Today, some parents seem to put their young kids in everything: soccer, violin lessons, ballet, and golf. Kindergartners are schooled for eight hours, thrown a snack in their car booster seat, and then taken to some kind of enrichment activity. These children are likely overwhelmed and exhausted. The parents now serve as an Uber driver, only they are forking out the money instead of getting paid. I admit I have secretly questioned these parents, asking myself, "Why don’t they give their child a break?"
Although I do believe that Socrates was right when he said “everything in moderation, nothing in excess,” new research does proclaim that extracurriculars are promising for kids and their development in numerous ways, even during early childhood. In a study found in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, the researchers found that small children from kindergarten through the fourth grade endured positive outcomes due to the extracurricular activities they were involved in. The study included 548 children and the activities varied from a sport, club, or the fine arts. Some were involved in these outside school activities while others were not. The children were observed from kindergarten through the fourth grade, and finally evaluated by their fourth-grade teachers.
The researchers, Flourence Aumetre and Francois Poulin, said that their behavior was monitored and found that the “participation in organized activities may hold promise when it comes to preventing internalizing problems during childhood.” In other words, if a child is more at-risk for behavioral problems, the extracurriculars will help them learn to cope. And, the study showed that it helped all children who were involved in the added activities. Growing up is hard. Learning how to make and keep friends can feel like navigating to a new destination before GPS devices were invented. Parents are the maps who can help, but we often just confuse the kids more. Further, children can feel overwhelmed at school because even at an early age, the stakes are suddenly high. Taking part in a club, sport, or the arts can help foster coping mechanisms in all of the possible directions that growing up can entail.
The study discovered that the students who were partook in extracurriculars achieved higher social competence, academic success, and exercised lower behavioral problems. Aumetre and Poulin said, “They could learn new ways to behave and new emotional responses by observing the actions of others, the consequences of their actions and the affective reaction following these consequences.” Seeing different kids in a different arena helps take them in other areas of their life.
For example, if a child is reprimanded for bad sportsmanship on the soccer field, the same lesson can apply while playing an academic game in the classroom. Further, when children partake in a new activity, they learn how to adjust and be adventurous. Within these activities, new skills emerge and they learn to carry them through several other domains like school and home. Therefore, when the child remains in extracurricular activities for a long period of time, the overall affects trickle into the classroom and their overall adjustment. Their “global self-esteem” increases as well as their “sense of competence.” The researchers claim that their behavior is likely better because they learn to cope with different situations due to their activities they are involved in. Although I do not think young children should be taxied all over town to various enrichment activities all week long, the research does prove that starting them young has its benefits.
If these extracurriculars can help make growing up a little less daunting, then yes, we should slowly engage our kids in them. Today, our kids need all of the GPS devices and maps to help guide them. And if partaking in a fun activity can do that, I don’t see why not. But I will always remember Socrates, and never do anything – including extracurriculars – in excess.