There’s almost no debate, though there is research aplenty: extracurricular or organized activities tend to be a net benefit to kids. From learning teamwork and social functioning to working through challenges to trying out new interests, doing organized activities outside of the school day is generally considered to be a good thing.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s an equal opportunity thing, though – country-to-country or within the United States.
Quoting from an Atlantic article that explored the economic differences of extracurricular participation in the United States:
While there’s always been a gap in access to extracurriculars, participation numbers for the two groups increased at about the same rate until they started to diverge precipitously—in the early 1980s for non-athletic activities and in the early 1990s for sports teams. In 1972, roughly 61 percent of low-income high school seniors, and 67 percent of their more-affluent peers, participated in one more more non-athletic extracurricular activities. A decade later, participation rates rose to about 65 percent and 73 percent, respectively. But by 1992, while 75 percent of upper- and middle-class seniors reported participating in extracurriculars, involvement among disadvantaged students dropped back to 61 percent. By 2004, the number for low-income seniors was down to 56 percent.
These numbers are echoed by the Pew Social Trends report of 2015 looking at parenting in the United States, which found that, quote:
Parents with higher income and education are more likely to report that their children participate in various extracurricular activities. Among parents with an annual family income of $75,000 or higher, 84% say their children participated in sports or athletic activities in the 12 months prior to the survey; 62% say their children took music, dance or art lessons. By contrast, some 59% of parents with annual incomes of less than $30,000 say their children participated in sports, and 41% say their children took lessons in music, dance or art over that period.
This is not something that happens just in the United States, though. One of those hoping-for-the-clicks surveys, this time that came out of the UK,
Over a quarter (28%) of parents in the UK have been put into financial difficulty funding their child’s extracurricular activities, such as sport and music classes. The study revealed that nearly a third of children (31%) take part in three or more extracurricular activities at school a week, with the average UK parent spending £237.32 a year funding them. However, a fifth of parents spend more than £300 every academic year on their child’s after- school activities, with a further 10% spending more than £500.
In other words, organized activities can be an expensive add-on to a child’s education — and in more ways than just money.
In the blog Tellement French, a working mother who has lived both in the US and France draws a comparison of the extracurriculars in both countries. Quote:
The practice of activities in the US is very time-consuming: every musical or sports activity requires at least 2 days of practice per week. In France the Conservatory asked us several weekly participations but the sports activities were limited to one participation a week (or sometimes 2 when there were games). That way kids can practice different activities as hobbies unless they plan to become professional in an artistic or sportive field.
And the truth is, many of us do not end up becoming professionals in the things we did as kids. So…