Parents know there is a small window of time to make a meaningful, positive impact on children and shape who they may become as adults. A large portion of that influence comes at home, but it often also involves school, friends and extracurricular activities, many of which can help families make the most out of childhood experiences.
In fact, an increasing number of families are introducing youth to enrichment programs before kids begin their formal education. A survey by Forrester found that millennial parents are more likely to engage their children in activities at a younger age. They want to introduce their children to a diverse set of experiences, allowing children to discover their talents and skills.
Balancing this heightened level of engagement with the demands of hectic family schedules means parents are increasingly challenged to select the most meaningful activities for their children.
While most extracurricular activities help children socialize and learn new skills, some go further in areas like character building, good citizenship and exploring future goals. Often, the most effective programs work to deliver those outcomes without focusing on them, subtly teaching skills through activities young people consider fun.
Consider Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, which most associate with camping and outdoor adventures. While boys spend time transforming a block of wood into a race car and learning how to shoot an arrow, the underlying program helps create a strong foundation of leadership, service and community.
A study conducted by Tufts University of kids ages 6-12 found that youth who participate in scouting exhibit strong moral values and positive character attributes, allowing them to embrace new opportunities, overcome obstacles and become better prepared for future success.
As one of the nation’s largest and most prominent values-based, youth-development organizations in the country, Boy Scouts of America is applying this proven approach in introducing new programs designed to reach youth who may not be interested in building fires.
“Scouting offers youth and their families life-changing experiences they can’t get anywhere else – from outdoor adventure to building robots, youth learn the value of hard work and experience the thrill of it paying off,” said Michael Surbaugh, Chief Scout Executive for Boy Scouts of America. “With new programs designed specifically to expand their potential and explore their personal interests, Boy Scouts of America isn’t just an after-school activity. We are helping pave pathways to bright futures.”
According to Surbaugh, scouting programs are focused on providing experiences that youth and their parents want. From astronomy and other STEM-based skills for future professionals to outdoor adventure, such as camping and paddle boarding, scouting can give direction to the curiosity youth have for life.
Encouraging new experiences
In an effort to further expand unique experiences for youth, Boy Scouts of America has introduced several innovative programs that bring exciting opportunities to youth and families.
Lion: Research has shown that involving kids in scouting at a young age builds character and better prepares them for future success. Rooted in understanding the impact and importance of involving kids in scouting at an early age, the Lion pilot program, currently available in 201 councils across the country, combines concepts of character development, leadership skills, personal fitness and citizenship with age-appropriate, fun activities for kindergarten-age boys and their parents.
STEM Scouts: Jobs in STEM-related fields are expected to grow 17 percent by 2018, and salaries in those fields are on average 26 percent higher than salaries for other disciplines. With STEM-related careers on the rise, the STEM Scouts pilot program helps boys and girls learn more about science, technology, engineering and math through interactive, hands-on activities. The program, currently piloted in 20 councils, helps youth prepare for the future by conducting experiments and learning about lesser-known innovators to demonstrate to youth that people with similar backgrounds to their own can become accomplished STEM professionals.
Exploring: The expanded Exploring program offers youth and young adults, ages 14-20, real-world career experiences that help young men and women build confidence and discover fields where they may find their passion and excel in a future career, such as law enforcement, firefighting, aviation, engineering, medicine and others.
Learn more about scouting programs and how to get involved in your community at beascout.org.
Charting a path
The decision to involve your family or child in an extracurricular activity requires several considerations. After all, these activities can help youth build a stable foundation of values and character that help them reach their full potential.
When choosing activities for your children to become involved with at an early age, consider the following:
- Diverse experiences. Look for programs that offer a multitude of experiences to keep it fresh and interesting for your child.
- Experienced mentors. Evaluate the training volunteers and staff members go through to ensure your child gets the best experience possible.
- Build a solid foundation. Ask questions about how the organization teaches children about values and character.
- Start early. Getting youth involved in extracurricular activities at a young age can help with their development.
- Maximize your time. Extracurricular activities can be time consuming, but many organizations like Boy Scouts of America provide flexibility for families’ busy schedules. Make sure to ask questions about required meetings or activities to ensure the program fits with your schedule.