Are Children’s Extracurricular Activities Worth It?

12-year old Brittanie is supposed to be practicing her piano lessons.  Instead she’s playing catch with the dog.  “Play,” yells her mother, “I’m not paying 50 bucks a week for you to take piano if you’re not going to practice.”

Sometimes parents feel like drill sergeants when their children loaf around instead of concentrating on their skill building, especially when it seems their hard earned money is being thrown away.

Parents today are far more likely to invest in after-school activities for kids than any generation before.

Related: Can You Afford Not To Stay At Home With Your Kids?

A Statistics Canada survey shows that 87% of Canadian kids between the ages of four and fifteen participate in some form of organized activity outside of school.  Not only do those activities cost money, they eat up a considerable amount of time.  Is it worth it?

Extracurricular activities are good for kids

According to the StatsCan survey, extracurricular activities go hand in hand with good health and higher grades for kids.  Younger children who took part in activities were likely to be better at reading and math, and had more advance vocabularies and social skills.

By the teen years, the activities of choice are organized sports, and kids who took part in them were more likely to have friends and keep them than their couch potato contemporaries.

Related: How To Put Your Kids To Work

Teenage sports participants are more likely to stay out of trouble and are less likely to drop out of school.  Children learn social skills through sports that help them get along better with their peers – they learn to work as a team and strive for improvement and mastery of a skill.

Activities For Kids: What Are The Costs?

You can spend as much or as little as you like.  Community centre activities for kids are usually less expensive than competitive leagues.  You can buy second hand instruments and sports equipment – or go whole hog.  How much is too much?

You hear stories about parents who not only forked out astronomical amounts of money for coaching and equipment, they actually moved the whole family to a different city so their budding athlete would have access to a world-class coach in pursuit of their professional dreams.

But the fact is, the chances of having a professional career and then benefiting from subsequent lucrative endorsement contracts are pretty slim.

Related: How Not To Move Back In With Your Parents

Even if your child does demonstrate a real knack for their chosen activity, research shows that being involved in a very structured, organized program doesn’t really predict success later on.

Most parents just want their kids to have fun and the more loosely organized teams and instruction usually give them more opportunities to play and learn.

“I hate it! I want to quit!”

My children were into sports and they never missed a game or practice.  But what if your child has spent several years in say, music or dance lessons, then doesn’t want to continue?  If you’ve already invested considerable time, money and effort in lessons you might not want to let him or her quit.

A friend of mine had a daughter in Irish dance from the time she was three years old.  She spent thousands of dollars on instruction, costumes and travel to competitions.  When her daughter turned 13, she abruptly decided she no longer wanted to continue.

Another friend hated practicing the violin and her parents let her quit.  Now she regrets it and wishes that her parents had made her keep going.

Related: Kids And Money

Perhaps a break is all that’s needed and then your child will go back to the activity.  I wouldn’t like it, but I also wouldn’t want to get into a power struggle with my child if he really didn’t want to continue.

Too many structured activities

Some people say that kids should be required to try many different kinds of activities to help them develop interests.  Some people impose activities on their children that they would have liked to be involved in when they were young.  Maybe your child will enjoy them, but maybe not.

Many parents want to give their children every advantage they possibly can.  There are so many enjoyable and enriching opportunities available, from sports, music, languages, the arts, Scouts and Girl Guides, and much more.  They would be a useful addition to future job applications and resumes.

But children also need unstructured time to play and develop their own interests and imagination.  There’s also the risk of squelching an interest by changing it from play to an organized assignment.

Final Thoughts

In summary, it has been proven that kids benefit from extracurricular activities, learning new skills and making new friends.  Just don’t fill up all their non-school time with organized lessons.

And, don’t forget to claim the tax credit worth up to $500 each for the Children’s Fitness Amount and the Children’s Arts Credit for children under the age of 16 enrolled in eligible programs.

30 Responses to Are Children’s Extracurricular Activities Worth It?

  1. I think it is important for kids to get involved in some activities where they can make more friends and participate in different activities. My girls play soccer and are girl scouts and they love them both. But they also have plenty of “play time” where they can just do their own thing and explore the world on their own.

  2. I think the Stats Canada study might be flawed. I did notice as a teacher that many kids who were self-motivated and more outgoing than their peers were more likely to join extra-curricular activities. It’s a chicken and egg situation. I also saw that extra-curricular activities kept some kids in school and let students experience success and recognition beyond the classroom.

    I was fortunate that my parents made room in their budget for each of me and my siblings to have one lesson or activity per week. We were also involved in volunteer work and activities through the church that were free. There are many ways to be part of the community and learn new skills without having to buy a lot of equipment or pay a hefty sum for lessons.

    • @Elizabeth: Sometimes a shyer child will join an activity if their friend or sibling has also joined up. Also, starting a at preschool age can also build confidence.

