Sports, Arts, Clubs, Volunteering — Out-of-School Activities Play Crucial, Positive Role for Kids

All Work and No Play?

But new research points to differences between policy makers’ focus on programs’ educational value and what most families are really seeking; Low-income and minority families much less satisfied with their children’s options

When the school bell rings, do America’s middle and high school students turn into slackers and couch potatoes? Not according to a new national survey which found that 79% of America’s middle and high school students regularly participate in activities both after school and on weekends and 57% have some kind of non-school activity nearly every day. The vast majority of the students surveyed by the nonpartisan opinion research organization Public Agenda indicate that activities ranging from sports to art and music to church programs play a crucial and positive role in their lives.

But Public Agenda found stark differences in the experiences of low-income and minority parents, who are much more likely than higher-income and white parents to say they have trouble finding high-quality, convenient and affordable activities for their children.

American young people believe that organized, structured out-of-school activities are enormously important to them, with 85% saying that kids who participate in such activities are better off than those who don’t. They are also aware that sometimes they might need a parental push, with almost 9 out of 10 saying that even though they complain, sometimes they need to be pushed by my parents to do things that are good for me.

Interestingly, while much of the policy debate on after school programs revolves around whether these programs improve academic achievement, for most families, academics aren’t the first thing that comes to mind. Parents want activities that foster interests, values and growth, with relatively few parents (15%) or kids (12%) saying that academic achievement is the best reason for kids to be involved in organized activities. The exception are low-income and minority parents, who, on a variety of measures, are considerably more likely to want activities that emphasize academic learning.

The study, All Work and No Play? Listening to What Kids and Parents Really Want from Out-of-School Time, was commissioned by The Wallace Foundation.