The true value of extracurricular activities

Classes, lessons not only enrich children’s lives, but increase confidence, Jen Traplin writes

I just don’t want to put my face underwater!”


It was the same line, delivered at the same time, every single week. From the backseat on our way to the pool, my then four-year-old son would try to negotiate the terms of his weekly swimming lessons.


He was never scared of the water and he always seemed to enjoy himself when he was swimming, but for some reason, he hated to put his face under. Unfortunately for him, though, submerging your face and head is an important part of those early aquatic lessons and a crucial step toward ensuring a person’s safety in the water. Still, he always tried to get out of it. Sometimes he would get so worked up before his lesson, that he would cling to my arm when he saw the instructor walking towards us to retrieve him, begging me to tell them he just wasn’t going to put his face under the water that day. I never did.


Instead, the instructor worked to gently persuade him to submerge his face at a pace he was comfortable with. It took an entire 12-week cycle of swimming lessons before my son finally declared, “I love to go all the way under the water!”


That’s seems to be his approach to most lessons and extracurricular activities — hesitation, trepidation and nerves, followed by small victories, increased confidence and big smiles.


My son is now six years old and can hardly contain his excitement when it comes to his weekly swimming lessons. And rightfully so – the benefits of swimming lessons for children are endless.


“We know that learning to swim is not like other extracurricular activities — swimming is a life skill that helps drown-proof our children. In a water-rich environment like Ottawa, it’s an essential life skill that children learn to swim,” says Christine Pelletier, aquatics manager with the Dovercourt Recreation Association.


“Swimming can also improve the mental well-being of children and provide them with a range of exercise, from a small amount of activity and movement to a full-on aerobic workout. The fun of messing around in the water allows children to exercise without even knowing it.”


Just as swimming does, most extracurricular activities for kids offer a range of benefits outside of the core lesson at hand. Music, for instance, can not only teach your child a specific skill, but can help them in other areas as well.


“Music lessons teach confidence, commitment and fun,” says Kate Ritchie, Dovercourt’s manager of Arts and Culture.


“It is such a pleasure to see students gain confidence when taking private music lessons. Not only are they mastering a new skill through practice and hard work, but they are learning a skill that brings a great amount of joy to their friends and family. These are skills that will continue to serve them well in their personal, academic and professional lives.”

Of course, aside from finding the time to invest in your child’s interests, it’s also important to pick something you know they will enjoy and be able to commit to.


Rather than selecting activities that interest you, Ritchie advises parents to choose classes their child shows the most interest in.


“In music especially, it is important that the student has an interest in their instrument and wants to pick it up to simply play and experiment.”