Between being a student myself and working as a college professor, I have operated on an academic calendar for the better part of 30 years. Many people might view New Years as a time for evaluation and changes, but I see that time as fall. Once Labor Day weekend has come and gone, I am ready to make big changes in my family and evaluate where we are at. Frequently in our family, I rhetorically ask if we are overscheduled. There is no getting around school demands – pick-up, drop-off, homework, play dates – but we can control how much our children participate in after school activities.
While it’s good to evaluate family schedule and dynamics, there is clear evidence it is worth the challenges associated with kid after school activities. Children and teens who participate in anything from soccer to music lessons have better academic success, have better social skills, have fewer behavior problems, and are more likely to go to college. The benefits of these extracurricular activities seem to be true for all children, regardless of family finances, family structure, or type of activity.
As young as 2nd and 3rd grades, we see these positive outcomes of after school activities and these positive outcomes become even stronger as children grow up. So, there is clear evidence that extracurricular activities are good for kids.
Most studies have found that the benefits of extracurricular activities are linear, meaning that 2 activities are better than 1, 3 activities are better than 2, and so on. Although some have argued that kids can be overscheduled in activities, there is only modest evidence to suggest this. However, if participation in extracurricular activities is so intense that your child is falling behind in school, it is creating family stress on children or parents, or it is preventing social and family time together, then it is time to reevaluate.
When talking with families, I recommend the following guidelines.
As I take stock of my family, I know two things. One: We are exhausted and have a family calendar that looks like a NASA launch. Two: My children love their activities, are doing well at school, and are happy. Overall, I’ll call that a win.
I am an award-winning scientist, educator, author, and a mom. I help parents accomplish their goals for themselves and their families.
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