The benefits of extracurricular activities

February 22, 2021

Daniel Bal

Extracurricular activities in education

As the world has had to find ways to adapt to the influx of new and complex challenges, it’s necessary to revisit the roles various institutions play within our ever-evolving society. What helps prepare us to confront a future that seems unpredictable? Where do we learn the skills to aid us in both the continued development of our society while also providing personal and social growth? How do we provide opportunities to develop holistically? Fortunately, our educational system is already built to provide a comprehensive experience for students.   

The primary goal of our education system is to prepare students to academically succeed in their future endeavors. However, some ancillary lessons taught outside of the classroom are just as vital if not more so than intellectual growth. With state standards guiding the development and execution of curriculum and standardized testing driving certain portions of the year, providing students with opportunities that extend beyond class time becomes vital.  

At this time of  uncertainty regarding how our institutions will change during and after a pandemic, we must examine what aspects of our schools need to remain intact due to the benefits they provide. One of the main areas that should continue to have a presence within our schools is extracurricular activities. The social and academic benefits of participating in these programs cannot be easily replaced as they provide students with the opportunity to incorporate the lessons they’ve learned within the classroom with their passions and interests outside of the classroom.  

An overview of the extracurricular activities on offer 

There are a considerable number of extracurricular activities available within our schools. These activities range from academic to artistic to athletic. Each comes with certain benefits that will help participants develop various skills, that are not attainable by just being in the classroom. 

Academic 

Academic quiz teams 

These activities are quiz-based competitions utilizing material learned in class. These can either focus on an assortment of academic disciplines, or they can revolve around a specific subject area.  Some examples include quiz bowl, science olympiad, math olympiad.  

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Benefits – It’s no surprise that participating in these activities provides academic benefits as they are ultimately built to do so. However, there are advantages to becoming involved with these groups that students may not experience in the classroom.  

Academic quiz teams allow students to focus their attention either on an assortment of topics or to sharpen their skills on a single academic subject. Regardless of their focus, these types of groups make students more responsible for the information they’ve learned. Whereas in class, knowing the information is an individual endeavor that is tested utilizing various assessments. In a team, this knowledge  important to the group rather than just the individual. Therefore, it helps students improve upon their teamwork and preparation skills, giving them the experience of using collaboration to reach a common goal.  

Outside of the preparation and collaboration, participation in the competitions themselves provide a psychological benefit that they can transfer into the classroom. The timed format of the events can create tense situations as not only do you need to know the answer, but you also need to be the first to provide that answer. The more students participant in these events, the more comfortable they become in handling other instances that can create stress, such as course exams, standardized testing, etc. The more we provide our students opportunities to face apprehension and succeed despite the stress, the more confident they will be in other academic endeavors.   

Academic application groups  

Much like the quiz teams, these activities also focus on the academic skills developed within the classroom. Unlike its counterpart, these clubs typically necessitate the application of the skills they learned in the classroom to new and or unique issues, for example model U.N., debates, mock trials.  

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Benefits –  Whereas academic games typically focus on the recitation of previous learned material, there are groups that focus more on the application of information. With clubs such as debate teams and mock trials, preparation time is limited. Students must have knowledge of the argument or case to counter rebuttals and cross examinations. Students attempt to predict the response of the other side, but being able to apply previously reviewed information to an unexpected scenario helps students develop  critical and analytical thinking skills, which is vital to their future success. Within these organizations, students can develop the ability to apply known information to unknown counterarguments, giving them the capacity to effectively improve their argumentation and rhetorical skills. 

Fine arts 

Visual arts  

Visual arts activities provide students with the opportunity to explore their artistic abilities. Whether it’s drawing, painting, photography, animation, or graphic design, there are a multitude of options for students  to use their creative abilities to enhance various skills that will benefit them in the future. Two common examples are art club, photography club.  

