Many parents start considering enrolling their children in extra-curricular activities (ECA) before children even know such activities exist. Typically this is because we have had positive experiences with ECA in our own childhoods or have ideas about the benefits that such activities can bring.
We aim to give our kids experiences and advantages that we did (or didn’t) have, which help them become well-rounded and as successful as possible. As with most things in parenting, the underlying motivation is simply a desire that our children grow into happy, well-adjusted humans.
However, every child is different. Some kids are singing into their hairbrushes or scooting across playgrounds with mind-boggling speed and coordination before they’re three. They’re eager to perform as soon as they realise a camera is on and love being the centre of attention. Other kids, though, have quieter hobbies and may be slower to develop the physical and social skills often associated with ECA. They become anxious when watched and prefer to spend time alone or with only one or two friends.
The approach for each child, then, should not be the same.
So how do we decide whether we should or shouldn’t enrol our kids in ECA?
What kind of activities are suited and most beneficial to our children?
When should we limit activities for those kids who can’t get enough?
When should we strongly encourage kids who aren’t keen at all?
And what age is best to take on more activities? Here’s what the research tells us.
How can ECA benefit children?
Studies have found that most ECA contributes positively to children’s:
- mental health,
- identity development,
- emotional regulation,
- ability to set and re-examine goals,
- self-belief and confidence
- and capacity to adapt more readily to unfamiliar situations.
It’s important to note that not all ECA deliver equal benefits. The differences often depend on whether the activity your child joins is structured or non-structured and team-based or individual.
Benefits of structured team-based activities (like organised team sports, dance classes, art classes, music groups and academic clubs) include:
- Decreased anxiety.
- Opportunities to forge new friendships and practice social skills.
- Exposure to managing relationships with teammates.
- An increased sense of belonging
- Learning respect for others.
- Encouraging social awareness and cultural sensitivity.
Unstructured group activities share many of these benefits. They may also:
- Offer opportunities to organise group activities.
- Teach children to navigate conflict resolution.
- Develop problem-solving skills.
Types of activities
Benefits can also differ significantly based on the kind of activity your child joins. Below is a summary of the benefits of different types of ECA.
|Academic programs (eg. tuition, language, programming)
Enrolling your child in ECA will not automatically deliver these benefits. You should carefully research the programs you are considering for your child.
Research suggests, the effectiveness of activities often depends on
- how activities are organised,
- the nature of your child’s relationships with instructors and teammates,
- whether your child views the activity as enjoyable and worthwhile;
- how effectively your child balances sport with other aspects of their life;
- if your child is involved in decisions about their participation; and
- whether the activity focuses on appropriate skill development and self-improvement rather than competition or success.
What are the drawbacks of ECA?
- Children who are too focused on ECA may neglect their homework and academic pursuits.
- Time pressures may negatively impact family stress levels and reduce quality time spent together.
- Participation in ECA can be costly and (especially for families with more than two children who are engaging in multiple activities) may put families under financial pressure.
What age should children start?
The limited research conducted on pre-school children reveals that kids as young as three can benefit from ECA. Enrolling your child in ECA before they start school can positively impact their school-readiness skills across academic and social domains. When overloaded, however, children of this age (and all ages) tend to start losing interest. In such cases, the benefits are unlikely to last.
Some research found that children who started their ECA under age 10 were more likely to stick with their chosen activities. These children also showed greater interest in joining new ones.
When should parents push ECA?
- Are you worried that your child is too shy to participate in ECA? Studies support that involvement in ECA helps shy children lower their anxiety levels, become more assertive and develop better self-control over their impulses. All of which lead to greater self-esteem.
- We need to recognise that participation in ECA does not impact children equally. Impacts can vary across children from different cultures and age groups. Adolescents, for example, are more likely than any other age group to engage in risky behaviours like smoking and drinking, especially if left unsupervised after school. For Adolescents, involvement in ECA provides particularly notable benefits, such as better grades, lower school drop-out rates and greater career aspirations.
When should parents soften their approach?
- Be careful not to overdo it by enrolling your child in too many ECA. Research has found that the more ECA a child is involved in, the less they will enjoy them. Most children will benefit from 1-2 activities. Beyond this threshold, positive benefits begin to be countered by declines in academic performance.
- How regularly children attend the same ECA affects their engagement with the activity and the benefits they gain. Research suggests weekly attendance is ample and ideal for producing stable and lasting benefits.
- Young people who feel forced into ECA and pressured throughout are also less likely to enjoy their ECA and more likely to disengage altogether.
What’s the bottom line?
As with so many things in life, balance is key. Encouraging children to participate in ECA can bring many benefits to their physical, social and mental health, particularly in structured group scenarios.
- research well-organised activities that revolve around skill-mastery over winning,
- introduce children to ECA before they are ten,
- involve children in selecting their ECA, so they are emotionally invested,
- limit children to 1-2 activities per week,
- and refrain from pressuring children,
then they will very likely reap the benefits of participating in ECA.
Kids ECA in the Shire
Are you looking for fun local activities that will help your child attain some of the aforementioned benefits? The Mums of the Shire business directory has got you covered with a huge range of Shire-based extra-curricular kids’ activities to help your child flourish.