Why You Should Enroll Your Child in Extracurricular Activities Early On
What are extracurricular activities?
Many of us have participated in a sport, lesson, or other activity outside of school during our school years. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, extracurricular activities are those that fall outside of one’s regular routine or curriculum. Some may be affiliated with your child’s school and facilitated by school staff or parents, or others may be offered in the greater community you live in. They can range from team sports, to violin lessons, to robotics club—anything that is a regularly scheduled activity that your child participates in outside of regular school hours. If your child is not yet in school, an extracurricular activity can be defined as any organized enrichment activity they routinely participate in.
When is my child ready to take on an extra activity outside of school?
Extracurricular activities exist for almost all ages. Even babies can participate in “mommy and me” groups or swimming lessons, and organized activity groups exist for seniors as well as younger participants. For the purpose of our discussion, however, we will focus on children who are already attending school or daycare, but who are still in kindergarten or younger.
Starting daycare or school for the first time can put some temporary stress on your child, especially if they will be going straight to full days and had previously been at home without a formal routine. Many kids will be able to adjust after a few days or weeks to the demands placed upon them in their new setting, but some may take longer. If your child is not already enrolled in any outside activities before starting daycare or school, it is recommended that you wait to do so until they have become accustomed to their new routine.
Some signs your child has adjusted well to school, and may be ready for more stimulation that an extracurricular activity can provide:
- They are even-tempered for the majority of the day, with few outburst or temper tantrums (unless this was previously normal)
- They wake up and go to bed at roughly the same every day with little trouble
- They are making friends at school
- They are usually excited to go to school
- They are showing normal academic progress
If your child is displaying some of the following behaviors, they may not be ready for any extra stimulation:
- They experience separation anxiety that lasts throughout the school day and that affects their performance at school
- They are having trouble socially
- They are struggling academically
If your child is displaying some of these behaviors, it could be a signal that they still need some time to adjust to their new routine, and are not yet ready for the added stress of an extra activity. There also could be an underlying behavioral or psychological problem that may need to be addressed first.
Joining something extra should be something that is fun and looked forward to, not something your child is forced to do. Similarly with school, it is important for your child to have a positive association with the activity, and to be intrinsically motivated to participate.
What options are there?
Even for younger children, the possibilities are literally endless. Most schools offer some kind of activities such as sports teams or other clubs; however, many do not start until later grades. Daycares very rarely offer activities outside of regular hours. Community organizations such as the YMCA or your town or city’s recreation department likely offers a wide range of activities for your young child. If you can’t find something you’re looking for, many individuals or business offer private lessons or groups.
Common categories for extracurricular activities for younger children include:
- Academic enrichment
- Girl /Boy Scouts (typically begins at 4 years old)
These are the most common extracurricular activities, but chances are if there is something else you have in mind for your child, its out there. If you are having trouble picking an activity for your trouble, the following list of ideas can serve as a brainstorming list or starting point.
A list of common extracurricular activities available to young children.
Library story time
General music classes
What is the best activity for my child?
There is not any one activity that is best for every child. The most important factor is that it’s something your child really enjoys doing. If they don’t like sports, don’t enroll them in soccer just because that’s what all their friends are doing.
Some things to keep in mind while making your decision:
- Don’t live vicariously through your child: if you always wanted to take gymnastics but never had the chance, don’t assume that that is also your child’s dream activity.
- Don’t give in to peer pressure from other parents to join a certain activity if its not right for you.
- Ask your child’s opinion first! After all, this is for them. If they have no idea, go through some options from the lists above. If they are too young to give their opinion, use common sense based on what kinds of activities they already show interest in.
- Don’t overdo it—start with just one activity. If they are balancing that just fine with school or daycare, and you have the time and resources, later you can think about adding more to their plate. A child should always have adequate time for free play outside of school and these activities, so if you already have a busy schedule, don’t make it more stressful for your child.
Some examples of how you may arrive at the decision about which activity to enroll in:
- Your daughter went to a ballet show, and can’t stop talking about it for weeks after. She pretends to do ballet routines whenever she has free play time. Ballet or dance classes probably be her preferred activity, since she already is showing an interest.
- Your son pretends he is a scuba diver every time you give him a bath. You can’t get him out of the water. Maybe swimming lessons would be a good activity for him.
Individual or group activity?
If your child is quite introverted or shy, that doesn’t necessarily mean he or she should not join a group activity or team sport. Likewise, if they are very social, that doesn’t mean they should not take any individual lessons. Your child should enjoy the activity they are enrolled in, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be challenged. As long as they are also open to the idea of something that may be outside of their comfort zone or strengths, it may be a good opportunity to work on some of those weaknesses.
Benefits of individual lessons:
There is nowhere to hide when your child is one-on-one with an instructor—it’s all them, and they will have the undivided attention of their instructor for the entire session. This can bolster their self-esteem as well as teach discipline. It also ensures that their learning is free of distractions.
Benefits of group activities:
For the rest of your child’s life, a lot of their success will depend on how they are able to work on a team. Almost every profession necessitates good communication skills and knowing how to work with others. The sooner your child starts learning how to work in a group of their peers, the more prepared they will be for this later on.
What are the benefits?
The earlier a child starts a hobby or sport, the more receptive they are to learning new techniques, and the more likely they are to excel in the particular activity. Extracurricular activities are widely believed to positively impact a child’s growth, not just academically.
According to one study, involvement in extracurricular activities directly correlates to improved academic, psychological, and behavioral function. Other benefits include learning time management, becoming more accountable, and raising self-esteem. Obviously, it can also directly lead to success in that particular activity. If your child becomes really great at basketball, they may go on to play in high-school and college, and may even make it in to a career. Of course, this should by no means be the primary objective when enrolling them initially.
Can extracurricular activities harm my child, or hinder their education?
Most studies point to the benefits of participating in extra activities. If a child is continuously forced to continue any activity that they don’t feel comfortable doing or extremely dislike, this can lead to resentment towards their parents or instructors obligating them to participate. If a child becomes overwhelmed with too many activities, they may be too tired and begin to perform more poorly at school. Parents must use common sense, and not put too much on their child’s plate.
Where can I find available extracurricular activities in my area?
There are many resources available to find activities for your child:
- Your child’s school
- Nearby high schools
- Recreation Department
- Private sports or dance schools
- Private music schools
- Ballet companies
- Area pools
- Area nonprofits