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Benefits -The capacity to create something that is aesthetically pleasing is a beneficial skill for a student to have. Artists develop the ability to look at people, places, and things in unique ways, often providing a reflection of the way in which we live. The ability to capture both concrete and abstract concepts through artistic means provides the artist with a way to showcase their ideas while providing the viewer with a creative and unique perspective of that which is being presented. Those who become more involved the visual arts find that it provides both a creative and emotional outlet that can help reduce stress and benefit their mental health, providing a healthy means of handling other aspects of life that may create anxiety. 

Music 

Typically, schools often provide 2 main types of music programs, vocal and instrumental. These programs can then be broken down into subgroups that focus on a specific aspect of the program. Whether it’s acapella, show choir, marching band, or jazz band, students have a multitude of options for developing and advancing musical talent. Some other examples are concert choir, acapella group, and marching band.   

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Benefits – Much like the visual arts, music programs provide students with a creative and emotional outlet while also improving coordination and boosting self-confidence. These programs allow students to develop creative expression and utilize music as a form of entertainment  and a means of conveying the personal impact it has on the musician, which is passed on to the audience. 

Being able to read music can also transfer into other academic and professional areas. It requires students to quickly and accurately comprehend the notes and timing while transferring that understanding to an instrument. The same can be said when students focus on vocalization rather than a physical instrument. The ability to rapidly and correctly process information is a skill that would be advantageous both academically and professionally.  

Theater 

Theater programs provide opportunities for students to take part in an assortment of collaborative projects. These activities can range from acting, singing, and dancing to design work and directing. The ability exists to work within one caveat of theater or create a collective group that focuses on multiple artistic areas in the execution of theatrical performances. Typical examples are drama club, musical theater and plays, dance, stage crew, and set design.   

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Benefits – Theater, much like art and music, also provides students with the ability to express themselves creatively. All across the performing arts, students build their self-esteem, develop confidence, and improve upon their public speaking skills as they perform.  

Within theater programs, when students play the roles of various characters, they can develop empathy and understand what it’s like for others who have different lives and experiences. Whether or not the character or plot is fiction or non-fiction, immersing yourself into the life of another often allows individuals to better understand the world around them, and lead to a deeper sense of compassion.  

An aspect that makes theater programs increasingly beneficial revolves around the opportunity for collaboration. When combining the visual arts (set design), music (choir, or orchestra pit), and theater (actors and actresses, stage crew), students learn how important it is to work as a cohesive group. This teaches them that each facet plays a part, and if one falls, they all do. Students can develop deeper relationships with one another, while learning  the importance of working together for the good of the group. 

Writing and media 

Various school-based activities incorporate both creative and informational writing which provides students with  skills that can be incorporated into extracurricular projects.  In giving students a creative outlet, the responsibility of gathering accurate information, and meeting strict deadlines allows them to develop skills that can apply to an assortment of future endeavors. Examples include participating in literary magazines, newspapers, and yearbooks.  

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Benefits – When it comes to writing, there is only so much a general English class can provide. With standardized tests, a curriculum that revolves around reading and a push for more technical writing, it’s beneficial for students who are passionate about writing are provided with an outlet. These activities allow them to engage in creative writing (literary magazine), informational or journalistic writing (newspaper), and succinct and engaging writing (yearbook). Not only do these activities allow for various means of written expression, but they also provide opportunities to collaborate, manage time effectively, and efficiently organize information.  

An ancillary benefit often associated to these activities is learning business skills. Students can gain firsthand experience in soliciting sponsorships, selling advertising space, and maintaining strong relationships with local businesses. Participating in multifaceted activities in this way opens the door to even more experience and collaboration.   

Athletics 

Intramural sports  

Students in intramural sports participate in physical activities without the competitive nature of organized sports. Intramural teams typically only compete with other groups formed within the same school. Ultimately, students join intramural teams for the simple enjoyment of the sport. There is no need to be able to perform at a certain athletic level nor is there much of a time commitment. Due to their casual nature, there tend to be more unique options that typically are not formally offered. Some examples are kickball, dodgeball, handball, ultimate frisbee, and quidditch. 

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Benefits – Intramural sports provide students with the opportunity to maintain physical fitness without the stress that can arise from participating in organized or competitive sports.  

