Extracurricular activities are a great way for kids to socialise, learn new skills and get active, but do they really need them all? Let’s have a look at the types of extracurriculars out there, why children need them, how they benefit from them, and why they don’t need all of them!
Introduction to Extracurricular activities
Extracurricular activities are activities or events that kids can participate in before or after school or on weekends. Extracurricular activities are not mandatory for children to participate in, but involvement in extracurricular activities has countless benefits. There are a variety of different activities that children can participate in, including sports, creative activities such as music class or arts, reading or literacy activities, or hands-on activities, such as learning to cook or sew. Extracurricular activities are a great opportunity for children to develop, practice, and enhance specific skills, try something new out of their comfort zone, experience new things, develop self confidence and socialize with other children.
The purpose of this article is to inform readers about the different types of extracurricular activities, why participation in these activities is beneficial to children, and why children don’t need to be involved in all activities.
What is an extracurricular activity?
An extracurricular activity is an activity that a child participates in before or after school or on weekends, or it could even be a special interest class children start from a very young age. It is a voluntary (usually paid) experience that children can partake in. Extracurricular activities are a great way to boost a child’s self-confidence, give them a chance to learn and practice new skills, socialize with other children, and have a change of scenery. The Good Schools Guide outlines how participation in extracurricular activities can help enhance a child’s academic and ‘soft’ skills (such as public speaking and teamwork). They can be sports activities, creative activities, art classes, self defence or technology-related. Take a look at the list below.
What are some good extracurricular activities for kids?
There are a variety of different extracurricular activities for kids ranging from sports, art, and literacy activities. Of course, the appropriateness of the activity is dependent on the age and skill level of your child (for example, if you want to put your three-year-old child in soccer, you should ensure you sign them up for a toddler/preschool league), as well as their interests!
Some examples of good extracurricular activities for kids are:
- Sports (soccer, swimming, basketball, baseball, cricket, netball, hockey, tennis etc.)
- Art (pottery, painting classes, etc.)
- Literacy (book clubs for kids, library activities, creative writing)
- Cooking (cooking classes for kids)
- Music lessons (choir, learning an instrument, dancing)
- Self defence/martial arts (karate, jiu jitsu, tae kwon do)
- Lifestyle/life skills (boy scouts, girl scouts, camping clubs, public speaking)
- Creative (drama, dance, singing)
- STEM classes (engineering for kids, maths clubs, science clubs, technology)
The Active Activities database offers an easy-to-use search function to find age-appropriate extracurricular activities across various locations in Australia. Many schools also promote extra curriculars or run these at the school itself (after school hours), so you can often find out what is happening by getting actively involved in the school community.
Why do kids need extracurricular activities?
Extracurricular activities are important for children for a variety of reasons. Extracurricular activities allow children to have an opportunity to develop their skills (or learn new skills), interact and socialize with other children, allow them to have a change of scenery (other than home and school), and a chance to experience new activities. According to the Department of Education, Skills and Employment, participation in STEM extracurricular activities enhances a child’s motivation and interest in the sciences. Enhanced motivation and interest are just some examples of the benefits of extracurricular activities.
Benefits of extracurricular activities include:
- Develop confidence and self esteem
- Improve social skills and allow active socialisation, forming of friendships, teamwork, cooperation
- Develop specific skills or talents related to that activity
- Improve fitness and strength (for sports and physical activities), as well as Fundamental Movement Skills
- Further develop independence skills
- Encourage imagination and creative thinking
- Enhanced motivation and interest in a skill or topic area
- Helps build resilience – practice failing or ‘losing’ by teams not winning a game, or practicing new skills
- Improves focus and concentration for academic work too
- For a high schooler, extracurriculars can definitely help with college applications
- Relaxation and recreation
How many extracurricular activities should kids do?
The answer to this depends on a few factors, such as the child’s/family’s schedule, finances, and the child’s interest. More likely than not, the most significant factor will be a family’s finances; extracurricular activities can be quite expensive and for families with more than one child participating in extracurriculars, the cost will quickly add up. Of course, with parent work schedules, school, sibling participation in extracurricular activities, and any other commitments, you’ll want to ensure that the child has enough time to tend to their school work or other commitments before scheduling them for extracurricular activities. Lastly, it’s best to allow your child to guide the decision on which extracurricular activities they participate in (to a degree, of course); if your child shows no interest in soccer but wants to participate in volleyball, perhaps don’t sign them up for both. The true answer to this question will be different for every family; at the end of the day, you want to ensure that your child’s school performance and overall health and well-being are not being affected by their participation in too many extracurricular activities.
