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.

College activities

One of the most important aspects of college life is involvement in activities outside the classroom. Extracurricular activities in college provide opportunities for your students to gain valuable, career-related skills and a network of contacts. Interpersonal communication, teamwork, leadership, planning, prioritizing, and time management can all be sharpened and documented. These are part of the package of skills employers seek.

Just because your students were very active in high school does not mean that they will be just as involved in college. You will want to encourage them to continue to explore those interests developed in high school or find new ones during their college experience. Employers who look for quality community service and leadership activities in hiring will not consider high school activities as relevant. Just as in high school, it is far more important for your students to be meaningfully involved in a few activities than superficially involved in many.

Although as a parent of college students you will have less influence, your encouragement is still important:

What about a term or year abroad?

A study abroad program in college can be a life-altering experience. Many colleges offer programs that are similar in price to going to school at their main campus, with extra costs associated with travel - to the location, back home, and within the country on weekends and breaks. Some sponsor their own programs while others cooperate with other colleges and universities in order to broaden the locations and curriculum scope available. Some require language proficiency while others help participating students get that proficiency during the course of their program.

If your students are interested in studying abroad, support them in figuring out how much it will cost, how they can pay for it, and how it will affect meeting their requirements and graduation goals. With our society rapidly becoming more diverse, the language and cultural competencies your students will learn will be valued by employers.

How valuable is participation in athletics?

College athletics is a significant commitment for your students. The commitment to developing the necessary athletic skills starts early and high school becomes a proving ground for the serious athlete - both in terms of their potential in their sport and in academics. Recruited athletes on scholarships have a high degree of responsibility to their programs. Walk-on athletes have to measure up to the same levels in order to play. The effort required is not trivial.

If your student is considering participating in an intercollegiate sport, there are several important resources for you become familiar with. A good place to start is on the Oregon Student Assistance Commission's ASPIRE website, http://www.aspireoregon.org/s_athletetips.html

If your students are unable to participate at the intercollegiate level, encourage them to stay involved. Most schools have club and intramural sports. There are also opportunities to help with team management activities. Love of the game does not have to be lost.

What about taking time off from school?

Some students want to take time off before they start college or before they graduate from college. Gap years can be a time to explore and mature, relieve stress and regain commitment. Students who take a year off before entering college are often much more focused on their studies when they do start. But if your children consider taking time off, make sure that they structure their time with appropriate activities. They might choose to work and earn money for college. They might choose to travel to learn more about the world (and themselves). They might pursue some activity that they are interested in but haven't had time to pursue seriously. They should not take the time off to sleep in and chill in front of the television. If they fill their time off with some purpose, they will return to school with a better idea of what they want from school and the greater maturity to accomplish it.