Extracurricular activities for kids – when are they too much, and when are they just perfect for growth and learning? How do we choose? Extra- or co-curricular activities in and of themselves might not be good. If you find that you have to bribe or threaten your children because of them, it’s quite clear that the activities are not their choice. Research has also shown that packing children’s schedules with too many extracurricular activities can lead to problems.
Checklist to decide on extracurricular activities for kids
Let me share a quick checklist that was created based on our experiences with extracurricular activities:
- Is the activity your child’s choice?
- Does it provide for interaction across age groups?
- Is the instructor inspiring?
- Is the community in the activity caring towards each other?
- Does the child get to say NO to other things or is this on top of everything else?
If your answer is YES to everything on this checklist, then it’s a YES to the extracurricular activity.
What should I look for in extracurricular activities?
I found much clearer answers when I observed my daughter’s involvement in her middle school musical. Here’s what to look for in extracurricular activities that are excellent for growth and development.
#1 Everyone has something to contribute
First, the musical fostered inclusivity, emphasizing its educational value over being solely an achievement-oriented endeavor. Every student who was willing to commit their time had a role to play, regardless of their circumstances.
For most of the kids, it was their choice. My daughter, who has a health condition and cannot wear makeup or wigs for long, was reassured that she could participate without having to put on either. All this alleviated her worries, and she was delighted to be part of the production.
She had the opportunity to build connections with students from both the middle and high schools, including those involved in backstage and stage management. This experience fostered a sense of community that transcended grade levels—an incredible opportunity for all involved.
# 2 How to persevere and overcome challenges
Another invaluable lesson learned was the ability to persevere despite disappointment.
In sixth grade, my daughter auditioned for the musical and received a non-speaking role. She cried for five hours — I saw her trying to understand her own disappointment. In seventh grade, her tears lasted for two hours. It was evident that she struggled to balance her genuine happiness for her friends’ success with her own aspirations for a bigger role. After the tears, she told me that her teacher told them that “there are no small roles, only small actors”, and so she dusted herself off and dedicated herself wholeheartedly to the musical each time.
She also worked hard on her voice and acting. In 8th grade she was selected for the lead role. She was happy of course, and regarded this as a precious opportunity, determined to give her best. During rehearsals, there were moments when she was “scolded” for forgetting cues, causing her to hold back tears and return to cry in the shower. But she learned to bounce back, shed her disappointment, and return the next day with renewed determination.
Over the course of these three years, she has grown emotionally stronger, learning that the best way to overcome disappointment is to allow herself a good cry, then set aside her frustration, and channel her efforts toward achieving her goals.
On the first day of performances, a dear friend and vital cast member fell ill. Displaying remarkable resilience, she soldiered through, adapting her voice to accommodate her condition and ensured the show went on. Just two hours before the second show, my daughter developed a high fever of 39 degrees. My daughter took acetaminophen, hydrated herself, conserved energy, and focused her mind beyond her physical limitations. She not only completed the second and third performances but also discovered the immense power of pushing through adversity.
These experiences taught them that they were capable of conquering challenges and earning a strong internal sense of accomplishment.
#3 How to be responsible for her own stuff
They developed a sense of responsibility.
On the day before they were required to perform without scripts, my daughter and a few cast members took the initiative to organize an additional rehearsal on their own. Their shared goal was to ensure that everyone had their lines memorized.
It was inspiring to witness their dedication as they worked on refining their performances bit by bit, striving for improvement with each iteration. My daughter would study videos of different actors playing the character, discussing their unique interpretations and talking about how to elicit stronger reactions from the audience during specific scenes.
I noticed the cast members trying different things with each performance, getting better each time. They also took responsibility for tidying up their costumes, props, and accessories. My daughter learned the importance of organizing her water bottle and tissue paper, ensuring she could stay hydrated to carry her through each show. Observing her careful planning and proactive approach to her own performance told me that she was growing up.
#4 How to manage time
Balancing a full day of school, rehearsals until 6 pm, and returning home for dinner and homework while dealing with upcoming tests and quizzes challenged my daughter to optimize her time effectively.
She learned to maximize free periods and breaks, allowing her to get rest for the following day.
She also learned to say NO to other activities that she also had an interest in, knowing that she only had limited time and could not possibly do everything. Although she often felt anxious about completing her tasks, she got better and better at managing her time and her anxieties.
#5 How to care for others
Above all, I witnessed how the entire cast and crew developed a deep sense of caring for each other. They sent caring text messages when someone fell ill, offered encouragement during moments of discouragement, shared lozenges to soothe sore throats, and assisted one another with cues and prompts.
They realized the significance of their roles within the community they had formed. They also laughed a lot together!
What made this experience so positive?
The musical was about so much more than singing and acting; it was a transformative learning experience that allowed the middle schoolers to discover abilities and strengths they didn’t know they had before.
What made this extracurricular experience so positive were:
- choice – she chose this activity
- autonomy – freedom to say NO to other things
- inclusivity – in terms of both ability and age
- community – the community cared for each other