Books and lectures are not the only ways students pick up important lessons and skills during the school year. Extracurricular activities provide a range of benefits to participants almost as limitless as the slate of options available to them.
Whether it is playing video games, hanging out with friends or reading a book, children always find ways to fill their time.
However, extracurricular activities can channel that time in constructive directions, said Ron Cox, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension marriage and family specialist.
“Extracurricular activities help kids spend their time in positive ways and allow them to develop life skills they wouldn’t easily obtain in other ways,” Cox said.
Music, theatre, sports, debate and similar activities do an excellent job of keeping children occupied throughout the late afternoon and early evening hours until working parents can make it home.
These activities also serve as real-time labs where students can develop critical life skills such as leadership, teamwork and dealing with adversity.
“As an example, 4-H includes lots of service projects that give kids hands-on experience with helping others, generosity and self-sacrifice,” Cox said. “There aren’t a lot of places where kids can learn these types of lessons.”
Turns out, extracurricular outlets also can have a positive effect on students’ performance in the classroom as children active in outside activities post higher grades compared to those who are less involved.
Involvement in activities beyond academics also gives students a chance to connect with positive adult role models, something research shows comes with a slew of benefits.
“Students who have at least one other caring adult in their lives, in addition to a parent, tend to do better in several ways, such as academically, socially and in terms of avoiding drug use and teen pregnancy,” Cox said.
With plenty of extracurricular programs available through schools, community groups, churches and other organizations, families should be able to find activities that fit within their schedules and budgets as well as meet kids’ interests.
“Start by allowing kids to experience a variety of activities and eventually allowing them to gravitate to the ones they most enjoy,” Cox said. “Extracurricular activities can be incredibly important to kids growing into positive role models and contributing citizens of our state.”