      You are right that organized sports and programs are not for every child. They can still build skills and learn a lot through a variety of ways.

  3. We’ve discovered that where we live extracurricular activities are where the kids socialize after school and on the weekend. It seems every kid is doing something. And it’s also important to keep them active and busy as well. It’s too easy to get sucked into too much TV, computer, and texting without something to do.

  4. It is frustrating when you put your kid in something she dearly wants to be in, but won’t practice at home. When my eldest has a show coming up, she will practice her singing. When there is no show, she can procrastinate for days; it’s too much like homework, I guess, to practice without a specific goal.

    • @David Leonhardt: I think it’s normal for your daughter to practice a lot before a show then slack off – er, take a break. You can lose interest pretty fast if you’re constantly being pushed to work.

  5. Extra curricular activities are important, but it should not be a chore for the child or parent. My son signed up for soccer until he found out how much he would run. He wanted to quit, but I insisted that he stick with it for 2 weeks. He eventually did quit, but not when he wanted. He ended up playing football and learned a lot from it. Learning the skills and practicing considerably more than he was playing taught him to defer gratification. He learned a very good work ethic.

    • @krantcents: Sometimes you do have to push a bit if your child wants to quit an activity. Often when they realize that they won’t be experts right away they want to give up. They need to learn that practise builds skills. On the other hand, if they really hate it you might as well let them stop.

  6. Extracurricular activities teach many life lessons including teamwork, responsibility, discipline and time management. Pushing children into too many may have its negatives – increased stress, less personal time with family, potential family budget issues, and maybe resentment because kids are missing out on things they would rather do. There is definitely a balance to be reached that I guess is different for every family.

    Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, discusses research showing that for anyone to become elite in their field – say an Olympian – you essentially have to practice that skill or task for around 10,000 hours. Wonder how many parents might ease back a little if they sat down for a moment and calculated how much time this actually is.

    If a child has a chance to become an Olympian, you will know it by the natural force of their personality and drive. They will tell you by their actions. In other words, you won’t have to tell them to practice.

    • @Brian Fourman: In Calgary there’s a school that is dedicated to child athletes. It’s pretty amazing to see how focused these children are – practising for several hours before and after school. They can easily work over 6 hours a day – and these are just young teens.

      I don’t like to hear about parents pushing their kids into sports, such as hockey (or any other activity), because they thought they had missed their own shot at being professional. You can’t live your life though your kids.

  7. I think the main problem is forcing extracurricular activities on kids that they don’t enjoy.

    When I was a kid, I wanted to play the drums. What did my parents do? Put me in piano lessons. They sucked, I didn’t like it, and I quit after a year. Did I learn anything? Sure, but I doubt it was commensurate with the price. Then they let me have drum lessons, I loved them, and practiced plenty (with sound dampeners of course).

    • @Joe: I laugh when my husband tells me about wanting drum lessons as a child and his country music fan parents insisted on him learning slide guitar. What teen in the early days of rock wants to play slide guitar? He hated it. He was eventually allowed to quit and took drum and regular guitar lessons instead and he still practises to this day ( We don’t have a regular drum set. He keeps mentioning how he would like one, but I pretend I don’t hear him :)

  8. Excellent column that brings out (as do the various responders in different ways) the idea of finding a balance – which many parents seem to have difficulty with!

    All I have to add is an observation that a wise teacher shared with me when we were talking about competitive activities, especially those that demand high levels of skill: “There’s nothing wrong with competition as long as it’s the kid who chooses to compete.” One of my sons enjoyed highly non-competitive house league hockey for several years (everybody on every team basically played the same amount of time during a game); others his age needed a more competitive challenge and played on “select” teams in other leagues. So different choices are right for different kids.

    • @Ian Henderson: Less competitive leagues allow everyone to play regardless of skill level – it’s mostly to have fun. There is more pressure in competitive activities and not all kids thrive on that.

  9. You can pay for their lessons now or their lawyers later.

    Worked for me so far. Lotsa lesson payments, entry fees etc, travel to competitions expenses and time. Lotsa time spent with them too. I just think of it as a commitment I made, to myself and my wife as well as the kids, when we decided we wanted to become parents.

    Money and time well spent. As they grow older they need us less and we miss it.


  10. We don’t have any kids but I was once one (shock :-0) but these activities are all life lessons. I think it’s a great opportunity for kids to see what they like and don’t like and may excel in. I don’t believe that parents should force their kids to play soccer because they wanted to be stars themselves and didn’t succeed and want their kids to live their dreams. We see it all the time with mates especially with hockey but most of the kids enjoy it. Forcing your kids to do something they don’t want to is not worth it, ever. They will only resent you making them go and waste of money, you bet! Let the kids follow the path, let their skills flourish the way they should. Great post. Mr.CBB

    • @Mr CBB: Some kids just don’t like organized activities – especially in a group. One of my sons was a good artist and he started lessons. He didn’t like the structure and being “forced” to do the prescribed assignments – he wanted to do his own thing. He quit the class, and to my dismay, stopped his art altogether.

