Ask any mum of school-age children what she thinks about after school activities and you will most likely get an answer that equates to her personal excitement about getting an extra hour of peace without the ‘little darlings’ running around under her feet. While this may be true, the importance of extra-curricular activities goes way beyond a later school pick up time and a little bit of additional me-time for the parents.
I for one may value the energy my 6-year-old expends four out of five days a week participating in an hour of Taekwondo, football, Beavers and swimming after the end-of-day school bell has rung, but the fact is he is gaining a whole lot more than the ability to fall asleep easily at bedtime.
Plenty of research has been carried out into the benefits of after-school programmes for both young children and teenagers and the evidence is conclusive – extra-curricular activities play an enormous part in shaping the child and in helping them to develop an entirely different set of skills to those they develop in the classroom. All of which just goes to prove that that age-old adage ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ holds a lot of truth!
There is a very real pressure on children today to perform better and better academically. Children as young as seven years old are expected to sit for exams, leaving little time for anything other than studying. In an age when academic results are everything, are we possibly burdening them too much when they are still so little? It’s all about balance and that’s where the ECAs come in.
The activities offer opportunities for students to learn the values of teamwork, individual and group responsibility, physical strength, coordination, endurance, competition, diversity and a sense of culture and community.
One of the major benefits of participating in extracurricular activities is how it helps middle school-age children in particular develop socially. Middle school is the time for students to begin developing valuable life skills and ECA participation is a key way of supporting this. Engaging in non-academic pursuits helps encourage teamwork, leadership skills, cooperation and social development that students don't get to the same degree from simply working in the classroom.
As an expat, we are particularly fortunate when it comes to ECAs in that whichever school our child goes to, we will undoubtedly have so many to choose from. As an example, leading international school Alice Smith offers its students an impressive list of around 45 activities to choose from, ranging from standard choices such as gymnastics, swimming, choir, ballet, netball and football to more off-the-wall activities such as in-line skating, young scientists, mindfulness and laughter yoga and even Quidditch – and that’s just in primary!
Alice Smith Assistant Principal – Development, Ms Jamie Thistleton, says: “At the Alice Smith School, we take the responsibility of developing the whole child extremely seriously. In order to fulfil this responsibility, we provide an extensive ECA programme for our students to participate in.
“Extra-curricular activities help to develop the student as a whole. They improve gross motor skills and social skills as well as promote physical activity, and all whilst giving the students an opportunity to integrate these activities into their everyday lives.
“They also learn about time management, use their critical thinking skills and improve their ability to work as part of a team. Developing relationships and learning how to lead others are other key skills that students will develop which will benefit them later in life both socially and in the workplace.”
Fairview International School is another educational facility that puts a huge emphasis on the important role that ECAs play in the lives of their students.
Majid Hussain, Fairview International School’s PE Teacher, explains: “Extra-Curricular activities (ECA), or Co-curricular activities (CCA) as we call them in our school, are highly important for the overall development of the child.
“Usually parents, teachers and students focus on their academic studies, trying to obtain a good grade for each subject. However, extra-curricular activities focus on a student’s development through clubs and sports that they wish to explore further, enabling them to develop a different set of skills at their own pace.
“A typical ECA session has a specific focus, which is generally chosen by the students themselves and is sometimes even actually led by the students (for the older age group). Ultimately, they are in a comfortable environment learning what they want to learn at their own rate with the support of their peers.
“Our ECA clubs are split across three days: Wednesday for primary, Thursday for middle school and Friday for high school, with a wide range and variety of sports and clubs offered such as football, basketball, badminton, swimming, ultimate frisbee, photography, roller skating, taekwondo, guitar, dance, board games, Model United Nation and many more.”
And when it comes to long-term goals and ambitions, such as university and college, it’s not simply about the exam results achieved, but rather about what kind of person your child is. The ECAs they have participated in demonstrate what their interests are and show where their skills and strengths lie.
For example, being on the swimming team throughout school shows that you’re able to make a long-term commitment, while serving on the student council or being on the debate team shows that you have leadership skills. And if they can do all of this whilst maintaining their good grades, then they show that they are a good all-rounder. Further education institutes want to know who your children are and what they can do beyond what they have achieved in the classroom.
At another of KL’s leading international schools, Garden School, a significant part of the school is taken up with the co-curricular activities programme.
“We offer a very wide range of clubs and activities which take place in addition to the more mainstream sport, music and drama pursuits. These take place at set times after school each day,” says Andrew Winstone, Manager – CCA, Sports and Facility Rentals at Garden International School.
“With up to 180 different activities operating per term over the course of the school year, there really is something for everyone. All the children are encouraged to take part in this inclusive programme and make a contribution in their own unique way.
“We firmly believe that in addition to being fun for the children, the programme plays a vital role in developing their interpersonal and social skills, while at the same time boosts their confidence.
“A wide range of co-curricular activities are available to children in all year groups. A list of activities is published at the start of term and families can sign up for up to five activities per term utilising our state of the art online web-based portal.
“As the school recognises that educational enrichment not only occurs through academics but also through structured vocational pursuits, the CCA programme currently promotes additional classes, which complement the school’s identified key student learner skills. As a result, the students at Garden have the opportunity to engage in an extensive range of diverse programmes, which promote and develop attributes such as: cultural awareness, artistic expression, social conscience, sporting excellence, self-esteem, financial responsibility, and musicianship to name a few.
“CCA Classes range from year one right through to year 13 and with over 1,500 students taking part per term, additional key functions for the CCA team include quality assurance, programme development and striving to continuously improve this key aspect of the school’s provision.
“Our CCA section of the school administers one of the most comprehensive extra-curricular programmes in Asia.”
Art and Adventure
ISKL also upholds the belief that ECAs are a crucial part of school life and strongly believes that a superior education includes a variety of athletic and artistic experiences.
Students in the Elementary School are offered a comprehensive after-school activities programme that includes a variety of lessons provided each school day. In addition to activities run by the faculty, they have professionals from the outside community that offer lessons for a fee.
“Our students also have a unique opportunity to participate in a breadth of activities, ranging from music and drama to service and athletics. We are big enough to have the capacity to offer a variety of activities, but small enough that students can join and participate,” says Kevin Brawn, Director of Activities and Athletics at ISKL.
The variety of ECAs on offer at ISKL is truly impressive. Students can pick from some seriously exciting activities including magic tricks, Chinese kung fu and story cartooning in elementary; and Dungeons and Dragons and film making in middle school. In high school, there is a huge range of activities spanning several categories: clubs, activities, drama and dance, visual arts and athletics.
So consider yourself told; if your child isn’t doing any after-school activities, sign them up now!