Dr. Michael Biggs on the benefits of after school fun.
The new academic year offers children the excitement of a new start with new opportunities. Not only is it a move to the next grade or year group, for some it may also be a new school, even a new country!
Recent arrivals will generally be delighted to find great teachers building positive learning environments supported by excellent facilities and learning resources in the UAE schools. Many of these schools have impressive co-curricular and extracurricular programmes that enhance the curriculum and offer real learning opportunities for their students.
Extracurricular activities offer opportunities to make new friends, to build confidence and self-esteem. They introduce new skills and competencies that enhance the more academic programmes in schools. They can encourage healthy lifestyles, raise fitness levels, body awareness and coordination, commitment, team attitudes and a sense of competition. The talents and skills of others also offer role models that can raise the bar by encouraging positive attitudes in striving for personal best.
Activities that move youngsters out of their comfort zones open up new areas that could become important in their lives. This could lead to vocational routes or just a way of relaxing in the future.
In good schools, creative thinking and the Arts are an integral part of the curriculum. However, all too often, they are left to chance as extracurricular activities. If this is the case, do encourage your youngster to get involved in the Arts where they are given the opportunity to explore, see and think differently. Arts related activities create safe learning environments that allow the students to raise and address difficult questions and ideas, to take risks and to find innovative solutions and outcomes. Moreover, some expatriate parents worry about a watering down of their own culture in the lives of their children when away from home. The Arts and cultural activities can help the youngsters to ‘connect’ to their culture, as well as others, and offer a context in which to understand who they are. The performing arts are undoubtedly great confidence builders.
The benefits of our digital world are a given. However, many parents are concerned about the consuming nature of digital games and the social media. When these are all consuming, concerns are now being raised about these children not developing necessary social interaction skills. These are the skills that allow us to connect to people and build relationships by reading the signals being displayed: body language, intonation in language and so forth. Extracurricular activities can help in this area.
Parents naturally want to give their children the best start in life that they can and in our competitive world, this appears to manifest as a focus on academic grades and examinations. In the Gulf, private tutoring after school is also an outcome of this. Both can, inadvertently, add pressure and stress to the lives of children. It is, therefore, important to think carefully about the motives for creating these extra pressures and ensure that the youngsters have balance in their lives. Extracurricular activities can create this balance by providing a different focus and means of relaxing for an hour or so away from these pressures.
An impressive range of extracurricular activities can also be found beyond the schools with much being offered in the wider community. Many of these activities have a commercial basis and it is wise to ensure that they are licensed, safe, age appropriate and offer value for money. Some good activities can also be found in other schools where open access offers the programmes to all.
In preparing our youngsters for the unique challenges of the future it is now so important to think beyond the confines of the traditional classroom. The real power of learning can be seen in the convergence of formal and informal modes of learning. Co and extracurricular activities are very much part of this learning process and can positively support growing up by developing social skills, introducing new friends and generally enhancing youngsters’ lives. Activities can be fun, challenge, stretch and introduce new skills. They build confidence, self-esteem, core competencies and lead to broader balanced socially aware and responsible young people, which, by the way, also enhances a school, university or job application in the future!
Dr. Michael Biggs is a Senior Education Consultant with WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, the UAE’s dedicated school guide. He has held senior educational posts in the Middle East for more than 25 years including serving as Head Teacher at JESS Arabian Ranches.