EPIC's newest report highlights the benefits that extra-curriculars can offer children in developing interpersonal competencies.
A report was prepared as part of the European Platform for Investing in Children (EPIC) on the Benefits of Extra Curriculum Activities for Children. EPIC monitors key and innovative developments in children and families across the EU. Extra curriculum activities (ECA) enable children to become active citizens in their community and develop soft skills such as self-esteem and resilience. The aim of this research was to help inform policymakers and other stakeholders about the benefits of ECA for children on social inclusion outcomes as well as improve access for disadvantaged and vulnerable children to these activities.
ECA’s are a range of activities organised outside of the regular school day, curriculum or course intended to meet children’s interest. Eccles et al classified ECA into five groups being prosocial activities (volunteer and community service types of activities), performance activities (E.g., school band, drama, dance), sports, school involvement (e.g. student government, school newspaper), and academic classes (e.g. chess clubs, science fair).
Throughout the methodology of this report a search protocol was created by researchers with relevant search terms, databases, inclusion and exclusion criteria. 26 studies were published in peer review journals and 8 were detailed in non-peer literature. The reviewed sources covered a wide range of ECA types including academic, sports and arts activities as well as social groups. The study covered children from 5 to 18 years and included a qualitative approach to analyse the survey data. The qualitative research involved analysing large scale survey responses in order to uncover a statistical relationship between ECA participation and child outcome. The majority of studies focused on the US (16), followed by Europe in Finland (1), France (2), Germany (1), Ireland (2), Spain (1), UK (4) and also countries in the Oceania specifically Australia (2) and New Zealand (1). Research from non-EU countries improved EPIC’s understanding of how ECA’s may impact on a range of outcomes.
The findings of the research included 3 different categories being the benefits of ECA for children, the extent of ECA on the improvement or support of social inclusion for children and the best support disadvantaged and vulnerable children to access ECA’s. With regards to the benefits, ECA have a range of benefits for pupils grouped into 3 main categories: Academic Achievement, Social and Emotional Skills and Behavioural outcomes. Another benefit is participating in more than one type of ECA as it is associated with positive outcomes. However, some uncertain and evidence gaps were found these include of the lack of longitudinal studies assessing the impact over time and the lack of research on the impact of ECA participation duration.
The second category states that ECA’s can improve outcomes related to social inclusion and can improve peer relationships and school affiliation. However, uncertainties and evidence gap in this category are the lack of research looking at the relationship between ECA’s and social inclusion. Social inclusion benefits should be analysed with respect to specific ECA’s characteristics and social inclusion benefits should be analysed according to student characteristics such as gender and ethnicity.
The third category states that disadvantaged children face extra barriers to accessing and participating in ECA’s. School based ECA’s are important as these are easier to access for some children than non-school based ECA. One should create safe school environment, staff training to understand the children’s ECA preferences and thus creating inclusive ECA to encourage greater participation. The uncertainties and gaps include further research is needed to understand in interplay between different minority groups and ECA’s and more casual interference needed on the relationship between disadvantages/vulnerable children and ECA participation.
To conclude, participating in ECA can offer children numerous benefits such as developing interpersonal competencies and in the long term higher educational achievement, better employment outcomes and better mental health. There are multiple types of ECA’s and there is evidence that academic achievement is best reached by academic ECA as through school curriculum-based clubs, more positive emotional, social and behavioural outcomes can be achieved depending on the interest of pupils. School policies should aim at creating safer and more inclusive environment which may encourage more children to get involved in ECA’s.