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Clubbing for Kids: Helping Your Child Mix Education and Fun

August, 2010
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If you ask a student “What do you like best about school?” The answer will probably be “lunch” followed by their favorite extra-curricular social or sports clubs. These are the interactive, character and skill-building   activities that students can choose themselves and which make all the rest of the school routine palatable. It is not unusual for schools to offer a hundred or more different clubs during the academic year, from which the student will choose two or more. With kids going back to school,  now is a good time to look at how we as parents can guide our children towards extra-curricular activities that will benefit them the most.
Few students, especially those in primary and middle school, choose a club because of the value it can add to them. Most students choose clubs for one or more of these five reasons, 1. Their friends are joining too. 2. They get to play sports or board games. 3. It is something they have done before such as the yearbook club or band and they feel comfortable continuing it another year. 4. They like the teacher sponsoring the activity. 5. It is the activity that demands the least from the student, such as the film club. You know your child and which of these attracts him or her. But left to follow their own choices, students often miss out on opportunities to expand their knowledge and skill areas and their social network. In fact, a case can be made for joining a club about which the student knows nothing and no one. These have the biggest opportunity to expand the student’s horizons in both social and practical skills. Jocks who join the newspaper club learn project management and gain an understanding of the teamwork involved in producing a regular publication. Budding artists can expand their skill base by working with computer geeks who are exploring the latest graphics. Clubs are an ideal opportunity for cross fertilization between knowledge bases. Outside of school these interdisciplinary activities often result in breakthroughs and altogether new fields of study and business. This helps give the broad exposure base that colleges and companies are looking for in candidates.
Different age levels require different types of parental guidance. In the younger years students need help understanding what the club will actually be doing and guidance to choose area in which the student will feel comfortable socially and in terms of ability. As children move into Middle school and peer pressure increases, special attention should be given to ensure your child is choosing a club with positive social elements. How many parents have seen their near perfect child suddenly begin to change into a confrontational monster demanding she have “what all the others have”? 
As students move into high school they need to think about what kind of clubs will give them experiences that will help them later to get into college and add value to themselves. There are several internationally recognized organizations that have packaged programs to which schools can subscribe which focus on knowledge, creativity and skills. Destination Imagination (www.idodi.org/)   and Odyssey of the Mind (www.odesseyofthemind.com) are examples of these. Model United Nations, the year book club, the school newspaper, and the school band are all recognized activities that require commitment, teamwork and organizational skills. All of these are appreciated by college admission officers and are requirements for future success. More and more educational frameworks such as the International Baccalaureate and national curriculums require a social service experience. Schools and students have initiated a wide variety of clubs to contribute to the community. This allows students to fulfill the two requirements of choosing a club and getting the required hours of public service. Student-initiated clubs give hands-on organizational experience, and help build a partnership relationship between students and administrators.
The worldwide Junior Achievement Program (www.ja.org) is another dynamic activity that has a long history of forming young entrepreneurs. They supply a step-by-step guide on how to find a viable product or service, form a company, sell shares, do the budget planning, manage operations, marketing and sales and redistribute profits and wind down their company. For students interested in gaining an understanding of the stock market there are several free on-line stock market simulation programs. Players are given a fictitious amount of capital to invest and their picks are monitored against near real-time performance of the market. Students may compete with others to see who can build the biggest fortune. This can become very engrossing as players may make several trades every day. This underlines that club activities don’t have to be limited to 40 minutes on a Wednesday afternoon.
Besides the traditional sports clubs such as basketball or Kung Fu there are a variety of non-competitive wellness activities students can do. Most schools with Chinese staff can find a Tai Chi instructor among them. Yoga helps build the spirit as well as improve the body. With the increase in obesity in youth there are an increasing number of weight watcher clubs springing up in schools as well.
Most of today’s youth can masterfully program a PowerPoint presentation but are incapable of hammering a nail. Schools need to offer clubs that appeal to the manually dexterous and provide basic handyperson concepts and skills such as electrical light repair or basic car maintenance. Sadly we have created a society totally dependent on people who repair our things and we live in a culture where skilled trades have not been valued or taught and the performance standards are low. Try to get someone to install a properly working kitchen exhaust vent in your home. This is a simple D.I.Y. operation that a woman could complete correctly in an hour and be proud of her accomplishment. It requires organizational skills, problem solving and a minimum of skills and tools. How can we graduate students who can recite Tang dynasty poems but don’t know how to unblock their toilets? Clubs can fill this embarrassing gap in our cultural values.
There is almost no limit to what students can do. In one of my clubs, high school students in Turkey designed and built a catamaran from recycled plastic drums, old decking from the school stage and metal formed in the school’s repair shop. Interestingly “Advanced Placement” Math students were baffled by the practical problem of how to calculate how many drums we needed to displace enough water to float the weight of the catamaran and crew. When finished, we sailed our craft on the Bosphorus and Marmara Sea. In another group of seventh graders in Suzhou we built an outrigger from recycled insulated paneling, water jugs and bamboo outriggers all tied together. We tested it in the school pool with seven students paddling and won a recycling contest.
Another benefit of choosing the right school club is that it gives young people time to explore a variety of experiences without the pressure of homework or exams. Studying French Grammar may be arduous but joining the French Club and tasting gourmet food, watching classic films or planning a school trip to France are totally different experiences.
So, check your child’s school website for the list of clubs available. If after discussing the options with your student and weighing the social, intellectual and skill enhancement pros and cons you are still not satisfied, contact the teacher responsible for clubs and get your student to make a reasoned written proposition for a club that will meet his or her needs and interests and recruit members. This might be the best learning activity of all; helping them conceptualize, organize and achieve what they want. Happy Clubbing!
By Patrick Donahue
You can reach the author at: Sebalex.x@gmail.com


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  1. Helen
    March 25th, 2011 at 12:30 | #1

    very informative and agree that clubs are useful avenue to expand one’s interests and skills. i think most parents don’t think too much about school club’s usefulness, even schools don’t think about that too which resulting a complete waste of resources and students’ time.

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