Make Smart Choices for After-School Activities


Published:

The demands of schoolwork may cause you to hesitate when considering after-school activities. Although you don't want to overload your child's schedule, the academic, social and physical benefits of extracurricular programs are hard to ignore.

The Afterschool Alliance, an information clearinghouse and advocacy group, reports kids who participate in after-school programs have better school attendance, higher grades and loftier aspirations about graduation and college attendance. They're less likely to use drugs or get into trouble with police and — because they log less screen time — at a lower risk of obesity. Kids also develop social and leadership skills in after-school programs as they interact with peers in cooperative roles and mentoring relationships. That's an impressive list of benefits.

What to consider

Do your homework before signing your child up for an activity. The following guidelines help you sort the best from the rest:

Content – If possible, let kids choose activities based on their personal interests, says Susan Kuczmarski, Ed.D, author of The Sacred Flight of the Teenager: A Parent's Guide to Stepping Back and Letting Go. Help your children find activities that reflect who they are and what they want to learn, instead of imposing your preferences on them. Kids flourish when they're deeply engaged.

Quality – After-school programs aren't created equal. The best programs offer much more than homework help, says Sara Hill, senior consultant for the National Institute on Out-of-School Time. Discipline-based activities that allow kids to create a quality product over a period of time are best, she says. For instance, kids might learn math and science by building a boat, or practice art and leadership by putting on a play.

Staffing – You're looking for more than a babysitter. Staff members should be professionals with bona fide skills and experiences. Programs with strong community connections usually have the best resources, Hill says. Kids may get to work with artists, scientists and athletes from local organizations, such as museums and colleges. These opportunities expose kids to real-life role models.

Movement – After-school sports show kids the value of practice and encourage persistence, but the benefits of exercise are even bigger. John Ratey, M.D., associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, prescribes exercise for kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (and everyone else) because it boosts moods, relieves stress, and improves learning and memory. Being a jock is anything but dumb.

Leadership – Extracurricular activities, including sports and clubs, are ideal places for kids to explore and practice what it means to be a group leader, Kuczmarski says. When kids take responsibility for organizing group work and producing results, they learn valuable social skills. Encourage your child to take on leadership roles whenever possible.

n     Logistics – Rather than causing burnout, after-school activities can provide balance to a class schedule that is overly academic if locations and timing fit your lifestyle, Kuczmarski says. It's OK to keep kids busy, but avoid signing on to so many programs that you'll be scrambling from one to the next. Pay attention to cost as well. Good programs don't necessarily cost big bucks. Many quality programs receive funding from grants and community partnerships.

As you weigh the options, Hill advises keeping this goal in mind: You want your child to be a well-rounded citizen and a healthy, happy person. After-school activities can provide enrichment, adventure and variety. They shouldn't be driven by high-stakes testing or be box-fillers for college applications. Kids don't want to participate in programs that are just more school after school.

The good news, Hill says, is innovative programs promote learning without rote or repetition. If you can't find quality after-school activities near you, contact your school district to advocate for programs you'd like to see. Out-of-school shouldn't mean out-of-opportunities.  n

Heidi Smith Luedtke is a freelance writer, personality psychologist, mother of two and former educator.

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June 2019

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Cost: $12/resident, $16/nonresident

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Carrboro Cybrary
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Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

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Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
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Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

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Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
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Orange County Main Library
137 W Margaret Ln
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Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
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Orange County Main Library
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Cost: $2/resident, $3/nonresident

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Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
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White Plains United Methodist Church
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Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Cost: Free

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Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
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East Regional Library
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Cost: Free

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White Plains United Methodist Church
313 S.E. Maynard Rd.
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Cost: $5

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Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
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Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
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Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
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Cost: Free

Where:
IngenuiTea Kombucha Coffee & Tea
514 E Williams St
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Sponsor: IngenuiTea Brews
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Vacation Bible School includes dinner. Register at wpumc.com/vbs

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White Plains United Methodist Church
313 S.E. Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
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Cost: Free

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East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Court
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Cost: $9/resident, $11/nonresident

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Bond Park Community Center
801 High House Rd.
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Cost: FREE

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Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
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Cost: Free

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5 E. Edenton St.
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Cost: Free

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319 S. Academy St.
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Cost: $5

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Drive
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Marti Kane
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Parent and child ages 2-5 water plants in the native wildflower gardens. Register online. Choose course #124907.

Cost: Free

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
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Join Optimist Aquatic Center as thousands of kids and adults around the world unite for the world's largest swimming lesson. The World's Largest Swimming Lesson will celebrate its 10th...

Cost: Free

Where:
Optimist Aquatic Center
5902 Whittier Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Cost: Free

Where:
East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Court
Knightdale, NC  27545
View map »


Website »

More information

Vacation Bible School includes dinner. Register at wpumc.com/vbs

Cost: Free

Where:
White Plains United Methodist Church
313 S.E. Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Sponsor: White Plains UMC
Telephone: 919-467-9394
Contact Name: Michele Vansteen
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Every year on June 21, we enjoy the most hours of sunlight during the whole year. Discover the science and cultural celebrations behind this special summer day. Make a pretty sun catcher to hang in...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

What do Historic Yates Mill County Park and the woodland faeries have in common? They both love nature! Take a short walk near the millpond to search for evidence of faeries (sightings are not...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
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Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
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Enjoy magic, storytelling and origami with Yasu Ishida. Grades K-5.

Cost: Free

Where:
East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Court
Knightdale, NC  27545
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Cost: Free

Where:
Pine State Coffee
1614 Automotive Way
Raleigh, NC  27604
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Sponsor: Raleigh Night Market
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Cost: Free

Where:
White Plains United Methodist Church
313 S.E. Maynard Rd.
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Sponsor: White Plains UMC
Telephone: 919-467-9394
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Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Every year on June 21, we enjoy the most hours of sunlight during the whole year. Discover the science and cultural celebrations behind this special summer day. Make a pretty sun catcher to hang in...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Cost: $12/person. Free for ages 2 and younger.

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Cost: Free

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Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
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Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Cost: Free

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721 Foster St.
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Sponsor: March of Dimes/Duke Family Medicine
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Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Sponsor: Vollmer Farm
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