I was surprised at my friend’s answer when I asked if her son was trying out for the junior high football team. “No, my son is lazy. He watches TV, plays video games or sleeps every day after school.” As she continued to speak, I realized she didn’t encourage after-school activities because she failed to recognize their benefits.
Studies indicate that kids involved in after-school programs have higher achievement and attendance rates, are less prone to depression and burnout, and experience dropout less often. They keep children safe and protect them from risky and negative behavior. They’re the perfect solution to supervised fun and time away from technology while parents are at work.
After-school activities require parental coordination and resources to be successful. However, the benefits outweigh the costs.
Here are a few examples of what kids can gain:
Opportunity to explore new interests - After-school programs provide options kids don’t have inside a school building. Whether a child is interested in sports, chess, drama, piano, math, science, etc., there’s an after-school program to accommodate. Kids gain confidence as they learn new skills and interact with others from varying backgrounds, which carry over into academia.
Exercise - Lack of exercise is a contributing factor to childhood obesity that continues to climb at alarming rates. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children in the past 30 years. We can help stop this cycle through after-school programs.
When our kids develop a routine that includes exercise, it benefits them for the rest of their lives. After-school programs offer a fun and entertaining environment for all kinds of exercise, and encourage healthy habits in the process.
Improved social skills - Children left alone after school neglect face-to-face relationships and often spend too much time on technology. Interaction with caring adults and older teens who volunteer at after-school programs offers time to mingle with others, improving social skills in the process. Leisurely time in a casual environment opens the door for adults to influence good choices and positive behavior in a non-threatening environment. It teaches healthy relational skills as kids watch adults model them.
Better achievement with challenging subjects - When a child is struggling in math, a foreign language or another arduous subject, after-school tutoring provides the answer for success. When our daughter’s achievement in an upper level math class plummeted in high school, we began tutoring with a patient instructor. Meeting twice a week after school provided encouragement and better understanding for the subject and gave our daughter confidence for the weekly tests that had intimidated her. We located her tutor through recommendation of another student, but tutors can also be found through the school, social media and magazines (like Calgary’s Child!).
Time management techniques - Learning to prioritize activities and manage time accordingly is a great skill for every child to obtain. When kids participate in after-school programs, they’re forced to learn how to manage their activities and allow adequate time for homework. Balancing extracurricular demands with everyday school requirements teaches discipline and self-restraint that carries over into adulthood.
Camaraderie and leadership skills - After-school programs help kids feel they belong, which improves self-confidence and self-esteem. When we moved, our elementary-aged son found friends with similar sports interests that helped him adjust to a new town and enjoy camaraderie with others. As kids move through junior high and high school, they gain leadership skills through after-school groups such as student council, the school yearbook staff, future business leaders or speech and debate tournaments to name a few.
If given the opportunity to help choose after-school programs, kids are more vested in the activities. Experimenting with a variety of options to find a good fit and continuing to seek out new opportunities as children mature allows for greater success. Although the coordination of after-school programs requires intentional effort, the encompassing benefits reach beyond the endeavors.
Gayla writes, speaks and coaches on parenting and stepfamily issues. As a mom of five, she loves to find after-school activities her children enjoy.
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