Extracurricular activities are just that, extra to the curriculum. In the case of education, extracurricular activities can enhance daily-taught subject areas or individual interests. These activities could include sports, dance, theater, crafting, speech/debate, or cooking, to name a few. In a normal situation, pre COVID-19, all extracurricular activities for students took place in a school environment without many restrictions, especially protocols that involved health safety.
Challenges Presented by COVID-19
The presence of COVID-19 in 2020 presented huge challenges and learning curves for all forms of education and the many extras that play a role in developing a well-rounded student. Teachers were of course faced with a gigantic task to teach through a screen. The students were no longer provided with one-on-one attention from the teacher, and students with various learning needs were forced to learn one way.
The days in front of an electronic device were long for both the teacher and the student, without any “outlets” or extracurricular activities to release the stress and anxiety created by this new classroom environment. Virtual learning during a time of isolation in most states forced schools to cancel all school-sponsored sports and all after school special interest clubs. All sports fields were closed, all indoor activities such as theaters or libraries were closed, and any activity that involved students being closer than six feet from one another were prohibited. The temporary cancellation of extracurricular events found students missing out on peer socialization, increasing lazy habits, and with a decline in creative energy.
Benefits of Extracurricular Activities
Extracurricular activities offer all students the opportunity to excel in an area that does not directly involve academics. These activities can boost a student’s confidence and help diminish any anxious feelings caused by possible academic demands. Activities outside of school also allow for much needed unstructured socialization for students. Many students develop friendships with peers through outside activities.
Students from various schools in an area gather to participate in extracurricular activities and these opportunities provide diversity for students that may attend schools with limited diversity. Many extracurricular activities lend students a chance to develop a sense of leadership as the activity could involve growth with leveled challenges for advancement within it. The development and growth of student confidence is another benefit of extracurricular activities.
The social-emotional connections through interactions with peers and/or coaches or instructors mold and enhance a student’s personality, problem-solving abilities, personal opinions, and advocacy and decision-making skills.
The addition of extracurricular activities for school age children provides great benefits toward the development of a well-rounded child; going without these activities, even temporarily, can cause adverse reactions in a student’s developmental growth.
Tips on Facilitating Extracurricular Activities
Before attempting to resume extracurricular activities in a student’s schedule, it is the responsibility of the school to construct health safety protocols for all participants and instructors. The protocols and enforcement of protocols must be consistent and taken seriously. Each school should inquire with the local health department to understand quarantine guidelines for COVID-19 exposures and/or positive COVID-19 test results. All decisions involving temperature checking, face coverings, and group capacity requirements will vary from state to state. Once schools determine the appropriate health safety protocols for the students, the planning of extracurricular activities can begin.
Behind the Screen
Now that most students are familiar with virtual meeting platforms, opportunities for students to continue in speech/debate programs or multi-step instructed programs such as art classes, karate, or dance lessons could be delivered through a screen. The many meeting applications have capabilities for breakout groups that allow the instructors to meet with small groups or individual students and provide personalized instruction.
Schools could also host extracurricular family events for a school community through virtual meetings, with events such as a game night, large scale crafting, or a student talent night bringing the school community together with fun and camaraderie. These behind the screen extracurricular activities are probably the safest when needing to limit or eliminate contact with others.
Organizing school-sponsored sports teams involves mandatory health safety protocols for participants and coaches. A limited number of participants may be required, and practice days and times could be adjusted to decrease total number of participants gathering at one time. Schools would all lean more toward outdoor sports than indoor sports. Indoor sports would require many different health safety protocols.
Elementary schools could organize noncompetitive sports activities, taking place outside only, such as tennis lessons, soccer, basketball, baseball skills, or even karate instruction. The fall and spring months in most places are usually the best times of a year for outdoor athletic activities. When the winter months arrive, schools can limit capacity and host noncompetitive sports opportunities inside a school gymnasium.
Most in-person extracurricular activities can be transferred outside for meetings; this would include scout programs and many middle and high school leadership clubs. After school clubs that require equipment only available indoors could divide the large groups into two groups to meet the local COVID-19 protocols for gatherings. The normally large group separated into two groups, group A and group B, could be arranged to meet on two different days, creating a hybrid system. The two groups would alternate and a live streaming could take place for the group not in the school building.
Outdoor Social Distancing
Schools can organize small book clubs for students to meet outside to participate in book discussions. Each student could bring a lawn chair and sit in a circle formation that allows for six feet of separation between students. A variety of other groups could meet using this format to discuss other topics like science and history or share Lego creations.
Extracurricular activities are necessary, expected, and valuable for students of all ages. Students need the opportunity to achieve success outside of the classroom or attempt an activity that sparks students’ interests and may later ignite a future passion that could inspire a career. As educators we owe our students the safe opportunity for extracurricular activities even during a pandemic.