Move over soccer, gymnastics and ballet, and make room for a new crop of creative kid classes that take fun and learning to the next level. From after-school programs that bring math and science to life to extreme obstacle courses and cooking camps, there’s an extracurricular activity that’s sure to please every kind of kid. Here are some of our favorites.
Train Like a Ninja
Taking a cue from the popular Ninja Warrior competition for adults, high intensity, obstacle course-based classes for kids are growing in popularity. At facilities like Ninja Academy in Chicago and Iron Sports in Houston, ninjas-in-training — some as young as 5 years old — gain flexibility, strength, and coordination as well as problem-solving skills and confidence as they make their way through elaborate obstacles that include everything from climbing walls and trampolines to balance beams and monkey bars. Another bonus? Kids learn that fitness can be a lot of fun.
Mine for Comedy Gold
Got a kid who loves to crack everyone up? Encourage their love of comedy with an improv class. Even if you’re not raising a future cast member of SNL, improv can be compelling for kids who aren’t particularly interested in drama. Unlike typical theater classes, improv helps kids get creative, learn the art of storytelling, become more comfortable with change, and gain confidence while thinking on their feet and having a ton of hilarious fun. Recent research even suggests that improvisation classes can be beneficial for children with autism. Second City, which has produced comedy stars like Tina Fey, Steve Carrell and Stephen Colbert (among others), offers a variety of improv and other comedy classes for kids in Chicago and L.A. Not near those cities? Look for a community theater or comedy training venue near you.
Become America’s Next “Tot” Chef
If you can’t keep your kid out of the kitchen, sign your sous chef up for a cooking class or camp. In kiddie culinary school children can learn fundamental kitchen skills, how to prepare regional cuisines, pastry making, edible gardening and more. Upscale kitchen and cookware boutique Sur la Table offers five-day summer camps for kids ages 8-12 (classes for teens are also available) in more than 25 states. You can also search for commercial kitchens, community organizations or even restaurants that offer cooking courses for kids.
Flip for Circus Arts
If flying through the air with the greatest of ease sounds like something your budding acrobat would enjoy, enroll your child in a circus arts class (no running off required). In circus classes, like those at the Trapeze School of New York, which has locations in New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles, kids practice communication, teamwork, focus, and coordination and build self-esteem while mastering thrilling circus tricks — think swinging on a trapeze, walking a tight rope, juggling and tumbling.
Be STEM Savvy
Demand for extracurricular activities that focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) has been growing as parents and teachers urge kids to take an interest in these fields. Programs that offer opportunities for kids to build, tinker, code, explore and discover often tackle real world problems, teach design thinking and encourage curiosity about the world. Looking for a local program? Check out Engineering for Kids, which has more than 100 locations around the country and caters to kids from preschool through eighth grade with cool classes like Taking to the Skies (aerospace engineering), Electrified (electrical engineering), and Invade Defense Games (video game design) to name just a few.
Get Zen with Meditation
As more adults seek out mindfulness techniques to cope with every day pressures, it makes sense that kids would benefit as well. With activities, school and social pressures, perhaps one of the most valuable skills your child can learn is meditation. Kids can cultivate inner calm, discover methods for coping with stress and anxiety, and learn breathing techniques that can help regulate behavior with regular practice. While there are many types of meditation, the current popularity of mindfulness meditation is rooted in a Buddhist philosophy that focuses on the breath. Kadampa Meditation Centers, located in multiple cities, have meditation classes for children age 4 and up that include short Buddhist meditations, storytelling and crafts.