How Many Extracurricular Activities Should a Middle Schooler Participate In?
As children reach middle school, this phase of their lives brings a new range of physical, emotional, and cognitive milestones. Many parents enroll their children in virtual classes to maximize this critical period of their development.
However, the virtual learning impact on students is still being studied. Researchers suggest that one of the online education disadvantages is that students have fewer opportunities to socialize with their peers.
During middle school, between the ages of nine and eleven, children start to form their own worldview and begin developing a thorough understanding of concepts like power and influence.
These vital developments manifest in a myriad of ways, including:
- Questioning authority figures
- Showing more independence from family
- A strong desire to be liked and accepted
- Paying more attention to friendships
- Developing complex social structures
- Experiencing heightened peer pressure
- Developing a sense of pride in achievements
- Having more awareness of their challenges
While elementary school students may need significant guidance from their parents in selecting extracurricular activities, middle and high school students are likely to have a strongly formed opinion on the types of activities they want to pursue.
At this age, parents will begin to consider extracurricular activities based on improving their child’s candidacy for college and university admission and scholarships. These extracurriculars will become more important as the child enters high school. However, it’s vital to encourage a middle school child’s development beyond consideration of what sets them up for college or university.
Research has shown that extracurricular activities offer a multitude of benefits in childhood development, including:
- Expanding their social circle
- Improving their self-esteem
- Fostering a sense of belonging
- Boosting overall academic performance
- Improving their time management skills
- Promoting self-discipline and motivation
While engaging in extracurricular activities can help children perform well in schools, there is a risk of overscheduling extracurriculars.
Jerusha Conner from Villanova University and Denise Pope and Sarah Miles from the Stanford University Graduate School of Education found that 87% of children were happy with robust extracurricular activity schedules, as long as the time commitment didn’t exceed four hours a day or 20 hours a week.
Ned Hallowell, a psychiatrist and author of The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness, says that when parents overdo it, the children are the ones who suffer for it. Time-consuming extracurriculars like sports may mean that most of a child’s schedule is filled with one intensive extracurricular rather than an array of less intensive ones.
Parents should consider their child’s individual predisposition and interests. Some children will thrive with a rigid wall-to-wall schedule, while others may prefer to engage in self-directed activities like reading, writing, or art.
Some of the adverse effects of overscheduling a child’s extracurriculars include:
- Loss of sleep
- Emotional problems
- Health issues
- Increased stress
- Decreased academic performance
Conner, Pope, and Miles found that only 23% of children were stressed about extracurricular activities, compared to 69% of children who were stressed about school work.