Testing the waters and building relationships opens doors to lifelong enjoyment.

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Educators, parents, and students are keenly aware that extracurricular activities are a key component of college applications — after all, it’s no secret that colleges are looking for well-rounded students. And, even more importantly, extracurricular activities have the potential to enrich a child’s life, bring them joy and teach them valuable life lessons. But this doesn’t mean students should feel pressured to sign up for as many after-school activities as possible, regardless of whether or not they’re passionate about the activity. Rather, the key is to find the right activity for your child, whether it’s a sport, an art, volunteer work or a STEM-focused club.

“Make sure it’s enjoyable,” advises Annie Green, dean of students at Annie Wright Upper School for Girls. “There’s no sense in hopping aboard choir if singing makes you miserable, and there’s no sense in engaging in a STEM or math club if that makes your stomach nervous.”

Along the same lines, Green says she’s witnessed firsthand that making activities optional results in a more authentic and joyful engagement. When discussing extracurriculars with your kids, she suggests asking them what they want to pursue rather than telling them they “have to” jump in and get involved in an extracurricular that may not be the best fit.

Eli Dugan
Eli Dugan

This approach has certainly benefited Eli Dugan, a 10th-grader at Annie Wright Upper School for Boys. Dugan is a member of the U.S. Men’s U19 national floorball team and will compete in the World Floorball Championships in Halifax this May.

“When it comes to choosing activities it’s mostly been up to me and what my interests have been,” Eli says. “My parents haven’t forced me to try something or keep with something.” Although balancing schoolwork and floorball can make for a hectic schedule, Eli says that he’s never felt overworked — but that if his number of commitments ever becomes too great, he knows his parents wouldn’t pressure him to remain in activities that cause stress.

Eli’s mom, Laura Bales, an Annie Wright alumna, offers suggestions and encourages both of her sons to try new things. For example, Eli has been a hockey player since he was a young child and is still on a hockey team, so when the opportunity arose for him to attend a clinic and learn to be a referee, she encouraged Eli to try it out. “I suggested and encouraged it because [Eli’s] going to need to get a job and go to college at some point,” Bales says. “So even if he’s not going to be an NHL star he can still be involved in hockey in a way that will be impactful going forward.”

In Eli’s case, he found an excellent match in hockey and floorball at a young age. Still, Bales has encouraged him to try out new activities over the years if he expressed an interest. “If it’s intriguing, try it to see it if you like it and want to pursue it,” she says. “You don’t want to have regrets and then feel like it’s too late to try.”

Bales emphasizes the importance of letting kids pursue the activities that interest them. For example, if a child is interested in theater, enroll them in a theater class or theater camp. “If they’re still interested, they’ll let you know,” she says. “And if it’s something they try and it’s not as fun as they want it to be, try something else until they find the activity that fits their personality and works for the family.”

Once your child has found the right extracurricular activity, Green says it’s important to nurture a sense of purpose within that interest or passion. She recommends having conversations with your child about how it enhances value for themself, for others and for the community. “If there’s fulfillment even beyond the enjoyment of the activity itself, I think they’re more likely to stick with it and feel a sense of pride in that.”

Of course, no matter how much a child loves an activity, there may be times when the passion or interest wanes. For that reason, Green recommends teaching your child to never neglect their relationship to the activity — and this goes beyond simply the relationship between the student and their interest. It’s also about the relationship with their coaches, advisers, teammates and other partners. “Those relationships help us be accountable to sticking with it,” she says. “So don’t neglect the relationships that are formed as you’re investing in those passions because those are the ones that are going to keep you at it.”

Founded in 1884, Annie Wright Schools serve students from age 3 through high school. Annie Wright Lower and Middle Schools offer coed programs in preschool through grade 8. Separate Upper Schools for boys and girls offer day and boarding options in grades 9-12.