Fun Once the Bell Rings

By Christa Melnyk Hines

After-school activities are an essential and fun way to round out your child’s overall educational experience. Integrate both structured and DIY activities that complement your child’s disposition, age and interests.

“Students in these activities learn important social skills, are given the opportunity to meet a wider variety of peers, and gain more confidence and self-esteem,” says Matt Johnson, a director of student services and athletics. Furthermore, 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. Independently-run studios and museums 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. And experiencing loss builds resilience as kids learn to persevere through disappointment.

Individualized 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 groovin’ to funky music before homework time.

Strike the right note. 

Kids who learn to 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. And according to the National Association for Music Education, youngsters who are involved in music are more likely to be engaged in school, develop a higher self-esteem 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 from drums out of oatmeal containers to rain sticks from covered paper towel tubes.


A popular and ancient game of strategy, chess fosters patience and impulse control as players learn to plan and visualize their moves on the board.

“Chess can help increase a student’s focus and concentration along with helping students with personal skills, such as problem solving and critical thinking,” says Rick Hetzel, a high school chess club moderator.

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


The performing arts 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 which offers kids a safe and fully moderated place to blog. (Geared for 9 to 14-year-olds.) Younger kids can hone their storytelling chops by writing a story, dressing in costumes and acting it out.

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 local 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 like Chop Chop: The Kids Guide to Cooking, Better Homes & Gardens New Junior Cookbook and Wookie Cookies: A Star Wars Cookbook.

Be of service.

“There are many volunteer opportunities that students can pursue in the community where they can give of their time and learn new skills,” says Cindy Neely, a high school counselor coordinator.

Scouting, Boys & Girls Club, the 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 are less likely to feel isolated. They 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.

Seek balance.

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

“It is all about identifying the delicate balance that helps foster their development of skills in activities that they may be involved in for a lifetime,” Johnson says.

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?

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