The return of school can be nerve-wracking for parents and kids alike. As parents, we worry about classes, whether our kids are comfortable, and if they're getting the attention from teachers that they need. Equally important, we want our kids to have the opportunity and encouragement to learn. This might include resources tailored to individual reading levels or the promotion of STEM for girls. Recent research suggests that social and emotional learning can be just as important for kids as traditional learning, helping to develop self-esteem, encourage social behavior, reduce anxiety, and improve academic results.
With this in mind, I thought it could be helpful to list some activities that virtually all children can do. My team at Adventure to Fitness works with millions of kids in community centers, at home, or in over 20,000 elementary schools. Here are some of our favorite activities:
Computer Clubs -- These are no longer a group of guys sitting around playing computer games and programming in BASIC like I remember. They're now filled with a much more diverse set of students who are learning practical skills, such as designing and building stunning web pages or mobile apps. For example, Girls Who Code focuses on sparking interest in coding among high school girls, while many elementary/middle schools and community centers offer programs for younger boys and girls.
Maker Clubs -- Maker clubs are focused on creating physical objects, as opposed to software, essentially DIY projects for electronics, robotics, and 3-D printing. A growing number of schools and community centers have maker clubs for kids, which use fun and self-fulfillment to encourage informal, networked, peer-led, and shared learning. Like computer clubs, these allow nearly every child to participate, regardless of gender, race, or socioeconomic level. This link can help you find a club in your area.
Martial Arts -- Whether it's karate, tae kwon do, judo or another form, nearly every child can participate in martial arts. Kids learn discipline and self-control, can gain confidence and self-esteem, and are challenged to develop at their own pace. In addition, studies have shown that martial arts can help children not only with physical fitness and motor skill development, but also with improving cognitive performance.
Pizza Parties and Cooking Lessons -- While cooking may have been associated with women traditionally, pizza parties and cooking classes are growing trends for all kids. They're fun and reinforce educational topics like language arts (recipes) and math (measurements and time). They also offer the opportunity to sneak in messages about nutrition and healthy living.
Museum Programs -- Many museums offer after-school or weekend activities to make art, history or science fun and approachable for kids. These programs encourage creative exploration and self-expression. Look up a children's museum near you with this handy directory.
Sports & Physical Activity -- Sports have always been viewed as great ways to teach kids about sportsmanship, focus, and teamwork. The success of the women's soccer teams in the World Cup and basketball teams in the Olympics have encouraged girls to participate in both sports. Parents don't need to recoil in fear if their child isn't the biggest or the fastest because most leagues now have teams at all skill levels. Similarly, educational fitness programs like ours take kids on exciting adventures through history or time, where they learn and get their recommended physical activity, regardless of the time of day, weather outside, or availability of local fields and parks. The kids compete with on-screen characters, versus each other, and learn lifelong lessons in health while encouraging them to become good global citizens.
Language Classes -- With the introduction of interactive resources and activities, the days of rote memorization that many of us remember are long gone. Instead, kids can now “participate” via video and games to learn not just nouns and verbs, but also the history, geography, and culture associated with a different language. Video conferencing (e.g., Skype or Google Hangouts) furthers the experience by allowing children to converse with native speakers and meet other kids from around the world. We see significant growth in afterschool programs involving foreign languages, as well as a growth in computer-based resources that can be done at home.
The wide variety of activities available to kids today is incredibly exciting. They provide opportunities for all kids to explore new areas and break out of traditional roles and comfort zones. Children's activities are also increasingly available to all children, regardless of age, athletic ability, or socioeconomic level.