Organized or competitive sports 

These sports are generally structured and involve multiple schools competing against each other at various levels. Typically, the available options are more common sports like football, basketball, baseball, soccer, hockey, cross country, track and field. 

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Benefits – Unlike intramurals, players take on a greater time commitment and are driven by a sense of competition. Students learn the benefits of time management, teamwork, and accountability. They understand that their teammates rely on them and vice versa. As they work toward a common goal together, they gain a better understanding of the importance and benefit of functioning as a cohesive team. 

Club sports  

To participate in club sports, you need to try out and be accepted on a team. Players to must possess a certain set of skills, as these groups are more competitive than formative. The athletes on these teams are typically community based rather than school based. Players on a single team can come from multiple communities as they aren’t limited to a certain school district.  

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Benefits – Club sports have the same benefit as the organized or competitive sports offered by schools.  Players in these teams participate in their sport of choice at a higher level. This requires advanced athletic talent, thus increasing some of the benefits provided by a school-based team. 

Culture appreciation 

Language and culture 

Participating in a language club provides for a deeper study of a language and culture than is available from a language class during school time. Students can gain  a better understanding of a culture., Ultimately these groups are formed to promote awareness and appreciation of diverse cultures and to expand upon acceptance and understanding. Popular examples are Spanish, French, German, Latin, etc. 

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Benefits – By studying languages and cultures schools provide the opportunity to gain a cultural understanding of various different populations. It promotes insight into diverse belief systems and provides the ability to avoid appropriation and focus on appreciation. In creating opportunities for open dialogues between various cultures, the knowledge attained from those conversations can benefit students when they enter college or the work force and find themselves interacting with people of varying backgrounds. If students go through their academic career and are only surrounded by people with similar beliefs, it’s vital for them to have access to experiences that extend beyond their comfort zone. To really co-exist with people who have various backgrounds, it’s important for students to be able to appropriately interact with diverse populations.   

Leadership 

Volunteer and service  

These clubs promote leadership skills and provide volunteering opportunities, and can include both the student body and surrounding communities. Students can either choose a club with a wide range of activities, or they can focus on more specific efforts. As an example, a school’s student government focuses on the entire school when planning and executing various programs. This compares to clubs such as SADD, which focuses on the danger of drugs and alcohol, or Best Buddies, which creates programs for special needs students.  

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Benefits – There are several external benefits that arise from participating in these activities. Students learn how to collaborate, how to effectively lead, how to manage their time and the time of others, amongst the various other skills. However, these experiences also provide benefits that are a little harder to see.  

One of the goals that students from schools all over the world should strive to meet  is to help the world in some way. Whether it is locally, nationally, or internationally, the desire students have to reach out and lend a helping hand is admirable and should be one of the cornerstones of our educational system. Leadership, empathy, charity, generosity, etc. – these traits are not easily taught, but they can be experienced. Providing students with opportunities to be impactful in some way can help give them purpose and meaning. They reach out to help others because it’s the right thing to do, not to solely boost their resume. These extracurricular activities are vital, and not just to develop skills for professional pursuits, but because of the need for students to realize the impact they can truly have.     

Conclusion 

In the midst of a public health crisis, we need to make sure students continue participating in activities that develop skills that can help them academically, socially, and personally. The benefits that exist within these programs aren’t easily replaced, so it’s imperative for our schools to determine a way in which to continue to provide extracurricular activities.   

As students find themselves applying to colleges and universities and trying to impress admission counselors with their GPA and transcripts, they have the capacity to set themselves apart from all of the other applicants who are academically similar. How can schools help students rise above the other applicants? In our complex world, how can schools provide an education that extends beyond academics and tries to develop the entire individual?  

There is more to students than a group of numbers determined by an equation that is reflected on their transcripts. They aren’t defined simply by the knowledge they’ve attained. School systems have both the opportunity and responsibility to help students develop into well-rounded individuals who not only can survive the future, but make it better. And that’s a responsibility that should unquestionably drive the educational experience.  

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