After-school activities strengthen the body and brain

UAB experts offer tips for selecting after-school activities.

School’s back and with it comes the need to buckle down to study. All work and no play, though, can dull the senses, and University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) experts recommend after-school play to help kids blow off steam and explore their creative side.

nycu_extracurricular_s“Studies show that extracurricular activity has positive associations correlated to school attachment, school completion/graduation and grade-point average,” said Sandra Sims, Ph.D., associate professor of human studies in the UAB School of Education.

“It has a positive effect on children and can increase self-confidence, promote responsibility, encourage kids to work as a team, provide an opportunity for new friendships and plant the seed for a life-long hobby or future career,” said Kimberly Kirklin, director of ArtPlay, the education and outreach initiative of UAB’s Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center.

There are many options from which to choose — team sports to ballet — with benefits aplenty.

“Besides the health benefits of exercise, research shows that physical activity can enhance mental clarity through the increase of blood flow and oxygen to the brain and improve academic achievement,” Sims said.

Experts suggest these things to consider when selecting activities:

  • Get them moving. “Extracurricular activities that involve aerobic activity and muscular strength such as recreational sport teams are an excellent choice,” Sims said. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children and adolescents should be active 60 minutes or more each day; most of these minutes should be aerobic activity. “Our bodies were designed to move and play, we just need to find activities that they enjoy,” Sims said.
  • Make it fun. “The main focus is to find an activity that your child enjoys,” Sims said. “You don’t want your kid going to an activity kicking and screaming. It should be a pleasure, not a pain.”
  • Start at home. Instead of trucking over to a facility, you can have after-school fun at home. “Walking, biking and hiking are inexpensive activities that can be great for the whole family,” Sims said.
  • Go solo. “Team sports are not for all children; however, they are an excellent choice for children who enjoy them,” Sims said. “Individual sports also are a great choice. Swimming, tennis and gymnastics are offered in many communities and are a great alternative to team sports.”
  • Find the inner artist. “The arts provide opportunities for children of all ages, personalities and abilities,” Kirklin said. “A more outgoing, athletic student may enjoy hip hop or modern dance classes or acting. A child who might prefer to work more independently could take a music class, visual art or creative writing.”
  • Don’t go in debt. “Don’t let money be a deterrent to exploring opportunities for your child,” Kirklin said. Many organizations, such as ArtPlay, offer financial assistance to ensure children can have access to quality arts experiences. For more information, visit www.ArtPlayASC.org or call 205-975-4769.
  • Don’t overdo it. “Balance is the key,” Sims said. “Overscheduling after-school hours with activities may cause burnout and fatigue. Don’t push children until they lose the joy of playing and competing.”

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