By Christa Melnyk Hines

After-school activities are an essential and fun way to round out your child’s overall educational experience. Integrate both structured and DIY activities that complement your child’s disposition, age and interests.

“Students in these activities learn important social skills, are given the opportunity to meet a wider variety of peers, and gain more confidence and self-esteem,” says Matt Johnson, a director of student services and athletics. Furthermore, involved kids are more motivated to do well academically.

Doodle, dabble, draw. Art education contributes to problem-solving and critical thinking skills, not to mention creativity. Independently-run studios and museums offer classes for kids of all ages like painting, drawing and sculpture.

Move it. Team sports nurture social, communication and leadership skills. And experiencing loss builds resilience as kids learn to persevere through disappointment. Individualized sports like swimming, martial arts, or tennis are also beneficial, helping kids develop focus and self-discipline.

Checkmate! A popular and ancient game of strategy, chess fosters patience and impulse control as players learn to plan and visualize their moves on the board. “Chess can help increase a student’s focus and concentration along with helping students with personal skills, such as problem solving and critical thinking,” says Rick Hetzel, a high school chess club moderator.

Strike the right note. Kids who learn to play an instrument learn to read music and gain a sense of timing, beat and rhythm. Multiple research studies find a relationship between music education and its influence on mathematics skills, including the ability to recognize patterns, sequencing, spatial reasoning and tempo. According to the National Association for Music Education, youngsters who are involved in music are more likely to be engaged in school, develop a higher self-esteem and are better able to cope with anxiety.

Encore! The performing arts offer a positive outlet for expressive children and can enhance reading comprehension and verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Also consider debate, photography and journalism clubs.

Get cooking. Learning to prepare healthy meals is a life skill. Plus when following recipes, kids practice reading and math skills like measurements and fractions. Many local grocery stores and culinary centers offer kids’ cooking classes.

Be of service. “There are many volunteer opportunities that students can pursue in the community where they can give of their time and learn new skills,” says Cindy Neely, a high school counselor coordinator. Scouting, Boys & Girls Club, the YMCA, and youth groups are examples of service organizations that offer real-life experiences outside of the classroom, fostering confidence, leadership and communication skills. Through engagement in their communities, kids are less likely to feel isolated. They gain a greater appreciation and understanding of the world around them.

Seek balance. While variety is the spice of life, don’t overwhelm your kids with activities, which can cause stress and affect grades. “It is all about identifying the delicate balance that helps foster their development of skills in activities that they may be involved in for a lifetime,” Johnson says.

Considerations for extracurricular activities:

  • Will there be extra fees for uniforms/equipment?
  • Is the activity well-staffed?
  • Is the staff friendly and energized?
  • Are activities well-organized?
  • Is the environment clean and safe?
  • Do the kids appear to be having fun?


Freelance journalist, Christa Melnyk Hines and her husband are the parents of two active boys. Christa’s latest book is Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World.



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