Afew days ago, we were talking about hot summer days and vacations. Summer went by and it is time to go back to school. Some are back to school, some are starting school for the first time.
To start or continue this great adventure, we must think about all the means that are available to help us raise our child. Everything starts in the early years. Children are the adults of tomorrow: our workers, deciders, doctors and professional are all in the making. We must make sure that their education, inspiration and qualifications are fully developed. Today, many schools send children home in the middle of the afternoon and set them free, often without anyone to look after them. But their education could continue after school and they could even have fun while they learn. Extracurricular activities help children grow, improve their self-esteem and aptitudes and help them develop their knowledge in several fields.
The conclusive results of the very first Canadian study of the importance of extracurricular activities were published recently1. According to this study 15% of all children aged 6 to 12 would be on their own after school hours. The study also found that children who regularly participate in after-school programs are more likely to do their homework and get better grades and are less likely to drop out. They generally feel better about themselves, which improves their performance in certain subjects like math and reading. In addition, these children usually show better social skills, more confidence and they have a more positive attitude towards their education.
Although we know that after-school programs are beneficial for children, we still have to find quality activities. According to Faye Mishna, dean and professor at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto, "Parents need to ask the right questions to the coordinators of programs to find the right activities to occupy their children after school." Ideally, the chosen activity presents a supervised, safe and structured structure and the program has the following characteristics:
- It offers activities at least twice or thrice a week.
- It provides a whole range of educational, social and fun activities that stimulate active learning.
- It offers interesting activities that promote the development of children and requires increasing efforts.
- It involves the family.
- It has a low child–coach ratio and a high instructor retention rate.
- Instructors have postsecondary education and have been trained.
- It provides activities that are adapted to all cultures and instructors pose no judgment.
- It should includes fun activities for younger children and focus on learning to read, while programs for high school students should include socializing and unstructured activities that help learn mathematics, prepare for exams and develop skills that will help them find jobs.
- It must include a thorough evaluation to determine effective and ineffective practices.
Now that we have some leads to find the right program activities, let’s see what will be available at the time of registration. Activities can be divided into categories. The most common are: social, cultural and sporting activities. There are workshops such as first aid, babysitting, chess, improvisation, learning languages, cinema, cooking, magic, soccer, volleyball, basketball, kin-ball or badminton.
Most schools also offer their own after-school program that includes art workshops of all kinds. Among them, dance classes (initiation, belly dance, Zumba, hip hop), music (choir, musical awakening, guitar, vocals, piano), acting classes and visual arts (drawing, pottery, crafts, jewellery).
It is advised to create a balance in the choice of activities for your child, without overloading their schedule. Do not only choose sports or arts. A session of one and a session of the other or two different activities simultaneously, provided that the child has an interest in the workshop and does not feel forced. Extracurricular activities are important, when properly dosed, because they participate in the smooth running of the various phases of sleep and to the physical and mental development of students improving, as mentioned earlier, behaviour, listening, attention and therefore learning.
And here’s one last hint: why not choose activities that interest your children!? It is the best way to ensure that they will take part in the workshops without complaining. So at the beginning of this school year, I wish you not to be too anxious at the idea of seeing your little one leaving for school. Have a great back-to-school time, everyone!
1- Alicia DeBoer, Communications, RBC.