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Exploring the benefits of extra-curricular activities

With so many options out there, let’s delve into the various benefits of different types of activities for our children. By Kate Barber

These days there seems to be an extra-curricular activity or club to engage the interests of every child – whether they want to play the piano or golf, do roller-skating or taekwondo, join a chess club or Brownies. With so many options, and considering the significant costs and logistical challenges, it’s worth thinking about the benefits of some of these. 

It is also important to find out what our kids are into. Because feeling good about themselves and having fun are so important when it comes to reaping all the other advantages. As neuroscience educator Nathan Wallis says, “Every child should have the opportunity to flourish in whatever pursuits match their strengths and passions”. While they may get a taste for different activities at school, the curriculum doesn’t cater to all children equally, he says. Some, like the more right-brained children who love dance and movement, for instance, may miss out on opportunities to have their strengths nurtured.

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As Nathan says, there are huge neurological advantages for children who learn a musical instrument. The auditory and motor regions of their brains light up and their cognitive function and concentration is boosted through learning to internalise rhythm. There are also recognisable connections between learning an instrument and supporting their maths ability.There are also tremendous benefits to kids’ sense of identity and mental health when music makes their hearts sing.  


Corina Hazlett teaches art classes to children from all backgrounds. “We all know that the arts encourage creativity and engage the imagination, but the arts spill over into other areas of children’s lives” – like maths, science, culture and the physical world. She adds that, “Art is a great leveller. You don’t have to be the smartest or fastest in the class. There is no wrong way to do something. Art also transcends language barriers and can give children a voice when they may be reluctant to speak.”


Dale Hartley runs Hartley School of Performing Arts. “Not just for those kids who want to perform,” Dale says that “drama and the performing arts teach children to have confidence in themselves, to build emotional and social understanding, and to learn about working with others and overcoming fears. Classes in performing arts are invaluable for building connected and resilient children.”

Interestingly, Nathan Wallis mentioned that, of all the activities and sports he tried growing up, it was theatre sports that “best set [him] up for adulthood.”


Hayden Wilmott is the Canterbury-Buller Okinawan Goju Ryu Karate sensei. He says that martial arts can dramatically improve the mental and physical health of any child. In addition to improving how they use their bodies, “the structure, discipline and focus which martial arts is based upon is amazing for helping kids learn how to concentrate and narrow their focus to a singular task”. Hayden says that “Martial arts allows kids to find their true strength and power and is a fantastic way to release built up emotion and frustration.”


The physical benefits of sport are obvious. Of course, improvements in physical health feed into the emotional and mental wellbeing of children, and participation in sport also grows social skills and friendship. According to a spokesperson from Sport Canterbury, “Participation at all levels provides challenges that can lead to the development of important mental and emotional skills, which enhance the ability to learn, as well as develop self-confidence, resilience and a sense of identity. Sport can also bring people together and create a sense of belonging to teams, communities and places.”


If you’re still looking for something outside of school that they will love, there are numerous clubs or special-interest groups out there, from Scouts to the Hato Hone St John Youth Programme. Perhaps a coding club might satisfy your problem-solving superstar, or a writing club might inspire your budding author.    

Many of the benefits apply to all these activities – like being organised and committed, developing a sense of identity and belonging, building confidence and resilience, and growing friendships with peers and trusting relationships with older role-models. And HAVING FUN – let’s not forget that.

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