Lately, my middle schooler has shown some interest in coding, movie making, and acting in plays, which I think is great! But, he only sporadically participates in these activities. Recently, I’ve been wondering if he needs to have more regular commitments to extracurricular activities now, in middle school, so he can participate more fully in high school when it counts for his college resume.
How much should I push him to participate? And what are the best activities for him to pursue?
Extracurriculars and High School Prep
Len Saunders, author of Generation Exercise and a PE teacher for 38 years, agrees that extracurriculars are important for college. But more than that, “clubs help prepare students for the real world and a life in which they take pride in community, service and life,” says Saunders.
Adam Cole, co-director of Grand Park Academy of the Arts, emphasizes that kids may not be able to participate in high school activities at meaningful levels if they don’t start in middle school. “Unless they are willing to work extra hard or have the money to get up-to-speed with lessons, they may find the music ensembles, theater groups and art classes too daunting and will choose simply not to participate.”
How Much Is Too Much?
Clearly extracurriculars at the middle school level are important, but what’s the right level of involvement? Should they be all-in on one sport or interest, or dabble in everything?
“As a middle school teacher, I could peg an over-committed eighth-grader within minutes,” recalls Leslie Kiel, a writer and mom who taught middle school English for nine years.
Kiel recommends being mindful of what you allow your child to participate in and watch for three key signs of over commitment: sleeplessness, stress and not completing assignments. She considers middle school a time to explore extracurriculars more than anything. “Middle school should be the time to sample, not master, outside-of-school activities,” she says.
How to Choose Extracurricular Activities
All experts agree that your middle schooler should pick extracurriculars based on their passions, not what you (or they) think sounds impressive. You might think debate club is the way to go; but if coding is what lights them up, find a way to get behind it.
Above all, says Saunders, students should “find something that piques their interest or gives them a sense of enjoyment.” Some kids may feel insecure about trying new activities. He recommends joining with a friend. Having a good rapport with the activity leader can also motivate kids to continue.
While we may want them to take advantage of any and every opportunity they can, their genuine interest will shine through when they choose what to pursue.
Looking for STEM-based extracurricular opportunities for your student? Many Sylvan Learning locations offer coding, robotics and engineering classes and camps.
Wendy Wisner is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, Family Circle and Parenting, and is a frequent contributor to Your Teen magazine at www.YourTeenMag.com.