By the time kids reach the upper elementary or middle school years, they're ready to take on more responsibility and expand their worlds beyond the home and school. Extracurricular activities give tweens something to look forward to. They also promote learning, offer new social opportunities and help kids understand how the things they learn in school work in the real world.
Because they're still exploring their own identities, tweens can have a multitude of interests. One or two meaningful after school activities each week allow them to develop targeted interests without overwhelming either of you with scheduling woes.
Check out our recommendations for 10 different great after school activities on the next pages.
For burning off excess adolescent energy, you can't beat sports. Fortunately, there's a wide range of sports year-round for boys and girls. Many can be adapted to include kids with disabilities, too.
What might interest tweens the most about sports is that each new season brings the opportunity to try a different activity. Both team and individual sports help build strength, confidence and sportsmanship. Look for programs through your child's school, your local parks and recreation department, or the YMCA.
Between growth spurts and voice changes, tweens often feel awkward in body and expression. When all else seems to be spinning out of control, music and art are outlets that let kids channel energy through their minds and hands. Both activities also reinforce math skills.
If your child's school doesn't offer after school band or art club, check around your community for a youth symphony, community band or arts association. Individual lessons are another option. You could also provide your child and some friends with a few materials and a space to be creative. Hosting the art club or letting the garage band practice at your home shows support for your tween's talents and keeps you in the loop.
Is your tween a natural ham? Consider getting him or her into performing arts through drama, comedy, chorus or dance. Even if your child quails under the spotlight, don't rule out performing arts. There are opportunities backstage for kids who are less comfortable under the scrutiny of an audience. Look for programs at:
- Local schools
- Community theaters and playhouses
- Drama or comedy clubs for youth
- Ballet schools
- Local arts associations
For boys and girls, scouting is an after school activity that offers something new every week. Scouts learn a variety of interesting and useful skills, and then work together or individually to practice those skills and reach a certain level of proficiency. Merit badges reward various achievements.
On a less obvious level, scouting builds leaderships skills. As troops grow and mature together, the scouts assume more responsibility for the direction, planning and successful completion of activities and outings. Scouting is a fun after school activity that helps kids become confident, well-rounded individuals.
School clubs offer opportunities for kids to share interests, build academic skills and socialize -- all important activities for tweens. And they aren't limited to books, chess and debate anymore. Many clubs are mini-adventures in entrepreneurship, moving kids from concept to design, construction, and deployment of real products, such as a robotic arm that extends reach, or handmade blankets for homeless shelters.
If your child has an interest that isn't represented in an existing school club, talk to administrators about starting a new club. Often, you only need a few like-minded students and a teacher to sponsor it.
No matter where you live, there's bound to be an organization that needs volunteers. Putting in kid hours on a service project is a great after school activity on many levels. Your child builds community connections, makes a positive impact on something that's important to him or her, and gains a sense of accomplishment by working toward a goal. Just a few of the volunteer possibilities open to tweens include cleaning up a neighborhood stream, packing groceries into bags for a local food pantry, or helping out an animal rescue center.
Community service is an important part of scouting and some school clubs, such as Junior Beta. Local churches and community service organizations like United Way and Rotary Club are other good resources for supervised tween volunteer opportunities.
These days, kids get inundated with fancy gadgets early on. Gardening is a great way to get them away from video screens and into the natural world.
Programs like Junior Master Gardeners help kids discover the magical circle of life. Active, hands-on work in the soil gives them an appreciation of the balance and resilience of nature, and confidence in their ability to make a positive environmental impact. It might even lower your grocery bill, too.
Everybody needs a hobby, and tweens are no exception. Your babes may have been collecting rocks since they were toddlers. Now's the time to think about your tween's interests and abilities, and encourage something a little more challenging.
Some hobbies, like woodworking, fishing and photography, are individual pursuits. Others lend themselves to more social climates. Knitting groups, for example, encourage tweens to do something they enjoy while socializing and sharing skills. And ham radio hobbyists absolutely need another person on the receiving end.
If you're lucky, you and your child will share a hobby interest. Working side-by-side on a pleasurable project is great quality time. And you're likely to learn something from each other.
It may not rank high on the fun scale, but tutoring can be a rewarding after school activity. If your child is struggling, the extra focus can help him or her clear learning hurdles. Gaining understanding of the troublesome topic raises competency, confidence and grades.
On the other hand, if your tween has a spectacular grasp of a certain subject, he or she can gain character points like patience and compassion by tutoring peers or younger students. Tutoring others gives even high-achieving students a deeper understanding of the subject tackled.
Reading for pleasure is an after school activity that works in every weather. And it's something your child can do even when he or she is sick.
Don't think you need to limit your tween to books on the required reading list from school. Reading for pleasure means having the freedom to choose from books, magazines, newspapers and quality Internet sources. These types of reading can raise test scores -- offering a variety of reading materials actually encourages kids to read more, too. In addition, reading broadens your tween's horizons, builds vocabulary and language skills, and takes them on grand adventures without any expense or travel -- except to the local library.
Forts are fun for kids and adults. See 10 forts to build with kids to create the ultimate play experience.
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- 5 Things a Teacher Won't Tell You about Your Kid
- 5 Things to Know About Managing Family Schedules
- How the Rotary Club Works
- How the Boy Scouts Work
- How the Girl Scouts Work
- How to Make a Schedule for Kids After School
- After-school Fun: Making the Most of You Kid's Time
- What are some good after-school jobs for tweens?
- When should a child be tested for ADHD?
- Beck, Evelyn. "Choosing-After School Activities." SchoolFamily.com. Jan. 21, 2010. (Dec. 2, 2010) http://www.schoolfamily.com/school-family-articles/article/821-choosing-after-school-activities
- Bochan, Toby Leah. "Best Bets for After School." Scholastic Parents. (Dec. 2, 2010) http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=1294
- Gordon, Carol and Ya-Ling Lu, Associate Professors, School of Communication, Information, and Library Studies, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. "I Hate to Read -- Or Do I?: Low Achievers and Their Reading." American Library Association. (Dec. 2, 2010) http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/aasl/aaslpubsandjournals/slmrb/slmrcontents/volume11/ALA_print_layout_1_522467_522467.cfm
- Littlefield, Jamie. "How to Inspire Your Tween to Volunteer." Charity Guide. (Dec. 10, 2010) http://charityguide.org/volunteer/motivation/tween.htm