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Archive for Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Quitting extracurricular activities a divisive issue

January 17, 2006

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Often, new opportunities bring new choices and new decisions that must be made. I would like to share the circumstances of a decision that can be difficult, a decision involving very strong feelings, whatever the outcome.

Decades ago, when I attended a small, rural high school, the available extracurricular activities were few and often gender-based. No sports were available for girls; they were cheerleaders or belonged to the pep club. Boys were scarce in Future Teachers of America or Make It With Wool. 4-H offered variety outside of school, and my high school had class plays. Swimming lessons were available for children during the summer, as was American Legion Baseball for boys of differing ages.

A few weeks ago, my granddaughter participated in a chess tournament on a Saturday morning, then played team basketball in the afternoon. She has played baseball and soccer, attended volleyball camp and learned to swim. She is just in fourth grade. The city of Lawrence, sports clubs, the Lawrence Arts Center and the public and independent schools offer an incredible variety of extracurricular activities.

Every study I've read indicates that extracurricular (some schools call them co-curricular) activities are important and valuable. The studies show that students of all ages who participate in them have higher grades, fewer truancies, fewer discipline problems and are more successful in college. Whether good students tend to participate or participation helps create good students is not really the issue. Participation can support cultural heritages, teach diversity, pep up a college application, require time management, improve health, create new skills and interests, and, above all, they can be fun.

That last word can be the basis of the decision I mentioned in the first paragraph: your son or daughter participates in an activity for a short time, then wants to quit. When I discussed this issue with a number of parents, the sides were quickly drawn. Some views could be summed up as, "I am not going to let my child learn to be a quitter. We all have to see things through. Most of the time they learn to enjoy the activity with a little time and patience."

The other group of parents voiced these feelings: "If they opt in, they can opt out. Why make someone miserable if the enjoyment is not there? If they aren't allowed to quit if they want, then the term extracurricular is invalid."

I certainly would not be willing or able to say which side is right. That is determined by each individual circumstance, age, type of activity and the reason for the participant's desire to quit. I believe, however, that there are options before the actual activity begins that may help avoid the need for a decision regarding quitting:

¢ Find out how consuming the activity can be. A team that has practices for two hours on weekdays and games on weekends would require an intense commitment of time and energy.

¢ Try to contact the coach, sponsor or supervisor with questions before the activity begins. Try to get a feel for the requirements, attendance policies and skills needed.

¢ Try to determine the reason for your child's interest in the activity. Someone joining because of boredom or pressure from friends would seem less likely to adapt to an activity than someone pursuing an established interest.

¢ Remember the danger of overload. An activity itself may be a good fit, but too many activities can dilute the enjoyment and create a rushed, mandatory atmosphere. Look for signs that your child is too busy, such as interference with school or signs of physical stress. Set priorities.

Joan Bergstrom, child resource specialist, says that younger children especially should be made to stick with an activity for at least six weeks. The Nemours Foundation states, "Sometimes it's just not the right match. Saying no can be mature and responsible."

Parents may find that the answer for them depends on open discussion of why their son or daughter wants to quit the activity.

- Werner Anderson teaches English as Bishop Seabury Academy and has been an educator for more than 30 years.

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