learners, not to mention a way to learn self-expression and reduce stress.

Regardless of the activity, there are many practical benefits associated with extracurriculars. Studies show that students involved with extracurriculars tend to have better academic performance, better attendance, and fewer disciplinary issues. Extracurriculars teach discipline, responsibility, time and stress management skills, and self-esteem. There’s also the fact that colleges tend to be more impressed by students who have been involved with extracurriculars. It shows that the student has used his or her free time in a productive manner, and is better prepared for post-secondary education.

Seven suggestions for the summer activity
  • Summer plays: many opera houses or theaters use community members for summer productions.
  • Music lessons: it doesn’t matter which instrument and it shouldn’t be hard to find a good teacher.
  • Volunteerism: Find a cause to get passionate about that kids can get involved with.
  • Singing lessons: singing is fun and can go hand in hand with a drama production.
  • Art classes: spend a relaxing summer learning photography, sitting at a clay wheel, or drawing cartoons.
  • Swimming lessons: the pool is a great place to spend the summer and make some friends.
  • Other sports: There are so many to choose from: basketball, archery, soccer, kickball, martial arts, and rock climbing, just to name a few.

No matter which activities a student becomes involved with, it is best to start early. The student will develop critical skills sooner and be more accustomed to the rigors associated with extracurriculars. It can be more difficult to get a child involved as she grows older. By their teen years, peers have already been involved and have some level of skill. This can make the activity intimidating for a newcomer. As the level increases, certain activities can be more competitive, as well. Sports are an excellent example of this. Schools might have too many students and not enough resources for everyone to play on a team.

The benefits of participating in extracurriculars are numerous and can last a lifetime, but everyone has time constraints. This is one reason that summer is an ideal time to start. The question, then, is which activities are most important? There is no right answer here. The best approach is to try different things and find the ones that are most interesting for your children. If they have a natural inclination towards a certain activity, they are more likely to pursue it without much coercion.

By trying a variety of options students might find an interest or a talent they never knew they had while developing valuable skills that can help them throughout their lives.

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Brilliant or Insane contributor Forrest Miller is a writer and an educator, specializing in ESL. He is from Oregon, currently living and teaching in China.

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