Not extra: school return marks start of extracurricular activities

The return to school also signals the turn to extra-curricular activities that had been previously suspended due to COVID-19

File photo
File photo

The return to school provides another reminder of pre-pandemic normality, but also the return to extra-curricular activities that had been previously suspended due to COVID-19.

Often forming part of a child’s hobby that is cherished into adulthood, if not leading to a future career path, extra-curricular activities support social, emotional, cognitive, and academic development of children, and are known to reduce risky behaviours, promote physical health, and provide a safe and supportive environment for children and youth.

“The benefits of being active are endless as physical activity affects both the physical and mental wellbeing of those who take part. Unfortunately, inactivity also partially leads to excessive weight with all the repercussions this brings about,” Rose Marie Mercieca, a Sport Malta representative, said.

With a considerable percentage of people never exercising or playing some form of sport, Mercieca says it is essential that children become physically active. “Problems resulting from physical inactivity which appear in childhood, such as childhood obesity, have a good chance to carry on into adulthood. It is essential that the intervention that of being active starts at an early age.”

As a national coordinator for Sport Malta, Mercieca rues the tendency for children to spend a lot of time watching screens – and calls for parents to intervene

“We have to work towards an early socialisation into a sport in such a way that this is carried on into adulthood so that eventually it becomes a way of life.

“After-school activities are a good opportunity for youngsters to further engage in this much-needed physical activity. Schools might offer time for physical activity during the day; however, numbers are showing that our children are not doing enough,” Mercieca said.

Another view comes from Stella Maris College’s Scout Group assistant group scout leader Adrian Gatt, who says scouting provides a different setting to scholastic activities where children perform entirely different tasks. “A normal meeting would consist of games, instruction, outdoor skills, basic daily skills, working on skills badge work and also interest badges related to their hobbies.”

Apart from that, scouting brings with it hikes, camping, swimming, cooking, environmental or cultural themed outings.

“All this in a team setting where leadership skills are slowly taught from the tender age of four till adulthood... a skill which will definitely help them during their working age,” he said. “Such afterschool activities are very crucial during growing years. First of all, they should be fun activities, where learning is done by doing and not just listening. This also applies to sport and dance, something that stimulates the body and mind.”

Afterschool activities also help children learn social skills, such as dealing and even living with different characters during a camp. “Scouts also teach independence from home,” Gatt said.

The actor Edward Mercieca, senior principal at the performing arts school Stagecoach, says performing also gives children life skills, allowing them to mix with peers from other schools, “and opens their mind to a host of different perspectives and very importantly children from other social classes.”

Mercieca said it teaches children teamwork as well as self-confidence, which they can carry into adulthood. “While performing arts is undoubtedly fun, it gives children confidence – being able to express one’s self is vital, it can mean they have the confidence to raise their hand in class if they don’t understand a question. Ace a job interview – these life skills are indispensable.”

“It’s a pity that schools do not take the performing arts seriously. The arts are always the first sector to suffer,” he said, referring to the recent problems of teaching shortages at the start of the school year.

World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations for 5-17 years-old

  • Youths should do at least an average of 60 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous intensity, primarily aerobic, physical activity, across the week.
  • Youths should incorporate vigorous-intensity aerobic activities, as well as those that strengthen muscle and bone at least three days a week.
  • Youths should limit the amount of time spent being sedentary, particularly the amount of recreational screen time.