Extracurricular activities for kids can have several benefits. They help keep kids physically active and mentally engaged. These activities can also help shape your child’s social development, give them a sense of involvement, and may improve their self-esteem. Whether your child is 2 or 12, choosing an extracurricular activity for kids can be tough, especially if your child is younger or doesn’t have a specific interest.
To help you and your child pick an activity they’ll enjoy, Dr. Allyson Weldon, sports psychologist with Akron Children’s, suggests the following tips.
Extracurricular activities for kids: How to choose
How do you know if your child is ready for extracurricular activities?
Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast way to determine readiness. In general, if your child is showing interest in a particular activity, whether that’s a sport, music, or club, it’s worth letting them explore the activity to see if it’s a good fit for them. This isn’t necessarily readiness from the child’s standpoint, but if your child is having difficulties making friends, it could also be a great time to introduce them to some extracurricular activities that you know would be interesting to them.
What are the benefits of involving kids in extracurriculars?
One of many benefits to extracurricular activities is socialization, it creates a space for them to meet other people with the same interest as them and can help foster friendships and develop a sense of community. Another benefit is it helps to develop skills such as problem solving, resiliency, and leadership to name a few. Additionally, it can provide a safe place for your child to go to before/after school.
Is there any reason a child shouldn’t do an extracurricular activity?
If the extracurricular does not fit well into the family schedule or goes against family values, these would be good reasons to not allow your child to be a part of the extracurricular activity. Additionally, if the environment is a toxic or harmful environment, that would be another good reason to not allow your child to participate in an extracurricular.
If you have a younger child, what should you consider when choosing an activity?
With a younger child it is important to consider time of day, length of time, number of people involved in the activity, and family schedule. Some younger kiddos do well with later activities, and some do not. The activity could wind up your child and then make bedtime difficult, or it could help tire your child out and foster better sleep. The length of the activity is important to consider, because an activity that is too long can create room for misbehavior and boredom. The group size can also make a difference, if it is a large group activity this could also be problematic for some younger kids who are more easily distracted or become easily bored because there is often less individualized attention. Additionally, you want to consider transportation to and from the activity, a parent will have to be present compared to an older child where you can drop off and go run errands during the activity.
What about extracurricular activities for older kids?
You want to have similar considerations for older kids as with younger kids. You always want to make sure that a full commitment can be provided. If your child is going to miss half of the meetings/practices/games, then it would not be of best interest to allow for participation in the activity. The number of people involved and reasoning for your child wanting to be involved are important to consider. If your child only wants to participate because of friends and they are not actually interested in the activity, you may want to talk with them and possibly reconsider the participation.
How can you keep your kids interested in their activity? What if they simply don’t want to be involved in extracurricular activities for kids?
Maintaining interest can be a challenge. With any activity, it is important that the commitment to the activity is seen through for the duration. If they truly do not like it, create a countdown until it’s over, provide praise to them when they attend, and you can even provide rewards/incentives for participation to maintain interest for the duration of the activity. You can also create little games/goals for your child to complete while at the activity. For example, if your child is participating in soccer but is seemingly disinterested, you can create a goal for them to kick the ball X number of times at practice/in the game and then build on it for the next practice/game.
It’s important to remember that as a parent, you cannot force your child to want to be involved in extracurriculars. However, you can set rules or expectations for your children if having them involved in extracurricular activities is important to you. For example, the rule in some families is that the child has to pick one sport and one art (music, band, orchestra, theater, art) activity to be involved in. The rule, especially for younger children, can be as simple as pick one new activity to try each year/season, and if they like one, then they can stick with that one until they lose interest. With a high school aged kiddo, the expectation might be that they get involved in at least one school-based activity whether that’s art club, theater, debate, robotics, sports, etc.
What are the signs that it may be time to quit or try something different?
Signs that it may be time to quit or try something different is if they are no longer having fun or enjoying their time at the activity. If they consistently fight you when going to the activity, it may be time to switch things up. Another sign might be if they do not appear to be putting forth any effort when at the activity.
What are some signs that your child may be overwhelmed with their activities?
Signs of being overwhelmed could look like disinterest and resistance to the activity, but it could also look like inability to stay on top of things that they were once able to manage. They may also be getting less sleep, having a need to stay up later to get their schoolwork done, or become moodier. If your child is overwhelmed with their activities and school responsibilities, try these 6 tips for balancing school and extracurricular activities for kids.
If you have concerns about your child, start by talking with their pediatrician.