Extracurricular activities are those sponsored by and usually held at school but that are not part of the academic curriculum. They often involve some time commitment outside of the regular school day.
Extracurricular activities range from sports to newspaper editing to music and theater. Many activities, like football and drama, enjoy extreme longevity, serving as a part of their school's program over a number of years. Others, like an ecology club or writers' workshop, may be offered for a shorter time span to reflect a community interest or involvement by a particular sponsoring faculty member or class of students. For many students, extracurricular activities present an opportunity to practice social skills and to experiment in activities that may represent a career interest. For a child who is not gifted academically, the opportunity to excel in the arts or sports may make a big difference in his or her self-esteem .
Many extracurricular activities, such as the school newspaper, photography, and drama, can lead to careers. Extracurricular activities also help to form the student's profile for consideration in college admissions. A student's academic record and scores on standardized tests form the core of his or her college application profile. However, admissions officers consider other factors, such as a demonstrated talent in athletics or the arts or leadership in school or extracurricular activities. After-school activities can also include scouting and volunteering, such as working with the Red Cross, a local animal shelter, a homeless shelter, or in a political campaign. Through these diverse activities, students can have fun, build a resume for college, increase creativity , improve organizational skills, learn time management, and develop people skills.
A 2001 survey of more than 50,000 high school students in Minnesota published in the March 2003 issue of the Journal of School Health found that those who participated in extracurricular activities had higher levels of social, emotional, and healthy behavior than students who did not participate. Students were classified into four groups based on their participation in sports and other activities, such as clubs, volunteer work, band, choir, or music lessons: neither activity, both, other activities only, and sports only. Odds ratios for the group involved in both types of activities were significantly higher than those for all the other groups for all healthy behaviors and measures of connectedness and significantly lower for all but one of the unhealthy behaviors.
Students involved in sports alone or in combination with other activities had significantly higher odds than the other two groups for exercise , milk consumption, and healthy self-image, and significantly lower odds for emotional distress, suicidal behavior , family substance abuse, and physical and sexual abuse victimization. Students involved in other activities alone or in combination with sports had significantly higher odds than the other two groups for doing homework and significantly lower odds for alcohol consumption, marijuana use, and vandalism.
Among male students in the Minnesota study, 19.1 percent engaged in neither sports nor other activities, 23.4 percent in other activities only, 15.1 percent in sports only, and 42.4 percent in both. Among female students, 12.6 percent were involved in neither, 31.6 percent in other activities only, 7.3 percent in sports only, and 48.6 percent in both. Analyses by race/ethnicity showed that white students were more likely than students of color to be involved in both sports and other activities (48.1% versus 33.6%) and sports only (11.4% versus 9.5%), while students of color were more likely to be involved in other activities only (33.8% versus 26.3%) and neither activity (23.1% versus 14.2%). Combining categories to look specifically at involvement in sports shows, that while participation rates for males (57.5%) and females (55.8%) are similar, a substantially higher proportion of white students participated in sports than students of color (59.5% versus 43.1%), according to the Journal of School Health article.
Preschoolers are often enrolled in classes or activities outside of preschool . These activities include dance, swimming, T-ball, soccer, and gymnastics. Children this age can benefit from these activities, but the number of activities should be limited. Parents or other primary caregivers should consider how much time their children spend on these activities and the impact they have. Before enrolling children in activities outside the home and preschool, they should first attend a session to make sure it is appropriate for the child and that the child will benefit from it. A schedule that is too demanding can be stressful on a child and can lead to behavioral problems. Studies have shown that young children who feel stressed due too many extracurricular activities are more prone to illness.
Studies show that children who participate in one or more after-school activities are less prone to negative peer pressure and have higher levels of self-esteem than children who do not participate. Studies have also shown that extracurricular activities can boost a child's academic performance and provide students with a way to feel proud of themselves and their capabilities. They can help a child release pent-up frustration and energy, develop social skills, and discover talents, abilities, and interests.
In the early school age years, it is important for parents to let the child chose the activity or activities. Parents should not to press the child to win or excel. They should make sure the child does not overdo it, either by taking on an activity he or she cannot handle or by taking on too many activities. Parents need to insure the extracurricular activities do not interfere with school work or time spent with the family.
Once children reach middle or high school, there are usually many extracurricular activities available, including team sports such as soccer, baseball, basketball, and volleyball, and academic interests such as foreign language club, debate team, chess club, student government, student publications, 4-H Club, environmental clubs, choir, band, photography, politics, and business. Students may also have the chance to join clubs made up of students with a similar heritage or culture, including African American, Latino, Jewish, and gay and lesbian, such as the Gay-Straight Student Alliance groups found at some high schools.