How many is too many?
There’s no right or wrong answer here; however, there are a few factors that parents need to consider;
- Money – Extracurricular activities are quite costly and expensive; if a child has multiple activities (or multiple children have many extracurriculars), the cost can be exorbitant. It’s not financially feasible or responsible for many families to have their child or children in as many extracurricular activities as they might like. According to research noted in The Guardian, participation in extracurricular activities benefitted children from lower-income families the most, yet these children are much less likely to have access to extracurricular activities.
- Child Health and Wellbeing – Another factor to consider is the effect of too many extracurricular activities on the well-being of the child; is their school performance or attendance being negatively impacted? Is their overall health impacted – are they too tired from too many activities, are they getting injured too often from sport such as football? Are they not interested in a particular activity, but is it being pushed by you or the other parent? Is the activity filling their bucket or emptying it?
- Time – Do you and your child have the time for these activities? It may be reasonable to assume kids attend 2 or even 3 -4 extracurriculars per week but every family is different, and if it’s too difficult to fit certain activities in, it may not be worth all the rushing around.
- Parent wellbeing – Yes, definitely a major consideration here. If all the running around, the scheduling, the financial burden and the time factor is causing unnecessary, unhealthy stress for the parent, it may not be worth it at all! Children need parents who are happy, present and involved, more than they need that extra activity.
These are important considerations to make when deciding how many is too many. A good rule of thumb, in my opinion, is stick to 1 or 2 activities.
Why kids don’t need them all!
Here is where I will share my own experience:
As a single mum, I have always been determined to give my son Andy all the opportunities I possibly could and so while I was working full time as a child care director and area manager, I also had discussions with Andy about what extracurricular activities he might be interested in. For me, swimming was non-negotiable as I saw it as an important life skill, as well as a great physical activity for him. Andy was also interested in soccer, dance and music. So at one stage, when he was 6 years old, Andy was enrolled in:
- Choir (Tuesday before school practice)
- Swimming (Monday afternoons)
- Soccer (training Thursday nights, PLUS games on Saturdays)
- Dance class (Wednesday afternoons)
- Keyboard lessons (Thursday before school practice)
- Jiu Jitsu (Tuesday nights)
I was working Full Time, I had Andy with me 12 days out of 14 and so I was the only one running him around to all of these activities while managing child care centre issues outside of work, and paying exorbitant fees! On top of that, Andy wasn’t really enjoying half of these anyway!
I have to say, there were many families at Andy’s school where the children were involved in even more than this but most of these families were not single parent families, and most had a parent who wasn’t working at all. I realised it was becoming ridiculous and something had to change. To answer the question of How many is too many? THIS was too many!
Andy really wanted to keep playing soccer and I could see the swimming was beneficial but we dropped the rest!
Both of us could breathe a huge sigh of relief, my finances were in better shape and I had more time to actually connect with Andy and exercise with him! We bought some second-hand bikes and instead of all the extracurriculars we went for bike rides, bushwalks and swam together!
This improved my mental health, as well as Andy’s. It improved my financial situation, reduced stress and improved my connection and communication with my son.
Kids don’t need them all! When it is negatively affecting your own or your kids wellbeing, or your financial situation, your stress levels or your child’s academic performance, then it is time to reconsider.
The Positive Parenting Program suggests different ways of speaking to your children about extracurricular activities, not only to avoid overwhelming them with too many choices/options, but to determine what’s best for your family as a whole.
Summary – Extracurricular activities
We all want our kids to learn valuable lessons, build their confidence, make friends, pursue their interests, get active, reduce screen time and have a creative outlet, but we also want our kids to be happy, we want to connect with them and have time for them, and we want to nurture their mental health and wellbeing. So it is up to parents to take a look at their family values as a whole, assess what they believe is really important for their child’s life and choose such activities that will truly enhance their child’s life, rather than cause a burden.
Evidence suggests that extracurricular activities can have a real positive impact on a child’s life, but there is also plenty of evidence to support the mental health of kids as well as parents, and if a stressful jam-packed week full of too many extracurriculars is the cause of stress and poor wellbeing, then it’s time to make a change!
How many activities do your kids do? How many do you think is too many? Let me know in the comments!