Extracurricular activities for social engagement

Evidence Rating  
Scientifically Supported
Evidence rating: Scientifically Supported

Strategies with this rating are most likely to make a difference. These strategies have been tested in many robust studies with consistently positive results.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers

Extracurricular activities include any organized social, art, or physical activities for school-aged youth that occur during out-of-school time, usually before- or after-school or during the summer. Extracurricular activities can be offered through school, community, or religious organizations. Examples include clubs, school newspapers, music groups, student councils, debate teams, theater, volunteering programs, sports, and youth groups; programs sometimes include academic components.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Increased self-esteem

  • Improved youth behavior

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Increased self-confidence

  • Improved social skills

  • Improved social networks

What does the research say about effectiveness? This strategy is rated scientifically supported.

There is strong evidence that extracurricular activities increase self-esteem and positive social behaviors among children and adolescents1, 2, 3. Extracurricular activities are also a suggested strategy to increase social support systems, develop social skills and relationships, and enhance neighborhood cohesion4, 5. There are a variety of these types of activities and programs, however, and some are more effective than others6.

Creative extracurricular activities such as music, dance, drama, and visual arts can increase participants’ self-confidence, self-esteem, and positive behaviors7. After-school activities appear to improve school belonging, motivation, and academic achievement among immigrant high school students8. Elementary school students appear to have greater social engagement benefits when they are highly engaged in after school programming than when they are less engaged9.   

Extracurricular activities with academic components can modestly improve grades, test scores, and academic proficiency along with social benefits1, 2, 6, 9, 10, 11. Some studies indicate that participation in extracurricular activities may decrease problem behaviors such as alcohol use, risky sexual activity, and delinquency1, 6, 11, while others suggest no effect on such behaviors12, 13.

Students’ attendance at extracurricular activities may be enhanced by supportive environments, age-appropriate structures, positive relationships between participants and staff, and diverse activities that foster child development and engage participants. These characteristics can also improve student outcomes14, 15, 16.

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated no impact on disparities likely.
Implementation Examples

Examples of extracurricular programs include Triple Play, offered at over 4,000 Boys and Girls Clubs across the country17; Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program, offered in 1,500 clubs in rural, urban, and suburban settings in 32 states and Washington, D.C.18; 4-H Afterschool, nationally implemented through public universities and Cooperative Extension19; After-School All-Stars, serving low income and at-risk youth in 12 states20; and WINGS, providing social and emotional learning programs in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia21.

California’s Proposition 49, the After School Education and Safety Program Act of 2002, expanded after-school programs and extracurricular activities to benefit children; sports to increase physical fitness, tutoring to improve academic performance, and youth development programs to enhance social skills and responsible behavior22 .

Implementation Resources

ASA - Afterschool Alliance (ASA). Keep kids safe and inspire them to learn.

CSPV-Elliott 2002 - Elliott DS, Grady JM, Shaw TE, Aultman-Bettridge T, Beaulieu MT. Safe communities ~ Safe schools guide to effective program selection: A tool for community violence prevention efforts. Boulder: Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence (CSPV); 2002.

IES WWC-Beckett 2009 - Beckett M, Borman G, Capizzano J, et al. Structuring out-of-school time to improve academic achievement. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), Institute of Education Sciences (IES), US Department of Education (US ED); NCEE 2009-012.

HOST-PA - Healthy Out-of-School Time (HOST) Coalition. Resources: Physical activity (PA).


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1 Durlak 2010 - Durlak JA, Weissberg RP, Pachan M. A meta-analysis of after-school programs that seek to promote personal and social skills in children and adolescents. American Journal of Community Psychology. 2010;45(3-4):294–309.

2 HFRP-Little 2008 - Little PMD, Wimer C, Weiss HB. After school programs in the 21st century: Their potential and what it takes to achieve it. Cambridge: Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP); 2008: Brief Number 10.

3 YG-Afterschool - Youth.gov (YG), Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs (IWGYP). Afterschool programs.

4 CG-Anderson 2003a - Anderson LM, Scrimshaw SC, Fullilove MT, Fielding JE, Task Force on Community Preventive Services. The Community Guide’s model for linking the social environment to health. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2003;24(3S):12-20.

5 Urban-Moore 1999 - Moore K, Ehrle J. Children’s environment and behavior: Participation in extracurricular activities. Washington, D.C.: Assessing the New Federalism (ANF), Urban Institute; 1999.

6 Farb 2012 - Farb AF, Matjasko JL. Recent advances in research on school-based extracurricular activities and adolescent development. Developmental Review. 2012;32(1):1–48.

7 Bungay 2013 - Bungay H, Vella-Burrows T. The effects of participating in creative activities on the health and well-being of children and young people: A rapid review of the literature. Perspectives in Public Health. 2013;133(1):44-52.

8 Camacho 2015 - Camacho DE, Fuligni AJ. Extracurricular participation among adolescents from immigrant families. Empirical Research. 2015;44(6):1251-1262.

9 Grogan 2014 - Grogan KE, Henrich CC, Malikina MV. Student engagement in after-school programs, academic skills, and social competence among elementary school students. Child Development Research. 2014:498506.

10 RAND-Bodilly 2005 - Bodilly S, Beckett MK. Making out-of-school-time matter: Evidence for an action agenda. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation; 2005.

11 Vandell 2007 - Vandell DL, Reisner ER, Pierce KM. Outcomes linked to high-quality afterschool programs: Longitudinal findings from the study of promising afterschool programs. Irvine: University of California, Irvine, Department of Education; 2007.

12 Taheri 2015 - Taheri SA, Welsh BC. After-school programs for delinquency prevention: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Criminology & Penology. 2015:1-19.

13 Kremer 2015 - Kremer KP, Maynard BR, Polanin JR, Vaughn MG, Sarteschi CM. Effects of after-school programs with at-risk youth on attendance and externalizing behaviors: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Youth and Adolescence. 2015;4(3):616-636.

14 Leos-Urbel 2015 - Leos-Urbel J. What works after school? The relationship between after-school program quality, program attendance, and academic outcomes. Youth Society. 2015;47(5):684-706.

15 Vandell 2013 - Vandell DL. Afterschool program quality and student outcomes: reflections on positive key findings on learning and development from recent research. In: Expanding minds and opportunities: Leveraging the power of afterschool and summer learning for student success. Expanded Learning & Afterschool Project; 2013:10-16.

16 ASA - Afterschool Alliance (ASA). Keep kids safe and inspire them to learn.

17 Triple Play - Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Triple Play: A game plan for mind, body, and soul.

18 TOP - Wyman Teen Outreach Program (TOP). Teen Outreach Program: Help transform teens and change communities.

19 4-H - The Cooperative Extension System, 4-H National Headquarters, National 4-H Council. 4-H Afterschool.

20 ASAS - After-School All-Stars (ASA). Comprehensive after-school programs.

21 WINGS - WINGS for Kids (WING). WINGS: Helping kids soar.

22 CA-After school - California Department of Education. After school education & safety program.

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