Extracurricular or Essential?

The Texas Education Code requires home schools to teach the following subjects: reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics, and a course in good citizenship. There were days when that was all I could teach, having begun my home schooling career in 1993 newly pregnant and teaching a first grader, kindergartener, a three-year-old, and an eighteen-month-old.

There are days when I am relieved that is all I am required to teach!

Over the seventeen years of teaching my five children, participating in several co-ops, and leading or assisting in youth organizations such as Boy Scouts and 4-H, I have become convinced that extracurricular subjects and activities are just as essential as core subjects. I believe that extracurricular subjects actually provide more real-life skills to students than core curriculum does.

In the world outside of school, people compete, set goals, and plan projects that have actual applications and receive rewards for the successful completion of their projects. Conversely when people do not meet goals, the consequences of failure also teach important skills. Many times we learn more from our failures than from our successes.

One advantage of extracurricular subjects and activities is that often the choice is student-driven. When a student has an interest in an area, he or she is more likely to be more invested in obtaining and utilizing the information presented. It is a joy for both student and teacher when there is enthusiasm for a subject, activity, or event.

When my daughters participated in 4-H, they read the monthly newsletter avidly, telling me about the various workshops, competitions, and community service projects in which they wished to participate. Through their participation in the food show, fashion show, livestock show, and Round Up, they learned how to prepare balanced meals, to ensure food safety, to comparison shop for food and clothing, to write and present a speech, to care for and train animals, and to identify and serve the needs of their community. They earned credits in family and consumer sciences, speech, health, citizenship, and community service in a fun, challenging, encouraging atmosphere.

Another asset of extracurricular subjects and activities is the way they strengthen skills in core curriculum areas. Whether my students were preparing for an upcoming 4-H competition, earning badges in Scouts, or participating in a co-op class, they used and improved the math, reading, writing, and spelling skills they had learned in their regular coursework.

Opportunities to pursue extracurricular activities are everywhere and can be as expensive or as inexpensive as your budget allows. We have utilized home school co-ops, private lessons, youth organizations, volunteerism, and the Internet as ways to incorporate extracurricular subjects into our school days.

Some home educators may feel that the school day is already so full with math, English, science, grammar, foreign language, literature, history, and other “required” coursework that they could not possibly add anything else. I would encourage home schooling parents to make time for extracurricular subjects and activities—especially in the high school years, when these subjects offer a way to “try on” careers and interests.

Extracurricular studies also pave the way for lifelong hobbies and skills, which develop the student into a well-rounded individual. If college is in your student’s future, a transcript that has a variety of courses and activities detailed on it sets your student apart from the rest of the pack. Scholarships are often offered in extracurricular areas or through community-service organizations such as 4-H. My youngest daughter received a 4-H scholarship, which made all the time she had invested extremely worthwhile.

Make room in your school schedule for extracurricular subjects and activities. These activities breathe life and excitement into your school day and into your students. You and your students will reap many continuing rewards as a result of the time you invest.