The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Lessons Out of School

Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson

Because schooling has never provided a complete education, children have always needed the kind of learning that comes outside of the classroom. Some of this learning can come in activities sponsored after school hours by athletic teams, service clubs, and religious organizations. But not all family structures prove equally effective in supporting after-school learning. A study by researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics highlights the importance of an intact parental marriage in giving children access to extracurricular learning.

Examining data for a national sample of 25,797 children ages 6 to 11, the researchers limn a distinct family-structure gap in participation in after school activities: “approximately 80% of children [in the survey] who lived in a 2-parent home participated in [sports or clubs] compared with 66% of children who lived in a single-parent home (p<0.05).”

And as the researchers anticipated, the children participating in out-of-school activities evinced “greater social competence during middle childhood” when compared to peers who did not participate in such activities. More specifically, children who were involved in out-of-school activities were more likely than peers who were not involved “to try to resolve conflicts (p<.01),” to “show respect for teachers and neighbors (p<.01) and to try to get along with other children (p=.02).”

The researchers interpret their findings in the context of earlier research showing that participation in out-of-school activities is “associated with lower dropout rates, reduced problem behaviors, increased school performance, and with building the interpersonal skills and positive assets needed to become active and productive young adults.”

Unfortunately, the benefits of out-of-school learning will remain unavailable to many children so long as national rates for divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing remain high.

(LaJeana D. Howie et al., “Participation in Activities Outside of School Hours in Relation to Problem Behavior and Social Skills in Middle Childhood,” Journal of School Health 80.3 [March 2010]: 119–25.)