School clubs can keep kids interested in STEM with these 13 tips



School Clubs Solar Sprint Competition

Student prepares team car for Solar Sprint competition as part of a school club

School clubs usually start after Back-to-School night.  By my 3rd child I’ve learned these tips that I wish I’d known starting out.

1. Take advantage of your school’s club options

Not only can this be the most convenient option, but magic occurs when school friends get excited about learning. The excited energy often spills back into the classroom.  School clubs meet right after school, at school & are usually led by teachers who are sometimes supported by older students.  School clubs are often Junior Solar Sprints as school club Junior Solar Sprints sponsored by TransOptions[/caption]

academic courses. For example, they are ungraded, they do not allow students to earn academic credit, they may take place outside of school or after regular school hours, and they may be operated by outside organizations. That said, these traditional distinctions between academic and co-curricular programs are being eroded in some schools—see learning pathways for a more detailed discussion.

A few examples of common educational opportunities that may be considered co-curricular include student newspapers, musical performances, art shows, mock trials, debate competitions, and mathematics, robotics, and engineering teams and contests. But given the differing interpretations of the term, as well as its many potential applications, it’s best to determine precisely how co-curricular is being used in a particular educational context.

Co-curricular vs. Extracurricular

Generally speaking, co-curricular activities are an extension of the formal learning experiences in a course or academic program, while extracurricular activities may be offered or coordinated by a school, but may not be explicitly connected to academic learning. This distinction is extremely fuzzy in practice, however, and the terms are often used interchangeably. Athletics, for example, are typically considered to be extracurricular activities, while a science fair would more likely be considered a co-curricular activity, given that students are learning science, participation may be required by the school, students may be graded on their entries, or a science teacher may coordinate the fair. Still, in some schools certain athletics activities might be considered “co-curricular,” while in other schools a science fair may be labeled “extracurricular.”

“]co-curricular: kids learn real stuff, through self-directed learning, that is connected to what they are learning in school.  Take advantage of your school’s club options

2.  Explore a breadth of subjects with self-directed opportunities.

It is easier to plan which AP science class to take if you’ve had enough exposure to Biology, Chemistry and Physics through middle school Science Olympiad.  Theater, debate and model UN can enhance their interpersonal skills and teamwork while pursuing an interest in music rounds out the whole person, instills grit and often complements a math and engineering mind set.  For many, afternoon sports clear the mind and prepare the body to sit still for an evening of studying.

3. Help kids discover their deeper interests

These deep interests help us learn to recognize the feeling of being in the “zone” through out our lives.
For example, one of my kids had a voracious interest in marine biology starting as a preschooler.  We encouraged this interest through (many) aquarium visits, books, beach trips etc.  Then in middle school Science Olympiad he chose Water Quality study events which then made his High School Biology & Chemistry classes a breeze.  By 8th grade he knew science was one of his things.

4.  Allow kids to move on as interests change.

Kids are much more successful when they are self-motivated to do or join. This is one reason school clubs, athletics, etc. publicize their meeting times to the kids & not the parents. The contrast is stark between the kids who want to be there and those who are there because a parent forced them to be.
In my own family I built on my kids early interests in legos & robotics. I bought them a Lego Mindstorm kit, drove them to robotics classes and started groups with their friends but (so far) all 3 eventually lost interest.  Interestingly, their grandfather says he majored in mechanical engineering before he realized it bored him, which was a more expensive lesson than a robotics season.   Respect their wishes and let them move on.  Sometimes figuring out what we don’t like is as important as what we do like.

5. Broaden your idea of “success”.

If a school club awakens a child’s interest, enthusiasm, and curiosity then I consider it a success.  This experiential learning is what drives America’s entrepreneurial spirit.  Fostering creativity and self-motivation are more important than factory rote learning. In contrast,  India and China emphasize an important national test at the end of high school, in part because it is a cost-effective way of educating a large population.  (At least that’s how my Indian in-laws explain it to me).

6. Create leadership opportunities for kids, especially girls.

Junior Solar Sprints as school club

Junior Solar Sprints sponsored by TransOptions

While my sons found ample leadership opportunities through Scouts, we’ve had to work hard to create similar opportunities for my daughter.  School Clubs can give kids a leadership opportunities. For example, a science teacher worked after school and during lunch with 6th graders building cars for a Junior Solar Sprints Competition, sponsored by TransOptions. My daughter’s team eagerly arranged their own weekly meetings to work on their cars, t-shirts etc. Great fun was had by all.   Since several teams happened to be all girls, girls also took the leadership roles.  When a competing team had technical difficulties, they helped each other out as well.

7. Be flexible about attendance on busy days

Other activities, including sports & heavy homework days, come up for everyone.  Give after school clubs a try – your child can always change his or her mind, unlike a seasonal commitment to a sports team.  While many of us try to instill “grit” in our kids and teach them to finish what they start, we still have to help them to prioritize.  On a heavy homework night, I let them choose to occasionally skip a club meeting.

8. Reach out to the organizer if you miss your school club’s first meetings.

Just send a specific, clear email to the organizer and follow up. Other kids won’t always know.  If teachers have gone to the effort to put a club together, they welcome inquiries from kids and want involvement.  We all have times when we are tightly booked. High school sports meet daily, so my son expressed his interest in clubs in September but joined when his sport’s season was over.  Since classmates knew of his interest he could join lunch time meetings.  School clubs like Yearbook, Student Services, Math Club or a STEM Club might have open enrollment while a competition based club like Science Olympiad might not.  Hopefully, if you login to your school’s website, then you’ll be able to see a list.

9. Recruit friends and neighbors to join the same school clubs.

You’ll appreciate the carpools later!

10. Cultivate Co-curricular options

Our district has been adding more school clubs that are co-curricular and cutting back on fluffier offerings like an the after school enrichment program I ran when budget cuts restricted clubs.  Kids learn real stuff, through self-directed learning.
As with most things, kids who put in the most, get the most out. Some school clubs are more substantive than others with teacher stipends ranging from perhaps $250 a year vs. $5,000 for coaching a sport.

11. Encourage STEM clubs in 4th through 8th grades

This is the age when kids turn form “I love science” to whatever my friends are into.  Exposing them to a wide variety of topics for self exploration in an after school club helps them to find the parts which interest them and peers that share those interests.  Our 4th to 8th graders also have time to explore in a relaxed fashion, especially when compared to the busy high school years.
In my town parents tend to focus on elementary school and high school, and by the time we figure out middle school it is almost over.

12.  Expect Middle & High Schools to give most information to the kids rather than the parents.

This jump in independence from elementary school can feel strange to parents, but it is preparing them for the independence of college and adulthood.  Few of us want twenty-somethings living in our basements out of necessity.

Explore STEM options in traditional avenues such as Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and 4H clubs, if your school doesn’t offer what you want.

In order to guide opportunities around my children’s interests I’ve found it helpful to get involved in group leadership.

13.  Remember – Creative Compensation Opens Opportunities for Teens

What have you found valuable in your kids’ school clubs?  What would you like to see?  Let me know in the comments section!   I’d love to learn from you all as well.

Psst!  Did you think of someone else who would benefit by reading this?  Consider doing them a favor, and forward it to them. (Real quick, before you forget.)

Cecile Seth

Trying to make our world better. Mom to 3. Recovering Management Consultant. MBA. STEMshoots.com Founder.

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2 Responses

  1. November 22, 2016

    […] get library books, take field trips and explore all the relevant web sites we can find.  We make the most of existing clubs and opportunities and create our own options when we needed to  strengthening existing clubs , […]

  2. August 26, 2017

    […] Scratch.  School clubs and summer meetings.  Creative […]

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