Finding a healthy balance: school and extracurricular activities

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Many of us structure our days by prioritizing so that we create a healthy balance among work, school, friends, family, exercise, sleep, etc. As adults, we have had a few more years of practice balancing our lives. Kids, however, have not quite learned how to structure their days to create the healthiest set-up for themselves. That is the job of the parent. If it were up to the kids, they would get involved in every club at school to be with their friends, play outside instead of doing homework, and stay up too late playing video games. Health is not their first priority. Parents not only need to take charge of their children’s schedules, they should teach them why prioritizing activities is important for their health and happiness.

Kids should not decide about activities for themselves on their own. At a certain age, they will start to do that more, but younger kids do what other kids do. If all the 5th grade girls are going to join the no-tryout-necessary cheerleading squad, then it only seems like the right or natural choice for me, if I am in the mindset of a 5th grader. It does not matter if I am in ballet outside of school three days a week and taking singing lessons on the weekend. Surely I can fit it in.

But something has got to give, and it should not be school, homework, or sleep. Or food. Or brushing teeth. How many hours of the day are left, really?

 Benefits to Extracurricular Activities

Parents want their kids to be involved in a variety of extracurricular activities for good reasons. The kids get social interaction, learn to be team players, burn energy, discover potential, enhance talents, learn discipline, and have fun in safe environments.

It also looks great on a resume for high school and college admissions. CollegeBoard says that school admissions officers are impressed by students who are involved in activities outside of school. “Participating in an extracurricular activity…while maintaining good grades demonstrates time-management skills, ability to prioritize, motivation, responsibility, and leadership qualities.”

CollegeBoard stresses that depth is more important than breadth; in other words, commitment to and passion for one activity is what schools are looking for more so than a superficial interest in a wide array of activities.

The goal is to participate, enjoy, and learn, but not at the expense of grades or sleep. A child’s job is school; that should come first.

How to Find Balance

You may be a parent trying to decide how far to extend your child in his extracurricular activities. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • What is my child’s potential in this activity?

  • Does she seem interested in/excited about this activity?

  • Is she maintaining her grades?

  • Does she seem exhausted?

  • Am I living vicariously through my child?

The last question is a little silly, but it could be a legitimate concern. The movie Center Stage comes to mind and the prima ballerina who quit when she realized that, though she was incredibly talented, she did not love ballet and was only participating because her mom forced her to in hopes of living out a dream the mom did not get to experience. I guess it is only a movie, though.

 So, you are a mom who is taking her boys to football practice everyday, not in hopes of living out a missed dream, but because of all the benefits they will gain from participating. The bullet-point questions above are good to examine occasionally as you try to maintain balance and make the best decisions for your children’s activities. Let’s unpack those questions.

 Potential and Interest

When thinking about how to prioritize your child’s activities, first, you’ll want to notice your child’s potential and interest in them. Is this a sport or talent your child could continue doing in high school or college? Would it benefit him on his resume? Does he seem excited to go to practice and games? Does your child work on this activity outside of the scheduled setting in order to improve?

If most of the answers to the above questions are, “Yes,” then this extracurricular activity is a positive part of your child’s life.

 Academic Achievement

Is your child able to complete homework, succeed on tests, and maintain good grades while participating in her sport or hobby? If so, that is a good sign. In fact, she may even be performing better than her peers who do not participate in out-of-school activities.

According to studies taken from many different high schools, students who participated in extracurricular activities had the highest GPAs. Positive correlations have been found between participation in extracurricular activities and academic achievement on standardized tests. CollegeBoard completed a study that showed higher SAT scores among students who participated in activities outside of school.

These correlations imply, possibly, that if a student is motivated to participate in extracurricular activities, then he or she is motivated to perform well in school. This type of student has a drive to learn and achieve, whether in class, on the field, on the stage, at home, etc.

In some cases, extracurricular activities are the reason students are even interested in going to class. Many schools enforce academic eligibility requirements for school athletics. Therefore, certain students strive to do well in class for the goal of participating in their sports and activities.

Energy Level

If over-exerted and not allowed enough time to sleep, kids could easily lose concentration in school, get sick more often, be too tired to complete homework, and even burst into tears without notice.

Children ages 5-12 need around ten hours of sleep every night. Teens need up to nine. It is important to establish a sleep schedule for your kids and stick close to it on the weekends, too.

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If you and your child have established good habits based on these points about potential and interest, academic achievement, and energy level, then full steam ahead with your child’s extracurricular activities!

 

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