Through the Eyes of an Educator: Join Things! (The Benefits of Extracurriculars)

by Stacey Ebert / Oct 04, 2021 /
Stacey Ebert's picture

It’s October. Many school children in the northern hemisphere have now been in school for over a month. Amidst the clamour of all things Covid, schools have gotten back to it. Whether in person, remote, or hybrid, the back to school honeymoon period is waning and we’re full throttle into all things learning. So now what? As the weather turns from summer’s warmth to autumn’s cooler days and soccer, band, theater arts, and more pick up speed, will your student be in the midst of organizations, meetings, and activities, or choose to spend their time in a different way? 

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Join Things! (The Benefits of Extracurriculars)

We already know that there are far more things that make up an education than solely reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic. We know that there’s social emotional learning, unquantifiable character development, and traits and talents that are nowhere to be found on a grading rubric. We know that it sure does take a village to enhance the education of a child and that experiences, energy, and engaging with others add much to an individual’s story. 

So, when the rigorous coursework is underway and the extras of education shine their light, do you join? How do you figure out where your interests lie? What if you don’t know anyone else interested in the same things? What if you’re shy? What if it seems way too scary? What if you’re not sure if you’re ready? What if all of your friends think it’s weird? What if you’re not sure of the time commitment? As the ‘what ifs’ of the extracurricular path sometimes cloud the initial interest, take a deep breath, gather your courage, and give it a go. 

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Join Things! (The Benefits of Extracurriculars)

In my own personal experience, joining extracurricular activities is what made me, well, me. It was life after the last bell rang that made not only high school for me, but also my teaching career. It was the friends I made in youth groups, the leadership experiences I had in planning high school and university events, the mentors who quite literally changed my story along the way, and the students I was privileged to guide through their own journeys - for me, extracurriculars added the sparkle to my entire educational journey—including the career one. 

As an involved student, I lived the experience. Showing up when you knew no one, and were unsure of what to expect from the meeting or event. As an advisor, I was humbled by the quiet students, the loud ones, the leaders, the followers, the joiners, the artists, the engineers, the athletes, the kid in every single club and the ones who picked one to try, the unsure ones, the eager ones, the volunteers, those seeking a safe haven, the ones who stayed until the very last bit of the room was cleaned up, the ones who came for the snacks, the ones who made my life easier, and the ones who made my life interesting...all of them, each and every student with their own extraordinary story and own unique needs. 

Today, I count myself lucky to continue to be in contact with mentors who mean the world to me and to be in the lives of students who graced the walls of clubs I facilitated. The teenagers who decided their path in my room, who helped a friend, who realized their worth, who took on new roles, who lead even when it was hard, who commanded attention, who learned how to run an event, who figured out how to manage volunteers, who held their ground with adults, and who continue to do their best to make their small corner of the world a better place for all—I consider it a privilege to know each and every one. They may not have known it then, but those groups, those organizations, those sports, those activities, those experiences, and those people taught them something. 

Perhaps it was courage, self-worth, compassion, leadership, partnership, sportsmanship, creativity, fairness, humility, strength, talent, the desire to help, a new skill, a new relationship, mentorship, the importance of inclusion and equity, wisdom, grace, patience, persistence, responsibility, the significance of being their authentic self, a place to be heard, a safe space to be themselves or one of a million other life lessons that may only sometimes show up on pages of texts but are truly lived in a three dimensional life—we may not have exact data, but the lived experience says it’s so.

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Join Things! (The Benefits of Extracurriculars)

To all of those present day students and the forever ones: it’s okay to be afraid, it’s okay to be uncertain, it’s okay to not know what you’re doing. Join the thing anyway. Show up, give it a try—you always have the power to change your mind. 

Six benefits of joining extracurricular activities

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Join Things! (The Benefits of Extracurriculars)

Learn Things

So often we let fear or doubt win the day. Take a beat and remember your strengths, those special things that make you, well, you. By joining an organization, you’ll learn even more about yourself—and along the way discoveries, awareness, and perhaps even new dreams will take shape. By stepping outside that comfort zone and showing up for others, you just might find out that you’re truly able to show up for yourself. In the end, you’ll never know what you’re capable of until you try.