  11. Frankly, I’m a little tired of all the studies telling parents that if they don’t get their kids involved in something NOW, it means their child will grow up to be a completely unsocialized deadbeat who doesn’t know how to do anything. These activities, whether you take advantage of the tax credit or not, are expensive – and if certain kids don’t do them, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re parked in front of the TV/computer/cell phone when they’re not. Lots of parents still see (just like in those old days) that kids are busy with constructive activities at home – that don’t cost a thing. As for socialization? Siblings are good, when not possible seeing friends on weekends and at school seems to work for many.

    • @Bryan Jaskolka: It’s true that you can find constructive activities and creative play for kids that are free or cost little and they can socialize with siblings and friends. When I was a kid, there were always other kids around with balls and bats for games in the park, or whatever. Kids of all ages were involved with the older ones looking out for the younger ones and showing them what to do. Other activities were inexpensive, and we walked, rode our bikes or took the bus to movies and roller skating.

      Now everything seems so involved and expensive. Facilities are only open at certain times for certain age groups. Parents or another adult have to take the time to drive and sit through the lessons and activities. Times have changed a lot and kids don’t have 4 or 5 siblings to play with and cousins down the block.

      Sadly, there are a lot of kids parked in front of the TV or computer because they are not allowed to go outside without a parent and a lot of parents don’t have the time to organize outings. An organized activity may be the solution then.

  12. I think there is a lot to learn in sports and activities and it can broaden their horizon. It also keeps them busy in their teenage years :) My kids have tried different kind based on their request and all we ask is that they finish the year when they start. If they don’t want to continue, that’s fine but there is a commitment to start.

    In other cases, such as team sport, they have to be in one and it’s their choice which sport. When it comes to languages, it’s required for them to learn our native languages from myself and my wife and there is no quitting. It’s a commitment we know will pay off in the future.

    Music and languages are the two were parents initiate and must decide to stick to it or not through parenting techniques when the children ask to stop.

  13. I wonder if when kids are put in such structured environments all their life’s, if they can thrive in a business environment that isn’t structured. That would also make me that kids will become more prone to be drones, than entrepreneurs and inventors.

    • @Connie Solidad: Structured activities allow kids to learn something new and of interest to them. That said, they should be allowed lots of free play time.

      I recently saw a news item about a kindergarten that tried this experiment. They took away all the toys and brought in boxes, big pieces of styrofoam and the like. The kids had a ball building forts and pirate ships making up their own games.

      Kids need to use their imaginations, learn to problem solve and co-operate with others to be successful as adults.

  14. There is, without a doubt, an line between TOO MUCH and just enough. I did a lot of extracurriculars when I was a child and really enjoyed them. They gave me the chance to connect with my peers, and if they were school-run activities, I enjoyed going to school for them.

  15. As mother, for me extracurricular activities for kids should be done. This will help their mental and physical activities along with their emotional aspects too. And not to mentioned that they will be sociable too and make friends.

  16. I was quite small for my age, and I started school at 4 rather than 5 like my other classmates. I was a reader and by 7 was reading books on WW2 history. By grade 9 I was reading at 1600 words per minute. I learned to play a musical instrument, and was a natural at playing by ear, but not a great music reader.

    I had NO interest in sports, going as far as running 3 steps after the starting gun and walking off the field when in a school race during track and field day.(the teacher was livid about this Poor Attitude I had)

    To this day I can barely throw a ball, couldn’t hit the basket, and would have needed to gain 50 pounds and 6 inches of height to even get close to the weight/height of the football players in my high school.

    Despite this, I was in the military for almost 19 years before an injury got me out.

    The only competitive sport I ever enjoyed was Underwater Hockey. (google it! It is an absolute blast) I was never into exercise, and so am not muscular, and now that I need exercise to help with my mobility and pain issues, I have no clue about how to do it. We had no weights setup in my schools, and going to the YMCA was out of my parents financial price range. So, I never learned sports or physical strengthening as I did not do PE classes in High School. In those days smaller kids got bullied a lot, and I avoided that by not being in those classes.

    It comes down to: not every kid is a sports kid. That is why there are other group activities out there!

    But they should have every opportunity to try things, and they should ALL learn how to swim. (Might save on a few drowning victims a year!) Not every kid will like the sports in school gym class, but being in organized sports will teach them many things, such as teamwork, work ethics, scheduling and responsibility.

    • @Dennis: I agree that not every child is interested in playing team sports, has musical ability or co-ordination for dancing and gymnastics, but there are so many other activities available now for any interests – a lot more than when I was a child – and they don’t have to be expensive, or even in an organized program.

      Kids need to try out different activities, both individually and with others. That’s how they learn.

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