Local programs build kids’ confidence, skills for a brighter future
Extracurricular activities offer so much more for kids than just something to do after school.
Whether it’s the local YMCA, a theater group, a sports team or a club, after-school programs give children opportunities to expand their horizons, learn new skills and make new friends, say local program leaders.
Ideally, joining new communities and trying new activities help children become more well-rounded for their futures, said Josh Hill, programs manager at the Boulder Rock Club.
“Climbing is a new outlet of not just physical activity but also learning socialization and community. Our focus is definitely on the technical and physical side of learning how to climb but also the joy of learning to be in a new community,” Hill said.
Some children may come from an environment where they feel they lack control. “Climbing is an empowering tool, and not just for kiddos. This is something they can control. They can see it and feel it,” he said.
Extracurricular activities also give children an opportunity to learn from failure, which builds confidence and resilience, activity coordinators explain.
Hill said, “Maybe dealing with failure in an athletic endeavor and understanding how to build off that failure and applying that to other circumstances will help them. Allowing that to happen outside the classroom will click with students, It’s a lot easier to bring the concept of failure in the context of climbing by saying how we can come back and improve the next time.”
Learning to make failure part of the process rather than the end game may lead children to become better students and leaders, he said. Classes are offered for children as young as 4 years old up to 17 years old.
Working with experienced instructors gives children a chance to understand how to take an environment that can be dangerous and make it a relatively manageable risk by learning processes, checking systems and following through – all skills that translate into other parts of their lives, Hill said.
Pollyanna Demitro, owner and founder of Boulder Performing Arts Company, agrees that extracurricular programs offer children a chance to make a new set of friends.
“The thing that is nice is that they are coming to a different pool of friends than they have at school. Maybe they face bullying or other issues at school. When they come to our group, they are embraced and warm,” she said. “Kids learn a lot of teamwork because we are working on a production, and they get to give their input, which I think is important.”
Demitro, who has been teaching for 45 years, said it’s important that activities acknowledge children’s personal skills and talents but also emphasize teamwork and working together. Children from ages 5 to 13 sing, dance and act at the company, but they also learn to take responsibility for their costumes and props.
“Extracurricular activities are really important because children don’t always get everything they need in a school situation and sometimes at home. For our studio, we really embrace all of our families. They know I really care about their kids. We are really trying to help kids find their voice. Maybe they won’t end up singing on Broadway, but they are finding out who they are in a safe place.”
The theater company also assists parents who are looking for ways to help children with reading or speech problems.
“We are working on reading scripts and using body language to communicate how we feel, learning how to speak with clarity and timing, all the while giving positive feedback,” she said. “At the end of the production, parents get to see their kids onstage. That is confidence-building. When they come into this arena, you have all these people applauding and helping you, so it’s therapeutic. You may not even think about the issues you may have.”
Family balance is another consideration when determining how and where kids will spend their time outside of the classroom.
“One thing to acknowledge is that extracurricular activities are not just fun and games, they also are childcare. That makes them vital to working parents,” explained Andra Coberly Webster, executive director of communications for the YMCA of Northern Colorado.
“Children need a safe, supportive place to go so parents can go to work. That’s a benefit to the community and society,” she said.
Understanding and fulfilling the need for childcare is just a part of the nonprofit organization’s journey to fill in the gaps for communities – something that the YMCA has been doing for more than 150 years. Nearby YMCAs are located in Lafayette, Longmont, Boulder and Johnstown with another opening in Loveland this year.
“Today, we consider ourselves inclusive and welcoming to all people. That is what makes the Y special – asking what is the need in our community and saying we can do that,” Coberly Webster said. The organization also helps secure childcare and preschool financial assistance for families in need.
Beyond the childcare aspect, kids can learn hard skills, such as how to play soccer or build robots or programming. But they also can expand their peer groups by being around older and younger kids as well as new teachers and adult mentors.
“There are social and emotional skills. They can try new things and fail at them and keep going. They can expand their communication and learn how to deal with conflict with a new set of kids,” Coberly Webster said.
And let’s not forget about what is probably the most important factor for kids – the fun.
Coberly Webster said, “There is activity and movement. Our kids are on screen so much, but it’s also really great for a kid to run around and be silly and get their wiggles out. Free-play time is something that is underrated today. Sometimes, kids just go out and play on the playground. That’s really important.”
By Kathleen Duff for Raised in the Rockies