Most school teachers, counselors, or principals provide a list of activities for student participation. The lists are often posted on student bulletin boards, and announcements are sometimes made in appropriate classes, such as history teachers promoting the history club or teachers promoting the group that they advise. Information can also be found in the school's student newspaper. Some students like to join clubs that one or more friends are joining while others join clubs to make friends. Students may want to keep in mind the following issues when they consider joining an extracurricular activity:
- Age: Students may have to be a certain age or in a certain grade to participate in an activity.
- Money: Some clubs or activities require students to pay a fee. There may also be costs involved with group outings, uniforms, or other items. Some groups require members to participate in fundraising activities.
- Physical exam: Students who want to join a sports team may be required to take a physical, and some schools require drug tests before students qualify to participate in sports or other extracurricular activities. Students with concerns or specific health problems, such as asthma or diabetes, should check with their family doctor before joining a team that requires physical activity, such as a sport or cheerleading.
- Grades: Some clubs, teams, or schools may require a minimum grade point average to join.
- Time: In competitive sports, time must be set aside for practice and competition. Team members are sometimes required to set up a game or help in other ways. Clubs can meet weekly, every other week, or monthly while athletic teams sometimes practice every day after school and on weekends.
A common problem for many students involved in extracurricular activities is that they take on too much. Students should make out a schedule in advance of a semester that balances school, work, after-school activities, and home life. Also, activities should be fun rather than stressful for students. School grades should not suffer because of time spent at work or in after-school activities.
In sports, injuries are not uncommon but can sometimes be prevented with proper conditioning. Every child who plans to participate in organized athletic activity should have a pre-season sports physical. This special examination is performed by a pediatrician or family physician who carefully evaluates the site of any previous injury, may recommend special stretching and strengthening exercises to help growing athletes create and preserve proper muscle and joint interaction, and pays special attention to the cardiovascular and skeletal systems.
Telling the physician which sport the athlete plays helps that physician determine which parts of the body will be subjected to the most stress. The physician then is able to suggest steps to take for minimizing the chance of injury. Other injury-reducing game plans include:
- being in shape
- knowing and obeying the rules that regulate the activity
- not playing when tired, ill, or in pain
- not using steroids, which can improve athletic performance but cause life-threatening problems
- taking good care of athletic equipment and using it properly
- wearing appropriate protective equipment
Parents must stay focused and make sure the extracurricular activities do not interfere with their child's schoolwork. If a child is tense, irritable, has difficulty concentrating in class, is often fatigued, or is shirking homework, it may be due to the extracurricular activities taking too much of his or her time. Parents may find it helpful to require a certain realistic level of academic achievement in order for the student to continue participation in extracurricular activities. Parents must also be willing to put in a certain amount of time and effort, such as taking the child to and from after-school activities and events if the student does not drive.
It is important, especially with younger children, that parents check the activities to make sure there is adequate adult supervision for any team or club in which their children participate.
When to call the doctor
Children who refuse to join any extracurricular activities yet appear unhappy or have no friends may be suffering from emotional problems such as depression or low self-esteem. Professional help, such as counseling, may be needed. Sometimes a lack of self-esteem or other problems are too much for a student to handle alone. Parents may need to seek professional psychological help for children suffering from low self-esteem when the child is depressed or shows overly aggressive behavior .
When a child is hurt while playing sports, the family physician, pediatrician, or an orthopedic surgeon, should evaluate symptoms that persist, intensify, or reduce the athlete's ability to play without pain. Prompt diagnosis often can prevent minor injuries from becoming major problems or causing long-term damage.
Cardiovascular —Relating to the heart and blood vessels.
Peer pressure —Social pressure exerted by a group or individual in a group on someone to adopt a particular type of behavior, dress, or attitude in order to be an accepted member of a group or clique.
Primary caregiver —A person who is responsible for the primary care and upbringing of a child.
Self-esteem —A sense of competence, achievement, and self-respect. Maslow felt that the most stable source of self-esteem is genuine accomplishment rather than public acclaim or praise.
Steroids —Hormones, including aldosterone, cortisol, and androgens, that are derived from cholesterol and that share a four-ring structural characteristic.
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Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. 1703 Beauregard St., Alexandria, VA 22311. Web site: http://www.acsd.org.
National Institute on Out-Of-School Time. 106 Central St., Wellesley, MA 02481. Web site: http://www.niost.org.
Society for Research in Child Development. University of Michigan, 3131 S. State St., Suite 302, Ann Arbor, MI 48108. Web site: http://www.srcd.org.
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Ken R. Wells