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‘Extracurriculars’ And The Curriculum

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“Hmm, I just don’t know if Yoni should sign up for soccer after school,” Ruthie told her sister. “I’m worried about it interfering with his homework.”

“I know, Ruthie, but shouldn’t he be allowed to have a little fun? Gershon goes to soccer and then he does his homework. He has a snack and then sits down right away to polish off any homework he might have that night.”

“Doesn’t he stay up really late?”

“Nope! He actually finishes his homework in record time every Tuesday after soccer. I even check it over those nights because I can’t believe he finishes so quickly. But, he does it quickly and well,” Pessie answered.

“I guess I can think about it. Where does Gershon play soccer? Is he in a league?” Ruthie asked.

***

Many parents are afraid to sign their children up for extracurricular activities because they believe the activities will negatively impact their performance in school. In other words, that the extracurricular activities will take the place of the curricular ones. While in some cases (which I will outline later), this may be true, in most cases, extracurricular activities can actually aid in children’s learning and retention of material.

 

What are extracurricular activities?

The most basic definition of an extracurricular activity is one that falls outside of the normal school curriculum. Extracurricular activities can be both academic (science club, music lessons, and debate team) and nonacademic (sports and volunteering). While some activities may have a culminating recital or championship, there are no formal grades or tests.

 

How can extracurricular activities benefit students?

Sports. We all know that children need movement. After all, children with sedentary lifestyles are at risk for obesity and chronic diseases such as type II diabetes.  But, research shows that more physical activity is also linked to increased academic achievement. In fact, children who were more physically fit generally scored higher on math and reading tests than their less physically fit peers. This means that kids who move more on a regular basis will generally do better than their more sedentary peers.

Short bursts of exercise can also be beneficial; a study out of the University of Rome found that elementary school children who exercised for a few minutes right before taking a test improved their scores by an average of ten percent. According to Dr. John Ratey, the author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, exercise causes the brain to produce a protein called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). This protein helps to build and preserve connections between neurons and other cells. Basically what this means is that through exercise, children’s brains build more cells in order to improve their memory and retention of material. Additionally, exercise produces neurotransmitters like serotonin that can improve mood, which in turn can enhance children’s motivation and focus.

Aside from bolstering grades and moods, physical movement in school can promote an active lifestyle later on in life. Plus, through teamwork and rule following during a sports game or practice, children can learn behavioral and social skills. So, signing your child up for a sports club might help them in school and beyond.

Music. Learning to play an instrument or taking voice lessons is not just a creative endeavor. In fact, a study reported in the Monitor on Psychology found that students who took music lessons for a year increased their IQ an average of two points over those students who did not take music lessons.

In addition to book smarts, music lessons can also help your child gain emotional intelligence as people often react emotionally when listening or playing music. Practice can help children recognize the emotions that others are feeling.

And, of course, daily practice requires discipline and sitting power – two things that are essential for learning in a school setting.

Chesed. Whether it is volunteering at a community soup kitchen on Sundays or doing bikur cholim every Friday afternoon, children of all ages can get involved in chesed activities. Aside from participating in acts of kindness, these activities will raise moral awareness in your children, building their social skills and emotional intelligence.

Seeing themselves as contributing members of society will also build their confidence and self-esteem. And, anybody who has been in a classroom knows that book smarts are not the single, or maybe even the most important, indicator of a child’s success in the classroom. Rather, children’s ability to ask appropriate questions (social skills), converse with classmates (social skills), and play to their own strengths (high self-esteem) are integral parts of the learning process. Volunteering can help children strengthen these non-academic skills, thereby leading to better academic results.

 

Drop-Out Rates

If all of the reasons I have listed above are not enough of an argument, consider this: a 1995 study conducted by Dr. Ralph McNeal found that there was an approximately forty percent lower drop-out rate among students who were involved in extracurricular activities when compared to those who were not involved in afterschool activities.

 

How Much Is Too Much         

While extracurricular activities clearly have multiple benefits, there is a point at which those benefits cease. Nobody can do everything and children who are involved in a different club every day after school will have less time for homework and relaxation. Both homework and relaxation are also integral parts of learning, as repetition and rest are two very important steps in the learning process. Therefore, since you and your child know what’s best for him, have a discussion about what feels manageable and interesting before you sign him up for extracurricular activities. You do not want to over-schedule your child and then feel that he is racing to keep up with all of the moving pieces in his life. After all, in the end, these are extracurriculars.

About the Author: An acclaimed educator and education consultant, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation,, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at rifkaschonfeld@verizon.net. Visit her on the web at rifkaschonfeldsos.com.


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