There comes a time when parents realize it’s better for their children to participate in an extracurricular activity than to stay cooped up in the house.
Sophia Kraus, interim director of The University of Akron Center for Child Development, associate clinical instructor, and director of the child care laboratory school, says the age to get children involved in extracurricular activities depends on the individual child, his personality and temperament, as well as his parents’ values and goals.
“Some children, at a very young age, may show a unique interest or talent that can be fostered through extracurricular activities,” Kraus says. “With a young child, the parent may look for opportunities that align best with what they know about their own child. Older children would benefit from being a part of the decision-making process.”
No matter the age, Kraus says extracurricular activities are important for children’s development and learning.
“Extracurricular activities can offer creative outlets not available in traditional academic settings,” she says. “Children learn how to get along with others and truly experience the development of important social and emotional skills.
“These are opportunities for children to experience a bit of the ‘real’ world and develop their personalities by seeing their own potential. This can be a powerful motivator in life and give children self-esteem and coping skills.”
Before deciding on a specific activity for their children, Kraus recommends that parents research available options, talk with other parents and connect with local resources. Parents also need to discuss the parameters of the activities such as cost, time frame, how many activities their children can participate in, and the commitment level.
“Families should determine these conditions ahead of time, and even come up with a list of criteria regarding commitment levels,” she says.
Summer camps and other summer activities are a great way for children to try programs that may provide unique opportunities. Once they’ve sampled a particular program, they can decide if they want to participate in the activity for the long term.
Kraus says parents shouldn’t be discouraged if their children start a program and then choose to leave.
“A child realizing that he wants to quit (an activity) can be a good thing, in that making effective personal decisions is a needed life skill,” she says. “Developing a way to sift through the decision-making process together can be beneficial in helping a child learn the importance of balance.”
But, Kraus says, because extracurricular activities are necessary for development, if children are hesitant to get involved, it’s important for parents to find out why.
“If a child is shy, a large group setting isn’t going to cure the shyness,” she says. “There may be a way to work through the child’s hesitation by partnering him up with a friend or finding a smaller setting. If a child is unsure about his own skill level, he may avoid trying the activity. A parent can help build the child’s skill level up first.
“Also, the activity may not be for everyone. In time, children’s interests may change. Just keep opportunities open.”
Kraus says popular activities today include ones related to the arts such as music and drama, as well as the STEM areas of science, technology, engineering and math, especially because children love sensory and exploratory activities.
Parents should keep in mind that helping their children choose an extracurricular activity doesn’t have to be a decision made overnight, but rather a thoughtful choice.
“Families don’t need to feel rushed or pressured to make quick decisions,” she says. “This can be a very empowering time for a child.”
/ Writer Caitlyn Callahan is a senior at KSU working on her bachelor’s in magazine journalism.