The Next Step: Positive Extracurricular Activities for Kids

January 12, 2021 10:00:00 AM EST | USASF

Parents are constantly on the lookout for safe and fun activities for kids.

Even with a pandemic raging around us and many activities restricted or cancelled, it’s not practical or healthy to keep kids home constantly. Exploring new hobbies, trying out new things, rolling up your sleeves and jumping into a new activity are all part of growing up.

As a parent, you know extracurriculars are necessary for your children, but it’s a balancing act. How much control do you have over the activity choice? Do you push your son into an activity he doesn’t want? What if your daughter won’t do anything but watch TV?

It’s enough to cause gray hairs and high blood pressure.

Not to worry, we’re here to help. In this article, we’ll look at defining guidelines for exploring extracurricular activities. You’ll learn how you can push kids to make a choice without being the bad guy.

What Is an Extracurricular Activity?

The world is constantly changing. There is a lot more choice, and so many more options in activities.

Almost any activity outside of the home can be considered extracurricular. Typically, extracurriculars can fall into a few categories, including:

  • Sports: Team sports like baseball, soccer, football, dance and gym are all activities.
  • Fine arts: Groups that offer an element of learning and specialized training, like visual arts, theater, comedy, or even dance lessons like ballet.
  • Volunteer: Volunteering your time to community groups or service groups like a local food bank, literacy groups or even fundraising organizations.
  • Youth groups: Many churches offer activity groups. Or, look to youth organizations like the Girl Scouts or 4-H clubs.
  • Academic organizations: Groups like a photography club, coding classes, robotics, a book club, geology group or chess club.
  • Hobby groups: Many people gather around a shared experience like hiking, anime, pets, or an activity like role playing or gaming.

Many times, extracurriculars offer an organized way for youth to explore an interest. Rather than learning on their own, the group or organization can help guide the interest. Extracurriculars are also an important factor in college and job applications. The experience learned during extracurriculars shows the skills an applicant can bring to the school or job.

Not all activities are created equal, unfortunately. As a parent, it’s our job to evaluate them. We need to push kids to safe and healthy activities that will position our children for success.

Evaluating Extracurricular Activities for Kids

We’ve gathered a few simple questions you can ask as you work with a child to pursue an interest or extracurricular activity.

Is it safe?

Physical safety is important, and we’ve covered a few tips for evaluating a sport or activity for safety in a previous blog, but physical safety isn’t the only thing you should consider. Consider the social and mental elements of the activity. Competition is important, but the drive to win should be balanced by fun, fair play and support. An activity that doesn’t consider the well-being of the whole child can leave them quickly burnt out on activities.

Is it enriching?

There have never been so many organizations, activities, groups or pursuits. When evaluating an activity, a goal should be learning, growing and enriching the life of a child. Look at what the activity can teach. Does it help them become a leader or work as part of a team? Does it teach a new skill and provide valuable lessons? Consider the long-term benefits of the activity. The list you come up with should be a factor in your evaluation.

Is it fun?

As much as we want to teach and enrich our kids, you also have to consider the fun factor. Passion is as much an element in success as skill or expertise. A child who is bored or resentful of an activity will never be successful. They won’t be able to learn. Talk to other parents involved in the activity. Ask them why their kids enjoy it so much. Their answers should help you decide if your child’s interest is a passing fancy or if there is an opportunity for a lifelong love.

Is it practical?

This may not be the most exciting question to ask, but it’s important. Look at the activity and see if there is a real opportunity to grow and develop in it. Does it have a strong foundation and good leadership? Is there a rich tradition that will shape the future of the activity? On the practical side, is it convenient enough for your family, or is it something you will struggle to make work?

Getting Started With Extracurricular Activities

Now that you have a good idea of what to look for in an extracurricular, it’s time to use the guidelines. As any parent knows, that’s not always easy with kids, especially today when many of us have gotten used to lockdowns and limited activities.

Here are a few tips for getting kids off the couch and trying new activities:

  • Start by letting the child try out an activity without making a major commitment. Let them go to a few classes, or work on a project or two before signing up.
  • Set guidelines and make sure they understand the expectations from the beginning. For example, let them know they will have at least one activity a week, and they will take three classes before they can drop it.
  • If you can, make the activity a group activity. Let them go to the class with a friend or someone they know. This will alleviate some of the fear they may have.
  • Learn with them. Ask them how it was and what they are looking forward to at the next activity, and have them teach you what they learn.
  • Provide a reward and make it fun. Go out for ice cream after a successful class or project.
  • Especially with the social restrictions we’re living under, it’s important to keep communication open, and let them know they can talk to you about any concerns.

Finding new activities and exploring new interests doesn’t happen by magic. It’s important to set a good example, so talk to them about your activities. Pick a new hobby or organization to join and walk them through how you get started.

Another way to set a good example is to take a leadership or volunteer role in the group or activity. Be a coach or a parent volunteer. Not every child may appreciate your support but offering it will show how important it is to you.

If you have questions or want to see if there are any clubs near you, then contact the USASF today. We’re here to help.