After-school activities provide a much-needed creative or physical outlet after a long day of sitting at a desk, and there are countless benefits for kids. Structured after-school activities, both in and out of the home, give children the opportunity to cultivate a deeper interest in a hobby or an academic area, build confidence, learn new skills, get active and socialize.
For working parents, after-school activities can often fill the gap between the last bell and the end of the workday, particularly with clubs and sports that take place on school grounds. In addition, after-school sitters can help create fun and imaginative at-home activities that prevent kids from vegging out with an iPad or in front of the TV. These seven activities represent a range of options that should fit almost any kid’s interests.
Scouting programs begin as early as kindergarten and continue with opportunities for kids to participate through high school. And there’s more to scouting than selling cookies — these programs focus on teaching practical skills, fostering emotional development and impacting the world in a positive way. Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are the most recognized scouting organizations, but there are coed alternatives, including Navigators USA, Campfire and the Baden-Powell Service Association. Schools often host these groups, making them a convenient choice for many families.
After spending eight hours in a classroom, athletics are the perfect outlet for an active child. Participation in organized physical activities at a young age can increase a child’s confidence, teach them valuable lessons about teamwork, goal-setting, winning and losing, and set them up for a healthy life. Soccer, track, basketball, cheerleading, football and baseball are among the most common sports offered through schools beginning around 4th grade.
For kids who aren’t interested a team sport, consider options like martial arts, gymnastics, swimming, horseback riding or tennis. Outside of school, local leagues, park districts and YMCAs offer organized athletics, as well as studios and gymnasiums with classes and lessons for children as young as 3. Working parents may need to hire a reliable after-school sitter to ensure their child is able to attend practices off school grounds.
Academic clubs can cultivate a child’s interest in a particular subject, challenge them and recognize their intellectual achievements. Schools typically host a range of activities, including clubs that focus on foreign languages, math, science, debate and writing. As a child advances in school, the academic clubs available to them will become more specific and are a great way to explore different career paths with business clubs, architecture clubs, school publications and more.
Music, dance, theatre and art will appeal to kids who have a flair for the dramatic or just enjoy getting creative. Programs in the arts also have plenty of developmental benefits for kids — from encouraging innovation to improving academic performance. Consider school-based activities like band, orchestra and drama club as well as community theater organizations, local dance companies or even private lessons.
Structured craft projects are a great way to unwind from school while allowing kids to create. They’re also perfect for rainy or cold days. Parents or a creative after-school sitter can work with kids to fill a “craft calendar” with activities. A few favorites to put on the list include pipe cleaner pals, cookie cutter bird feeders and a family tree collage.
Teach kids the value of giving back by participating in community service. Service learning clubs start as young as elementary school, and you also can find service-oriented youth groups with after-school programming at churches and through other community organizations. But kids don’t need a club to do good deeds — parents or a sitter can plan easy service activities after school. Help pick up trash at a nearby park, bake muffins for an elderly neighbor, volunteer your time with a local non-profit organization or weed a community garden. If you need ideas to get started, take a look at this list of service projects for kids.
Sometimes the best after-school activities are less structured and more imaginative. Younger kids especially will love playing dress up, having a dance party or building with blocks. Older children may find working on puzzles, participating in a scavenger hunt or playing board games relaxing and fun.
It may seem like creative play requires little work on the part of a parent or sitter, but it can be more rewarding for children if this time is loosely guided rather than just setting out a basket of toys. If dress up or pretend is on the itinerary, set the scene by asking a child to act out her favorite story. If your kid loves board games, stack two or three favorites on the kitchen table and let him choose. This will help your child focus on an activity that engages the imagination after a long day of school without overwhelming her.
While the options for after-school activities can seem endless, don’t go overboard with lessons or competitive endeavors — low-key, fun projects or play at home plus one or two structured extracurricular activities, like dance class, a team sport or a school club should keep kids happy and active without burning out. Before signing up your child, ask him what he’d like to do and make an after-school activity plan together.