Gaps in extracurricular activities are seen even in kindergarten: race, mother’s education influence which children participate, says study – Science Daily | Team Cansler

A new study found it wasn’t long before gaps began to emerge between children who participate in extracurricular activities and children who don’t.

White kindergarteners were 2.6 times more likely to participate in athletics than children of other races/ethnicities — the most common type of extracurricular activity, the study showed. Children of highly educated mothers play sports about twice as often as children of less educated mothers.

Similar results were found for other types of extracurricular activities.

Previous studies have shown that extracurricular activities can benefit children in many ways, so it’s worrying that gaps in participation are popping up so early, said Elise Allen, a doctoral student in education at Ohio State University.

“If students from racially/ethnic minorities and disadvantaged backgrounds do not have access to extracurricular activities at a young age, they may miss out on opportunities that could help them succeed in school,” Allen said.

Allen and Arianna Black, also graduate students in education at Ohio State, led the research.

The study was recently published inJournal of Applied Developmental Psychology.

Much of the existing research on the effects of extracurricular activities has been conducted with adolescents.

“Given the documented benefits for youth, we felt it was critical to investigate who participates in earlier years and what benefits they might receive,” Black said.

The study involved 401 preschoolers in 31 classrooms in a large Ohio school district. It is part of a larger project called Early Learning Ohio, which examines children’s learning, achievement, and social development during their first five years of school, from preschool through third grade.

Parents or other primary caregivers completed a questionnaire asking about their demographics, home environment, their children’s extracurricular activities, and other measures.

Parents indicated whether their children participated in any of five extracurricular activities: classroom (such as music, dance, or art), athletics, religious groups, organizations (such as Boy Scouts), and school support/tutoring.

The results showed that about a quarter of the children were not involved in any activities. Just over a quarter participated in one activity and another quarter in two. The rest were involved in three, four or five activities.

In total, the average kindergarten student participated in 1.5 activities.

Sport was the most common extracurricular activity (60%), followed by religious activities (39%), classes (31%), organizations such as Boy Scouts (15%), and tutoring or additional academic preparation (8%).

The main finding was that demographic factors such as race/ethnicity, family income, and maternal education all played a role in whether preschool children participated in extracurricular activities.

Results showed that besides race/ethnicity, maternal education had one of the strongest links to participation.

Less than half of children whose mothers had college degrees or less participated in athletics (47%), compared to almost all children whose mothers had college or professional degrees (96%).

With the exception of religious activities, similar patterns were found for all activity types: children whose mothers were at the opposite end of the educational spectrum participated in religious activities at a similar rate.

The study also looked at whether greater participation in extracurricular activities led to gains in a measure of vocabulary development, but the results found no evidence of such gains.

That could be because the sample size wasn’t large enough or because the participants were young, the researchers said.

“By kindergarten age, children’s language skills are still developing and they’re just beginning these extracurricular activities,” said study coauthor Tzu-Jung Lin, associate professor of education and faculty associate at the Crane Center for Early Childhood, Ohio State Research and Policy.

“If we looked at the same children a few more years, we might expect to see the impact of extracurricular activities on their language development.”

And it may be that extracurricular activities play a stronger role in promoting school readiness, social-emotional development, or other important factors not examined in this study, the researchers said.

There may be several reasons why children from poorer families are less likely to participate in extracurricular sports or other activities.

“When children are in kindergarten, parents must accompany them to their activities,” Lin said. “Even if they have the money to afford these activities, many working-class families cannot leave work to be with their children at these events.”

Because kindergarteners from socio-economically disadvantaged families are already academically behind their peers in entering school, Black says they could take advantage of the boost from participating in sports, classes, or other activities.

“Increased participation in extracurricular activities could help close the gap with their potentially higher-performing peers,” Black said.

The key message, Allen said, is that policymakers and other leaders need to close this participation gap.

“We need to help children get involved in extracurricular activities from a young age so that people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds can have the same benefits and other opportunities that other children already have,” she said.

Additional co-authors of the study were Kelly Purtell, associate professor of humanities and faculty member at the Crane Center, and Laura Justice, professor of education and executive director of the Crane Center.

The research was supported by a grant from the Institute of Education Sciences.

Leave a Comment