Getting involved in dance, sports, culinary arts and drama round out your child’s overall educational experience.
Integrate both structured and DIY activities that complement your child’s disposition, age and interests. You’ll give your kids a chance to expand their circle of friends and gain self-confidence while learning problem-solving, social skills, communication, leadership and more. A bonus: Involved kids are more motivated to do well academically.

Doodle, dabble, draw

Art education contributes to problem-solving and critical thinking skills, not to mention creativity. Museums and independently-run studios offer classes for kids of all ages like painting, drawing and sculpture.
DIY: Put together an “imagination bucket” with art supplies, including recyclables, construction paper and other doodads. Encourage your children to present their individual masterpieces to the family at dinner.

Move it

Team sports nurture social, communication and leadership skills; experiencing loss builds resilience as kids learn to persevere through disappointment.
Individual sports like swimming, martial arts or tennis are also beneficial, helping kids develop focus and self-discipline.

DIY: Burn off energy by shooting hoops in the driveway, running through a homemade obstacle course, or dancing to funky music before homework time.

Checkmate

A game of strategy, chess fosters patience and impulse control as players learn to plan and visualize their moves on the board. Chess classes can help a student improve concentration, problem solving and critical thinking.

DIY: Start a club at your child’s school or challenge your kids to a family board game or a game of cards.

Strike the right note

Kids who play an instrument learn to read music and gain a sense of timing, beat and rhythm. Multiple research studies find a relationship between music education and its influence on mathematics skills, including the ability to recognize patterns, sequencing, spatial reasoning and tempo. Students who are involved in music are more likely to be engaged in school and are better able to cope with anxiety.

DIY: Make your own music. Fill drinking glasses with different levels of water. Tap each jar lightly with a spoon and listen for the varying pitches and vibrations each emits. Kids also like making their own instruments, such as drums from oatmeal containers.

Encore!

Dance, drama and other performing arts classes offer a positive outlet for expressive children and can enhance reading comprehension and verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Also consider debate, photography and journalism clubs.

DIY: Help your child set up a blog to share his writing and photos with a select audience. Check out kidzworld.com, which offers kids a safe and fully moderated place to blog (geared for 9- to 14-year-olds.) Younger kids can hone their storytelling by writing a story, then dressing in costumes and acting it out.

Be of service

Volunteer opportunities in the community give students a chance to learn new skills.
Scouting, Boys & Girls Club, YMCA and youth groups are examples of service organizations that offer real-life experiences outside of the classroom, fostering confidence, leadership and communication skills. Through engagement in their communities, kids gain a greater appreciation and understanding of the world around them.

DIY: Volunteer together at a local shelter, help a neighbor with yard work or gather canned goods for a food pantry.

Get cooking

Learning to prepare healthy meals is a life skill. Plus when following recipes, kids practice reading and math skills like measurements and fractions. Many grocery stores and culinary centers offer kids’ cooking classes.

DIY: Include your kids in the process of meal preparation. Even on busy weeknights they can help make a salad or set the table. Also, check out cookbooks geared for kids, such as “Chop Chop: The Kids Guide to Cooking,” “Better Homes & Gardens New Junior Cookbook” and “Wookie Cookies: A Star Wars Cookbook.”

Seek balance. While variety is the spice of life, don’t overwhelm your kids with activities, which can cause stress and affect grades. Aim for balance.

Considerations for extracurricular activities:

  • Will there be extra fees for uniforms/equipment?
  • Is the activity well-staffed?
  • Is the staff friendly and energized?
  • Are activities well-organized?
  • Is the environment clean and safe?
  • Do the kids appear to be having fun?

–  Christa Melnyk Hines

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