In recent years, school activities which used to be called ‘extra-curricular’ have increasingly been re-branded as ‘co-curricular’. Rather than just being a change in terminology for change’s sake, this new term reflects an increased emphasis on the capacity of these activities to enhance classroom-based learning and play a full part in the creation of well-rounded individuals. Winter’s explores this topic…
Rather than just being add-ons at the end of the school day, co-curricular activities embrace all the things which are undertaken side-by-side with curriculum subjects. These activities, which give students the opportunity to develop other skills and exhibit their non-academic abilities, might be compulsory or voluntary, but either way the benefits of a good quality co-curricular activity scheme at school are numerous.
The breadth of co-curricular activities offered by schools today is astonishing. At Dresden international school, for example, pupils can choose from things you might expect like chess, cooking and table tennis, but there’s also tech-club, agriculture, hula-hooping and geo caching (searching for hidden treasure using GPS and orienteering skills). If you’re lucky enough to be at the Australian International School in Singapore, there is Zumba and scuba-diving on offer, and at Wellington College, Shanghai, the youngest pupils can do Chinese painting or origami alongside their Lego club after school. These days, it’s not just those who excel in sport who can discover a passion that their school will cater for during or after the school day.
"Students are welcome to put forward their own suggestions and be involved in running a co-curricular activity. This encourages leadership in our young people...”
Learning and growing
In common with most schools, at Yew Chung International School (YCIS) in Hong Kong, the co-curricular programme is seen as integral to the education of the whole child. “The choices we offer are extremely varied,” says Amos Lyso, the vice principal, “from the arts and sports to ballroom dancing, RC car building, trampolining and DJ club. YCIS is committed to developing the whole person, so our secondary students have one afternoon a week where a co-curricular activity is built into their schedule, on top of all the after-school activities available every day. This compliments our educational philosophy and belief in a holistic approach.”
At YCIS they also find that co-curricular activities become collaborations between teachers and students, enabling students to pursue their interests. “Students are welcome to put forward their own suggestions and be involved in running a co-curricular activity. This encourages leadership in our young people,” says Amos. Likewise, teachers on the staff bring their own strengths and interests to the clubs they run, which in turn adds to the enthusiasm of the students.
Another important benefit of co-curricular activities – particularly at an international school of course – is the way they bring together a diverse school community. At first glance children might think they don’t have much in common with students from another part of the world, but once they find themselves in a sports team or co-curricular club together, a shared love of the activity trumps any shyness or reticence. Wayne Davis, head of co-curricular activities at Cranleigh, Abu Dhabi, explains, “One of the best things about a broad co-curricular programme is that common interests and passions bring children of different cultures together. When children are given opportunities to learn through participation in a wide range of activities, they discover like-minded groups, and this helps to enhance the sense of community Cranleigh prides itself on.”
Keeping children engaged, inspired and learning is not something confined to the classroom any more. Schools make the most of their facilities and location, the talents of their staff and the interests of their students to provide a huge range of non-academic activities which are truly integral to their students’ education.
The benefits of Co-Curricular Activities (CCAs)
Naturally, regular involvement in sport is good for the body, but also for the mind. For older students under exam-pressure, a CCA can bring a welcome break, stretching different parts of the brain. Courses in yoga or mindfulness can help focus the mind and encourage students to relax, or taking a qualification in something like lifeguarding can give young people an alternative focus on practical skills.
Time management skills
Trying to fit too many exciting activities in can be a good lesson in managing one’s time. If a student is really keen to take part in demanding CCAs, they will learn that school work also needs to be considered. Some young people are instinctively good at managing their time, for others it takes a bit of practice, but far better to learn at school than later in life.
Not every student can shine in the classroom. Some young people find their chance to stand out is in a CCA. Either in a school sports team, or in another kind of activity where they have expert knowledge or talent. In turn this can improve classroom learning, with students feeling bolstered by their success in a CCA.
Social skills and relationship-building
The team-spirit required in CCAs is invaluable for students, whether they’re training for competitive sport or working in collaboration with peers in other ways. Leadership skills can be developed by those who are captaining a team or running a CCA for others.
Participation in CCAs often requires students to make long-term commitments to an activity or team and see it through. The experience of sticking with an activity over weeks or months develops resilience which can then be transferred to the classroom and beyond.
All images: Winter's