Extra Curricular Activities – Part I – How Many?

Elementary School

What is an extracurricular activity? 

An extracurricular activity encompasses many things outside the actual academic school classroom.  This includes things like sports, student government, debate clubs, art and educational clubs and even community service programs.

Extracurricular activities are an excellent way to ensure students are actively socializing with others, learning the concept of teamwork, communications, and negotiations.   This is also where many kids learn how to manage their time, what sportsmanship is all about and how they can positively impact others.   

In this article, we’ll look at how many extracurricular activities strike the perfect balance for elementary school children and what considerations should taken when scheduling extracurricular activities.

During elementary school, between the ages of five and ten, children make rapid progress in the complexity of their relationships around things like fine motor skills, strength, and muscle coordination. During this time their sense of self-worth and belonging is fragile and strongly dependent on what is happening around them.

To ensure this crucial stage of early childhood development supports their cognitive growth, elementary school students need firm and consistent rules, balanced with the freedom to make mistakes, learn, and nurture their independence.

Whether a child has an affinity for sports, academics, or the arts, it’s vital to encourage their academic performance through flexible educational programs and their development through extracurricular activities.

Some research-proven benefits of engaging in extracurricular activities include:

  • Higher levels of academic achievement.
  • Learning the importance of persistence and motivation.
  • Engaging in teamwork.
  • Improving confidence.
  • Improving communication skills.
  • Building relationships and a sense of belonging.
  • Understanding the importance of community involvement.

While discipline-specific skills are vital for developing children’s curiosity, independence, and self-motivation, research shows that soft skills are some of the most crucial outcomes of extracurricular activity. Extending their social networks and building self-confidence are skills that will stay with them long after finishing their compulsory schooling and will set them up to become high-functioning adults with a thriving social circle and a positive self-image.

According to a study undertaken by the advocacy organization Child Trends, approximately 60% of children participate in extracurricular activities. Among those, most children spend less than ten hours a week involved in extracurriculars and a small portion (3% – 6%) spend over twenty hours per week involved in extracurricular activities.

While having a consistent structure, including an after-school structure, helps children perform better in a range of areas, overscheduling can have adverse effects and even lead to burnout.

According to Dr. Eva Lloyd, Professor of Early Childhood at the Cass School of Education and Communities at the University of East London, “Parents can feel the pressure to be involved in ‘direct instruction learning,’ but it’s also good to give your children enough space to learn by themselves and explore their world through their play. Playing outside is particularly important.”

How much is too much when it comes to extracurriculars? Some of the signs that can point to a child being overscheduled include:

  • They are tired more than usual
  • They are often irritable
  • They are unusually nervous
  • They are easily distracted
  • They complain about their physical health
  • They struggle to keep their grades up

Trying to find a set amount of extracurriculars for a child might prove to be futile. Jerry Bubrick, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, jokes that the magic number is seven, but he points out that in the case of intensive commitments, like sports or theater, even one activity can be too much.

There are some vital questions to consider when trying to understand whether a child is overscheduled:

  • Are they able to keep up with their academic workload?
  • Are they able to consistently get at least eight hours of sleep?
  • Are they missing out on essential family commitments and quality time?
  • Do they still have time for ‘free play’ and seeing friends?

Brubick says that if the answer to even one of these questions is no, a child is likely to be overscheduled.

Parents should consider their child’s individual predispositions when scheduling extracurricular activities alongside their education. For one child, a highly-structured schedule will see them thrive, while it may be overwhelming for another child. Parents should also consider that children can also benefit from self-directed activities that draw on their own internal resources, like reading, drawing, and playing.

Ultimately, children are surprisingly communicative regarding their extracurricular needs, even without using words. They will naturally find their own level of interest in extracurriculars, and it’s vital that parents and teachers are sensitive to their boundaries if they want to help the child flourish.

Jigsaw Interactive takes a personalized and engaging approach to empower students to engage and learn in a virtual classroom.   By changing the dynamics of virtual learning, Jigsaw creates an environment where students are engaged, immersed, and exposed to multiple dynamic learning tools that promote curiosity and a love for learning.