Research has proven time and time again that children’s friends can directly impact their academic performance. But, what about a connection between extracurricular activities, friends and academic performance?
“There has been quite a bit of research on extracurricular participation and it is generally thought to be very helpful for children. However, there were some unanswered questions we thought were important to pursue,” explained Professor Emeritus Dr. Jan Hughes.
Before the students entered middle school and had a chance to participate in extracurricular activities, they were measured on a wide variety of variables related to academic and social performance. Researchers interviewed those students several times during their middle school years. The goal was to find out if there really was an effect of extracurricular activities on both academic and social outcomes.
Researchers also focused on the students’ friends through extensive interviews. The students were asked to name their friends and to describe, for each friend named, how their friends get along with teachers, if they want to go to college and other questions related to their friends’ school involvement.
Researchers found there is a definite effect of participation on important outcomes like reading and math achievement, course grades, sense of belonging to school and academic self-concept.
“It’s the first study to demonstrate an effect of extracurricular participation. Results strongly suggest that participating in extracurricular activities causes students’ academic performance to increase. It’s the first study to demonstrate the reason that participation in sports leads to improved outcomes is the effect of participation on one’s friendship network.”
Researchers found the activity a child participates in does not matter as long as the child gets involved and stays involved. While it’s been shown that children in the performance arts and music area have higher levels of school involvement, Dr. Hughes added, “if you’re looking at children’s change in school involvement and achievement, it is kids who are in athletics and sports that are most likely to benefit in terms of their being engaged in or part of a peer group that will support their academic achievement.”
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