As school term gets underway, many students will try to liven up the year ahead with a number of extra-curricular activities that will broaden their experience and quite possibly their circle of friends.

Extra-curricular activity has long been a tradition in the world’s best academic institutions and in recent years many parents have been filling their children’s every waking hour with organised activity of one kind or another, prompting a debate over the correct balance, particularly in the case of younger children who also benefit greatly from periods of ‘free play’.

Recent studies, including one led by Jennifer Fredricks, associate director of human development at Connecticut College, have established that while extra-curricular activities appear to boost academic results and generally have positive repercussions, more than 13 hours a week and they begin to prove counter-productive.

The benefits of a limited number of activities do, however, go way beyond the purely academic. As Paul Crouch, Deputy Head at King’s College Madrid, explains, they also help the students to work out who they are.

“They provide a chance for the student to find his or her individual pathway,” he says at a co-curricular fair launched for the first time at King’s College Madrid this month, giving secondary students the opportunity to join a range of clubs free of charge in areas such as gardening, finance and relaxation. 

Paul is a firm believer in the benefits of extracurricular activity and would like to see every secondary school student involved in some capacity. “I don’t see it as an ‘extra’,” he says. “We are in the business of education” and that involves “thinking outside the classroom.”

As the students mill in the school’s auditorium and hall, checking out what’s on offer, they are also informed of the benefits each activity could bring. The rugby club, for example, specifies learning outcomes as leadership, communication and teamwork while the gardening club hopes to impart environmental awareness, creativity, tenacity and organisation.

Paul is keen that all the teachers at the school contribute in some way to the initiative because, as he says, “Gone are the days when you can just teach a student to get them through a geography or history exam. Nowadays, we are facilitators, career advisors and mentors as well.”

Nurturing integration and a ‘family’ atmosphere at the school is also behind the initiative as running the clubs allows teachers to get to know students they don’t have in class, as Paul notes.

Nurturing this family ambience, parents are also invited into the extra-curricular mix with events this month such as King’s College Latvia’s initiative in conjunction with The Phonics School on how parents can help their children with their English and the paella evening in King’s College Madrid for new families.

Of course, apart from these initiatives, almost all King’s College schools have a long list of paid extra-curricular activities, including robotics, chess, debating, skating, theatre and horse-riding, all with the positive spin-offs explained.

In Alicante, for example, students as young as four can become Little Chefs, which will help to boost their psychomotor development and creativity as well as providing an awareness of nutrition as they put simple dishes together with healthy ingredients.

Mindfulness, on the other hand, promises improved learning and concentration and the ability to better control emotions.

Meanwhile, in Murcia, Physical Education teacher Lewis Ryland runs the climbing club, which is not exclusive to the Sir Edmund Hillarys of the school, as he makes clear. “It is good for students who want a physical and mental challenge,” he explains. “There are different routes up the wall and that means students can make it harder or easier. They are also able to support their peers by holding the ropes for each other.”

Murcia also holds a special swimming gala in June at an outdoor pool in San Javier. “It is fairly unique,” Lewis says, “because we have a students’ leadership team who run a lot of it, doing the timing and organising events! Year 7 to 9 do the primary one, and Year 10 do the secondary one.”

In fact all the King’s College schools, from Panama to the UK have activities that range from coding and ‘brilliant intelligence’ – a fun way to expand pupils’ general knowledge – with every other activity imaginable in between.

Already ballet is being offered at the new King’s College in Frankfurt along with multi-sports and piano. This mirrors the initial extra-curricular choices offered by King’s College Madrid back in 1969 when this particular art added colour and a touch of grace to the annual prize-giving ceremony.

Even in a student’s final two years of school, when academic pressure is at its height, a certain amount of extra-curricular activity has been shown to help with organisation and time management.

Of course, universities are keen to see that a candidate can bring something other than A*s to the ‘party’ with many in the US offering scholarships on the strength of a student’s outstanding performance in sport and other fields.

But it is important to note that the depth of participation matters more than range – in other words, quality over quantity – with accomplishments in a specific area making the vital difference.

Barcelona University takes this one step further and offers credits towards a student’s Bachelor of Arts degree in recognition of extra-curricular involvement, whether in theatre and dance workshops, academic mentoring or university parliament week.

By: Heather Galloway