Pre-teens and early adolescents are embarking on a period of immense social and emotional growth. Their problem-solving and critical-thinking skills are developing at lightning speed, and they are beginning to understand and experiment with ideas of leadership, teamwork, and impact. As any parent of a middle schooler will tell you, this age group questions everything!
As educators and parents, we can encourage middle schoolers to start defining their identity as a student and help them build the foundations for their future success in high school, college, and beyond. Extracurricular activities are an important gateway to that success and offer many benefits to a child’s overall development.
Benefits of Extracurricular Activities
Extracurricular activities are elective, student-selected activities that take place outside of the academic curriculum. These activities offer abundant benefits. Middle school students see benefits in the following areas:
- Develop Social Skills: Participation in team activities – from sports to robotics teams to music groups – develops your skills to work effectively on a team and provides opportunities for leadership.
- Discover Unique Interests: As students explore the community and world around them, they will experiment with different interests. Maybe they will find a new passion in climate change, politics, or service. Extracurricular activities will help them identify and develop those interests.
- Increase Self-Esteem: Experiencing success in a non-academic environment can boost a child’s confidence in themselves, which then can be taken back into the classroom.
- Learn Commitment and Responsibility: Accountability is a critical life skill that can be learned through extracurriculars. Feeling a commitment to a team or partner teaches accountability in a meaningful way.
Finding a Balance
Experts know that a structured afterschool schedule is beneficial for children, especially adolescents. But, one that is balanced is equally as important. After a long school day, students need time to “get out some of their energy so they can settle and go back to their work,” says educational and learning specialist Ruth Lee. Extracurriculars should celebrate the child’s interest, encourage them to challenge themselves, and not be stressful.
As we all know, time is precious and there never seems to be enough of it! Time management skills can be a difficult task for most middle school students to learn. When deciding the amount of extracurriculars to join, include your child in a discussion – talk about their passions, consider the amount of after school and weekend time there is available, remind them the importance of balancing homework and studying time. It is important that your child isn’t spread too thin, so involving them in the planning process will provide ownership over their schedule, helping them recognize how to get the most out of their extracurriculars while still prioritizing academic responsibilities.
Types of Activities to Encourage
What types of activities should I encourage my middle schooler to try? There is no one-fits-all answer! Follow your child’s lead in terms of interests, which might change frequently throughout these early years. Some categories of extracurriculars include:
- Athletics, either in-school or on travel club teams
- Community Service, such as tutoring or volunteer work
- Creative arts, such as newspaper, yearbook, fine arts
- Culturally focused clubs or affinity groups
- Leadership, through having an officer position in a club, or being captain of an athletic team
- Politics/Student Government, such as Model UN, Debate, interning for a local politician
- STEM-based activities, like Olympiads, robotics, coding organizations, or research
- Sustainability and environmental initiatives through clubs or local organizations
- Performing arts, such as acting, singing, dancing, playing musical instruments; participating in chorus, band, theater group
- Religious identity, like participation in temple or church activities
Through your encouragement, your goal should be to foster your child’s love of lifelong learning and help them to find joy in their experiences. The extracurriculars a child discovers in early adolescence can open pathways in high school and beyond. Students can continue their involvement in these types of middle school extracurriculars when they transition to high school.
At Collegiate Gateway, we know there are so many choices to make regarding your child’s educational experiences, and we are here to help. Set up a complimentary consultation to learn about our services. Whatever your question, Collegiate Gateway is happy to help!