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Extracurricular activities help kids make the grade, learn life lessons

Monday, August 12, 2013

For parents wondering if it is truly worth the time, effort and money to run the kids from soccer practice to choir rehearsal to Quiz Bowl competitions or some other activity, the answer is yes.

In fact, the potential benefits to kids who participate in extracurricular activities are nearly as limitless as the list of activities open to them to try. 

“Kids will always fill their time with something. It could be watching tv or practicing the violin,” said Ron Cox, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension marriage and family specialist. “Extracurricular activities help kids stay out of trouble, but more than that, they can build life skills kids don’t easily obtain in other ways.”

On a practical level, music, theatre, athletics and similar activities can play an important role in occupying kids for the unsupervised 2 hours to 4 hours between when the final school bell rings and when working parents make it home for the evening. Meanwhile, extracurricular activities function as real-time labs for learning crucial life skills such as leadership, discipline and teamwork. 

 “Think about 4-H, which has lots of service projects. Kids learn about serving others, generosity and self-sacrifice,” Cox said. “If you think about it, there aren’t a lot of places where kids can learn these types of lessons.”

Parents also can erase worries about outside activities interfering with their students’ classroom performance. Generally, kids who are involved in extracurricular outlets earn better grades compared to kids who are not similarly engaged. 

Interestingly, there is another key benefit to encouraging kids’ involvement in activities outside the classroom – connecting them with positive adult role models. Research shows students who have at least one other caring adult in their lives, in addition to a parent, tend to do better in several ways – academically, socially and in terms of avoiding drug use and teen pregnancy. 

Cox recommended exposing kids to a variety of activities and allowing them to gravitate to the ones they most enjoy. In addition to school-related activities, churches, service groups and other organizations, such as the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, also offer activities for kids.

“There are plenty of activities for parents to explore that are a good fit for their schedule, budget and their kids’ interests,” he said. “The bottom line is that extracurricular activities can be incredibly important to kids growing into positive role models and contributing citizens of our state.”

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