Get Those People Skills

Regardless of the title we give them—people skills, soft skills, or life skills— they’re vital to our growth and development. In any club, sport, or activity, there’s often a lot of people, different abilities, varied mindsets, a plethora of personalities, and a multitude of individual idiosyncrasies. Being a part of a group means learning to navigate and work together with others. By being a member of an organization, we develop facets within our skillset that perhaps were previously untapped. Those things we learned in kindergarten, those sometimes unspoken lessons, and the otherwise loud ones? We gain them through sharing a world with others. It’s through those activities and lessons we don’t even know are taking place that we hone those people skills that continue to play a role in our life-long journeys.

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Join Things! (The Benefits of Extracurriculars)

Meet All Sorts of Humans

Some of us have a friend group of people just like us, while others create a space where our friends might be completely different than us. By increasing your access to people through a shared interest, your world explodes with nuance and diversity. The organization is what brings you together; the rest comes with the territory. You get the opportunity to share a bit of yourself and learn other’s stories along the way. Backgrounds, hobbies, skills, experiences, opinions, upbringings, culture, culinary treats...you name it, the more people interact, the more we learn. It’s these types of experiences that remind us of our similarities more than our differences, and provide us all with a broader education than we may find in a textbook.

Experience Leadership & Gain Those Skills

Remember a time when someone put you in charge of something? Perhaps you wanted that responsibility and perhaps you didn’t...but there’s a possibility that someone encouraged you and saw something in you that you didn’t. We may not all be leaders, but we can learn leadership skills. Working with others, managing volunteers, dealing with fluid and sometimes difficult people and situations, taking on the responsibility and having the courage and determination to see it through are just a few of the heaps of aspects of leadership. Leading by example allows others to see how it can be done and perhaps decide how they’d do it differently. Picture someone you hold up as a great leader. What aspects of that individual resonate with you? Do your best to inhabit the best of those character traits, yet don’t be afraid to do it your way. Whether your club was led by a great leader, or you learned how to be one in it, or even learned that the role of a leader was not for you...through that experience, you become a more knowledgeable, stronger you.

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Join Things! (The Benefits of Extracurriculars)

Enhance your Social/Emotional Learning 

Social emotional learning is a vital part of development and the educational experience. According to the global organization Committee for Children, social-emotional learning is ‘the process of developing the self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills that are vital for school, work, and life success.’ Truly, it’s the part of development that helps us access the traits to be good humans. Enhancing our abilities to develop and maintain positive relationships, practice empathy, cultivate problem-solving skills, make responsible decisions while being aware of ourselves and our greater community are only a few facets of that SEL. Working within our organizations provides community and engages our senses of compassion for that world outside of ourselves. 

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Join Things! (The Benefits of Extracurriculars)

Expand your Community

When you volunteer, join a group, are part of a team, participate in an activity, or a member of an organization, your community grows. With each step, each meeting, each event, each connection, your world expands. Outside of our own tiny bubbles, there are millions—billions—of others who can enhance our worlds if only we let them in. There are people to help, people to teach and those who teach us, friends to lend hands, and the feeling of being a part of something greater than ourselves. That feeling, that commitment, that community stays with us for far longer than we might even be a part of it. The shared experiences and understandings create a lifelong connection that can lead to later life networking, meditative scrapbooking moments, and stories that fill our souls. 

I can’t stress enough how beneficial those afterschool activities are. Whether they provide skills, friends, mentors, connections, experiences, memories, business opportunities, stories, laughter, community, or solely the knowledge that you gave it a try, it’s worth it.

Give it a try—I believe in you.

 

Stacey Ebert, our Educational Travels Editor, is a traveler at heart who met her Australian-born husband while on a trip in New Zealand. Stacey was an extracurricular advisor and taught history in a Long Island public high school for over fifteen years, enjoying both the formal and informal educational practices. After a one year 'round the world honeymoon, travel and its many gifts changed her perspective. She has since left the educational world to focus on writing and travel. She is energetic and enthusiastic about long term travel, finding what makes you happy and making the leap. In her spare time she is an event planner, yogi, dark chocolate lover, and spends as much time as possible with her toes in the sand.

 

Check out her website at thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com for more of her travel musings.