WITH school in full swing, parents and guardians should no longer be concerned with the purchasing of uniforms, back packs and text books. Instead, one forgotten or often overlooked aspect of ensuring that children and adolescents benefit from the full experience is the after school activity you should encourage your children to participate in. This does not mean that parents should overload their children or teens with such activities. It simply means helping them select from the many different types of activities that exist, and supporting their choices.
First off, a distinction must be made between co-curricular activities and extracurricular activities. The former refers to activities which occur in conjunction with a school's curriculum. The latter refers to activities generally undertaken either before or after school and do not necessarily reflect the school's curriculum. These activities are usually organised and offered by the school or external facilities and are either academic or non-academic. Such activities take several forms and may include athletics, music, dance, volunteerism, clubs and societies.
But why are these activities important? The benefits to be gained from participation in such activities are tremendous and include:
1. Physical development. Children who participate in physically demanding activities such as swimming, track and field, football, dance, cricket and netball get the opportunity to exercise, develop their muscles, and maintain good cardiovascular health. They also learn an appreciation for maintaining good eating habits and are better able to select healthier food options which can help to alleviate childhood obesity. Younger children and children with disabilities also stand to develop hand-eye co-ordination, mobility, and grasping ability among other things.
2. Cognitive development. By participating in extra/co-curricular activities, reasoning ability, problem solving and decision making skills are continuously being developed. Participation in extracurricular activities can help to reinforce and expand on what was learned during school hours. Research indicates that on average, children and teens who participate in these activities perform better academically than their non-participating peers and are more likely to attend college and university.
3. Social skills. While children and teens are participating in extra/co-curricular activities they are gaining self-confidence which helps to boost self-esteem and self-worth. They are able to form new friendships, learn skills of negotiation and conflict resolution and learn to become team players working towards common goals. These skills combined help them to learn to interact appropriately with others, a skill which is needed in every aspect of life. Children and teens who participate in volunteerism also learn compassion, what it means to give back, and have an appreciation for the diverse living conditions that people face. Participation in extra/co-curricular activities also helps children and teens to avoid engaging in troublesome behaviour such as substance abuse, gang membership and engaging in early sexual activity as their time is occupied by engaging in more socially constructive activities.
4. Time management. Some extra/co-curricular activities emphasise the importance of time, such as swimming and athletics. This is particularly important as it enables children and teens to multitask and micromanage as they juggle the demands of school, family and friends. Given the fast-paced world that we now live in, this is an important skill that children and teens need to learn in order to adapt to their environment.
Extra/co-curricular activities are not only fun-filled and entertaining, but necessary. They help teach important life skills, laying the foundation for children and teens to mature into responsible well-balanced adults. When making a selection, ensure that the staff is qualified and trusted, and that the activity is cost-effective, among other things. So parents, instead of dropping your child off at home where they can spend copious hours playing video games or taking them back to the office after school, discuss with your child or teen their interests and enrol them in an extra/co-curricular activity today. The choices are endless!
Doneisha Burke is a clinical psychologist (MSc) and lecturer specialising in child and adolescent issues. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.