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After-school activities (but not too many) benefit children

A study by the ESRI on nine-year-old children showed that there are many benefits to after-school activities for children – except when they have too many.

Pictured flying a kite are Ciprian Rabusabca with his daughters three-year-old Miruna and five-year-old Rebecca from Mulhuddart.
Pictured flying a kite are Ciprian Rabusabca with his daughters three-year-old Miruna and five-year-old Rebecca from Mulhuddart.
Image: Photocall Ireland

HOW DOES TAKING part in out-of-school activities affect children’s lives?

A new study by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) takes an in-depth look at the effects of after school activities on young children in Ireland.

It studied the lives of 8,500 nine-year-old children as part of its Growing Up In Ireland study and looked at children’s out-of-school activities and how these relate to the domains of family, school and neighbourhood.

They found:

  • Girls are more likely to be social networkers or spend time on cultural pursuits while boys are more likely to engage in sports/computer games.
  • Children from more advantaged families are more involved in cultural activities and social networking outside school.
  • This contrasts with children from immigrant families, who are more likely to be “social networkers” with busy lives and less likely to engage in cultural activities.
  • Children with learning disabilities are most likely to spend time playing sports, being with their friends and watching television, and, to some extent, have diverse activities.
  • Having a physical disability or chronic illness does not appear to affect out-of-school activities.

The ESRI said that there is tentative evidence that engagement in structured or solitary cultural pursuits is associated with living in an area where it is seen as less safe to play outside.

“Social networkers”, who spend a lot of time with their friends, are more likely to live in an area where it is safe to play outside, and there are green spaces and safe parks to play in.

However, while there are obvious benefits to children having extracurricular activities, it is important that the child is not overwhelmed.

The study described the ‘hurried child’ “whose social life is as closely timetabled as their school life” and said they “can experience stress and exhaustion”.

They may also become less creative, unable to fill their own time, and find it difficult to interact with peers outside the confines of structured activities

Children attending gaelscoileanna are least likely to spend a lot of time playing sports or watching TV and are strongly engaged in cultural activities.

Children who engage in cultural activities and social networking perform better in reading and mathematics than other groups. Those taking part in sports/computer games also have higher reading and mathematics scores.

The lowest test scores are found among those who spend their time on TV/sports and among those with ‘busy lives’.

The ESRI said that “it is a matter of policy concern that children from less advantaged backgrounds are less likely to engage in the kinds of out-of-school activities which appear to enhance academic performance”.

Greater collaboration with, and financial support for, non-governmental organisations could play an important role in developing greater and more diverse leisure and cultural facilities and infrastructure for children, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Children from one-parent households, from immigrant families and those with a learning disability were less likely to be involved in cultural activities than other children, which again is likely to have implications for their longer term cognitive and educational development.

Read: Government given ‘C+’ grade for children’s rights>

Read: One in four children have special education needs – study>

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