Mark Twain was famously quoted as saying “Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.” At first blush, one could interpret that as an anti-classroom rhetoric, but what he really meant fell somewhere along the lines of understanding that there’s more to a well-rounded education then what can be taught in a classroom. In fact, one could argue that many of the “soft” skills associated with participation in extracurricular activities, such as time management and relationship building, are best achieved outside of a formal learning environment. “Since kids spend their day primarily sitting down and following a schedule at school, when they (leave school) it is important for them to have time to be creative, get moving and do something they enjoy,” Kristin Fitch, CEO and co-founder of ZiggityZoom says. In addition, there is a long-established relationship between participation in extracurricular programs and increased academic achievement, which is why almost every district offers some form of after-school activities for students to explore their interests.

Types of Extracurricular Activities

They range from sports to drama club to music to taking a deeper dive into a favorite subject (mathletes, anyone?), and everything in between, but ultimately serve the same purpose: to help our students to become more well-rounded individuals.

Although some parents may be dubious as to the true value of an extracurricular, outside of looking good on a college application (which, truly is a legitimate reason for participation in and of itself), the truth is that the value goes beyond filling a resume. As was previously mentioned, study after study has reaffirmed that participation in after-school activities results in better grades, better behavior in the classroom and better work habits, which are all necessary for success later in life. They also serve to help reinforce a student’s relationship to their school and community, resulting in a lower risk of dropping out.

Additional benefits of Extracurricular Activities

  • Goal Setting: Grades don’t exist in real life. You may get a review as an employee at a company, but nobody will ever hand you a piece of paper saying that you got an “A” in email composition. With that being said, you need to develop your own goals for where you want to be, whether that’s running an eight minute mile or being selected to lead a project. Similarly, extracurriculars put students in situations where they need to decide for themselves what they want to get out of the experience. By helping them learn to develop their own (sometimes intangible!) goals at an early age, students will be better equipped to continue the habit later in life.
  • Teamwork: Although many districts are moving to more collaborative learning models and team-based project, there is nothing that teaches the value of teamwork quite like being on a team. Almost all extracurriculars, be they drama, music, or an actual sports team involve working together to reach a common goal, and promote the development of the skills needed to do so successfully with a diverse group of people.
  • Time Management: The more you have to do, the more you’re inherently forced to get better at prioritizing tasks and commitments. The same holds true of students at any age – when they know they have soccer practice and a math assignment due tomorrow, they can’t watch three hours of their favorite show right after school. Successfully managing your time is quite possibly one of the best “life” skills that can be taught from extracurriculars and will continue to serve your student well past when the jersey has been retired.
  • Self-Discovery: Much as Twain indicated above, the subjects that will be learned in school are pretty much to be expected – math, science, language arts, and history, with a spattering of the arts and physical education. While the exact topics covered may vary from district to district, you can pretty much bet that your
    student will be exposed to almost the same subjects as every other student across America. With extracurricular activities, however, students have the opportunity to discover things that they’re passionate about that they might not otherwise had exposure to.
  • Building Self-Esteem: People excel in different areas, and the classic school environment definitely isn’t for everyone. With that in mind, giving students the opportunity to find something that they’re naturally “good” at is an important element of their self-development. In addition, they provide a different environment to master new skills, something that students can take confidence from.
  • Academics: Okay, we know that we’re probably beating a dead horse here, but the importance of the role that extracurricular participation plays in academics cannot be overstated. Students who are involved in some form of extracurricular do better in school. Period.

Of course, as with anything, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Just as students can be under involved, packing their schedules full of activities that doesn’t leave any free time for play or rest can have an adverse affect on student’s general mental health and well-being. Balance is key – keep the dialogue open with your child to make sure that they’re participating in the activities that they’re truly interested in and that doesn’t leave them feeling stressed and frazzled.