Encouraging extracurricular activities
Life is about more than work. It is about family and community; it is about you, the individual. Helping your children lead truly balanced lives involves both modeling balance in your own life and helping them find balance in theirs.
Extracurricular refers to things your children do outside of normal school classes. Adults also engage in extracurricular activities when they do things outside the normal duties of their job or profession. Extracurricular activities are important for all of us.
The most common extracurricular activities for kids are connected to sports and recreation, music, and religious groups. Children begin participating in these types of pursuits early, usually during elementary school. They learn discipline, leadership, and teamwork. They develop responsibility, sense of purpose, and caring. They create bonds with their peers and other adults and become part of new communities. They learn about their own talents, interests, strengths, and limits.
Your challenge as a parent is to help your children find meaningful activities, activities that "fit" them. It is also to make sure they maintain a balance between school work, family, personal time, and these activities.
High school activities
The opportunities (and pressures) to "get involved" increase significantly in high school. Your children should understand that colleges and universities and scholarship sponsors expect more than just good grades and high standardized test scores when they review applications. They also look for other activities that complement a student's education. However, quality, not quantity, is important in extracurricular involvement. Your children should look at finding activities in which they can continue to participate and assume leadership roles as they mature. Selective colleges in particular want their students to have demonstrated commitment and leadership through involvement in extracurricular activities.
By ninth grade, you should encourage your children to select extracurricular activities that are engaging and rewarding to them. Learn about the school and community activities that are available. The high school student handbook or the yearbook may have information about school-sponsored activities. Some, such as community service, may be required for graduation.
The types of activities to consider include:
- Student Leadership - student government and professional technical student leadership organizations provide opportunities for involvement in meaningful leadership activities.
- Student Clubs - clubs that are based on interests (such as the science or chess club) or on achievement (such as National Honor Society) offer a means to extend one's learning and contribute to the school or community.
- Athletics - school sports require a great deal of time and commitment from both the student and the family, but they also help students maintain physical fitness and develop their athletic skills while building teamwork and self-discipline.
- Service Organizations - students engaged in community issues with relevance to their lives (for example, hunger and homelessness, child abuse, teen pregnancy, suicide, or the environment) are much more likely to be contributors to their communities throughout their lives.
- Music, Art, and Drama - school plays, art shows, and music groups provide opportunities to explore students' creative and artistic interests, hone their talents, and develop self-management and interpersonal skills.
- School Newspaper and Yearbook - students get first-hand experience in journalism, photography, and publication productions when they are part the newspaper or yearbook staff.
- Foreign Study - a year or term abroad while in high school takes students out of their comfort zones and challenges them with new language and cultural experiences that often change their views of themselves and their world.
- Summer Enrichment - summer is a great time for trying new things and challenging oneself through involvement in new types of learning activities.
Why does my child's high school require service learning?
Since many colleges and scholarship sponsors reward applicants who have been involved in community service, high schools that are requiring some service learning are doing your students a favor. Service learning helps students build skills while strengthening their communities through service. It provides students with hands-on opportunities to connect their classroom learning to real community needs. Service learning increases students' motivation by engaging students in real-life issues and activities. It addresses educational needs of a wide variety of students, including those who see little relevancy in more traditional educational approaches.
National findings demonstrate that students who have been involved in high-quality service-learning programs:
- Demonstrate an increased sense of personal and social responsibility
- Are less likely to engage in "high-risk" behaviors
- Show gains in motivation to learn, resulting in higher attendance rates and increased academic performance
- Develop a greater sense of civic responsibility, awareness of community needs and ethic of service
- Learn to trust and be trusted by others, improving their performance as part of a team
- See themselves as positive contributors to their community, feeling they can "make a difference"
Even if your children's schools do not offer service learning opportunities, they can get involved by volunteering. It not only helps others; it can help your children. Volunteering offers valuable life experience and skills. These skills are helpful in deciding on educational and career goals.
In thinking about making a volunteer commitment, your children should consider:
- How much time do they have to commit?
- Do they want something that is a long-term commitment, a one day assignment, or in between?
- What special skills do they have to offer?
- What type of service do they want to do?
- Do they want to work alone or with a group? Do they want to work with other volunteers or do they want to actually provide direct services to people?
There are many ways to find volunteer opportunities. Your student can contact organizations that they are interested in and ask to speak with their volunteer coordinator. They can also contact the local United Way, Red Cross, children's sports or recreation programs, schools, and churches.