What Extracurriculars are Most Beneficial for Children’s Development?

crop kid sitting on floor and writing in notebook
Photo by Sarah Dietz on Pexels.com

Extracurricular activities are about more than just giving your child something to do after school. When chosen thoughtfully, they can improve the student’s emotional, social, and intellectual development. They can help your child develop friendships, and enhance their learning beyond the classroom.

But which extracurriculars should they be focusing on? The answer to that question will depend largely on what they hope to accomplish. Sports may improve their physical health whereas academic groups—scholar bowl, chess club, debate team—may nurture their intellectual growth.

In this article, we take a look at which extracurriculars are most beneficial for your children’s development.


Kids are not a publicly traded organization. You can’t optimize their schedules for efficiency and growth at the cost of everything else. While it is good to encourage them to pursue activities that help them grow, it’s equally important to give them autonomy in choosing how to spend their free time.

The activities included below have specific benefits that we will describe. However, the “pitch,” you make to your child shouldn’t be in the “eat your green vegetables,” ballpark. It should excite them with an opportunity that compliments their interests and personality while encouraging growth.

Studies consistently show that any extracurricular involvement will help improve academic performance while also allowing the child to grow socially.

In other words, simply getting your get involved at school is a big win. All of that said, let’s get into it.

Team Sports

Team sports are the most common extracurricular activity. From a developmental perspective, team sports can be very beneficial in several key ways:

  • Grades improve: One could make the case that athletics teaches students discipline and hard work—both qualities that can help the child boost their GPA. School sports also usually have participation requirements that are strictly enforced. If the kids on the team can’t keep their grades up, they can’t play. For many, this is enough to inspire focus.
  • Relationships are forged: Students bond with each other on the court in ways that aren’t possible in a classroom. A true team can’t function without effective communication. As students learn how to work together on the field or court, they also develop personal bonds that often carry on into everyday life.
  • Values are formed: Sports aren’t about winning or losing. They are about learning important values that can be helpful at every stage of life. Teamwork. Communication. Perseverance. Humility. Sports simultaneously teach kids that they can do hard things, and that they can survive setbacks and defeat.

School sports also keep kids active. Most health experts recommend that school-aged children be active for at least an hour every day. That number may not sound like much, but it’s hard to hit when the child’s primary recreation activity involves a screen.

Academic Extracurriculars

Academic extracurricular activities like chess, scholar bowl, debate team, model U.N. speech, etc. give kids the opportunity to grow intellectually. Many of these activities have carry-over qualities that are common to sports. During scholar bowl, for example, you need to understand your teammates’ strengths and recognize your own weaknesses.

During student council, you learn how to communicate and work past differences. These activities stimulate intellectual growth by challenging students to learn something new. Like sports—and in fact, most extracurricular activities, they will also have participation requirements.

To be involved, the student will need to keep their grades at a certain level. They may also be expected to hit certain attendance requirements.

Side note: academic extracurriculars may assist in college preparation. Students who participate in any extracurricular—but particularly academic ones—are more likely to go to college than those who do not.

Learning an Instrument

Learning an instrument is strongly associated with stress reduction. Studies show that when you play a musical instrument, cortisol— one of the chemicals that causes stress in your brain—reduces significantly.

One reason may be that stress thrives in past or future orientation mindsets. Generally, when we worry, it is about something that has already happened or something we think will happen in the future. Most people living in safety and experiencing basic food security are not actively concerned with what is happening to them at the moment.

When your child plays their instrument, they don’t have much of an opportunity to focus on anything else.

Learning an instrument has also been shown to be a really effective way to boost cognitive development. Why? Brains need to be challenged in order to grow. Learning something new—like an instrument— challenges children to develop intellectually as they hone their skills.

Finally, learning a musical instrument has been shown to provide social benefits. Kids who know an instrument report higher levels of confidence and self-esteem than those who do not play one.

Performance Arts

The performing arts blend many of the benefits that we have already covered. To be in a stage or musical production, your child will:

  • Thrive in present-orientation: You can’t worry about homework or grade school hierarchies when your job is to walk out onto the stage as Sky Masterson in twenty-five seconds.
  • Collaboration: Stage productions also require a high level of teamwork and communication. Be the performance musical or dramatic, everyone on the stage is responding to and building upon each others’ signals.
  • Confidence: You need it to get and stage and do something that might feel a little unnatural or silly.

“Theatre kids,” often form close friendships that thrive on and off the stage. Performing arts programs are a great way for some kids to get out of their shells and enjoy an activity that is at once intellectually and socially stimulating.


Most parents wouldn’t consider forcing their child to sign up for this year’s spring production of “The Music Man.” They’ll recognize intuitively that their kid simply won’t be happy singing about bassoons every afternoon for three months.

That same leniency should be applied to all of these activities. You may want your kid in a sport, or in whatever prestige academic club or society you participated in when you were a kid. However, if your child isn’t interested in the activity, they probably won’t do well with it.

Don’t force it. Instead, recognize their interests and help them identify activities they will legitimately enjoy.

About Sensory Edge 533 Articles
At SensoryEdge our focus is to educate, inform, and inspire each person caring for children to be and do their very best. It is not always easy and sometimes we don't take action (or we take the wrong action) because of a lack of understanding the real issues. We hope that the conversations that occur here will help in some small way better the lives of children, their families, and the professionals who work with them. We are always looking for valuable contributions to our site so if you are interested in becoming a contributor contact us.