Tips for Choosing After-School Activities
The intense demands of schoolwork may cause you to hesitate when it comes to after-school time. Although you don’t want to overload you child’s schedule, the academic, social and physical benefits of extracurricular programs are hard to ignore.
The Afterschool Alliance, an information clearinghouse and advocacy group, reports that kids who participate in after-school programs have better school attendance, higher grades and loftier aspirations about graduation and college attendance. They’re less likely to use drugs or get into trouble with police, and—because they log less screen time—kids in after-school programs are at lower risk of obesity. Kids also develop social and leadership skills in after-school programs, as they interact with peers in cooperative roles and mentoring relationships. Now that’s an impressive list of benefits.
What to Consider:
Before signing up, do your homework. These guidelines will help you sort the best from the rest.
- Content. Let kids choose activities based on their personal interests, says Susan Kuczmarski, Ed.D., author of The Sacred Flight of the Teenager: A Parent’s Guide to Stepping Back and Letting Go. Help them find activities that reflect who they are and what they want to learn, instead of imposing your preferences on them. Kids flourish when they’re deeply engaged.
- Quality. Discipline-based activities that allow kids to create a quality product over a period of time are best, says Sara Hill, Ph.D., Senior Consultant for the National Institute on Out-of-School Time. For instance, kids might learn math and science by building a boat or practice art and leadership by putting on a play or musical.
- Staffing. Staff members should have legitimate skills and experience. Programs with strong community connections usually have the best resources, Hill says. Kids may get to work with talented artists, scientists and athletes from local organizations.
- Movement. After-school sports encourage persistence, provide exercise and more. John Ratey, M.D., Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, prescribes exercise for kids with ADHD (and everyone else) because exercise boosts mood, improves learning and memory and relieves stress.
- Leadership. Extracurricular activities, including sports and clubs, are ideal places for kids to explore and practice what it means to be a group leader, says Kuczmarski.
- Logistics. After-school activities can provide balance to a class schedule that is overly academic, Kuczmarski says, if locations and timing fit your lifestyle. And remember that good programs don’t necessarily cost big bucks.
As you weigh the options, keep in mind this goal: You want your child to be a well-rounded citizen and a healthy, happy person, says Hill. After-school activities can provide enrichment, adventure and variety. They shouldn’t be driven by high-stakes testing and they shouldn’t be box-fillers for college applications.
Innovative programs promote learning without rote or repetition. If you can’t find quality after-school activities near you, contact your school district to advocate for programs you’d like to see. Out-of-school shouldn’t mean out-of-opportunities.
Heidi Smith Luedtke is a personality psychologist, mother of two, and former educator. www.heidiluedtke.com/blog.