With kids and teens returning to school for 2023, where do we stand with enrichment? Are “after-school” activities going to command more of the spotlight? Will it be enough to just enrich, or are parents going to need more of an education replacement, or at least a much heavier supplement?
While I might not have all of the answers, here is a deep dive into the many activities one might consider to be enrichment. This list can also be relied on more heavily by families needing to bolster their kids’ everyday learning activities.
What is an enrichment activity or class?
Enrichment is an experience where kids can extend their learning to improve or enhance skills, knowledge, and well-being. After-school enrichment activities and classes can include academics, sports, arts, and more, and are offered with the goal of providing entertainment and enjoyment, while sharpening and fleshing-out student skill sets.
Even more exciting are the benefits that kids get mentally and emotionally. As they build skills, they’re learning problem-solving skills that they can apply in other situations. While they work through the challenges of learning something new, they also prove to themselves that they can accomplish hard things, which is a huge confidence builder.
Depending on the type of program your child is enrolled in, they may get to interact with other kids during enrichment activities. This allows them to participate in social and emotional learning (SEL). SEL is a process through which children and teens gain knowledge, skills, and attitudes that help them develop healthy identities and manage their emotions. SEL also teaches kids how to achieve their goals, make responsible decisions, and show empathy for others.
Types of after-school enrichment activities
Coding for kids can take a variety of forms, ranging from Scratch summer camps to advanced Python programs. But beyond that, enrichment can come from any of the many available coding “toys” like those from LEGO, Sphero, and others.
Here are a few examples:
LEGO Robotics—LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 or the LEGO Education SPIKE Prime Set can offer robotics fun through the familiarity of the classic building set.
Read More: What is Sphero and How Does it Work?
Courses to consider:
When it comes to activities, the goal isn’t purely entertainment, so while board games are great and can hold kids’ attention, parents should strive for options that require deeper levels of thinking.
On a basic level, this could mean something like chess or checkers, or, even the strategy of Monopoly (which has multiple themed editions for another layer of learning) or word-focused fun of Scrabble.
If your child is a chess enthusiast, they’ll love leveling up their game with online chess coaching and lessons. There are also board games that help teach coding fundamentals, like Robot Turtles, and math skills like Tri-Facta.
Here is a list of educational board games.
Arts & crafts
When you hear “arts & crafts” you may immediately think about glue, paper shreds, and big messes. But, these activities can certainly be enriching, especially if they involve creating something new and different, or something innovative if kids are given a prompt and only a set amount of resources, etc.
In addition to exploring drawing as an art form, whether that's through creating comic style art or another genre they're excited about, taking art digital with graphic design or photography is an exciting option (more on these later)! Likely to be new to many young artists, digital art transforms paper works into share-ready masterpieces.
And, while not everyone has access to a 3D printer, there are many options now, with some being quite affordable. Thus, learning 3D modeling and then being able to print creations on a 3D printer can be a great activity for kids (see how the “Taco Bros” are using their 3D printing skills for good.)
Here are some ideas from the iD Tech blog:
You know about Minecraft, I’m sure. But did you know that in addition to all of the fun kids have with the game, Minecraft can be incredibly educational as well? There are a number of benefits listed via that link (creativity, problem-solving, etc.) but kids can also go from playing to turning their attention to Minecraft mods.
Here are a few Minecraft resources:
- Blog: Is Minecraft educational?
- Blog: What are Minecraft mods?
- Blog: How to make a Minecraft server
- Blog: What is adventure mode in Minecraft?
- Blog: Minecraft modding for kids
- Course: Minecraft Modding with Java Tutoring
Artificial intelligence (AI) has become part of our daily lives and will likely shape the future in ways we don’t even realize now. Supporting your child’s interest in AI could help them develop advantageous skills.
Plus, these tools are simply fun to play with. Your child will need to think of scenarios, come up with prompts, and learn to improve their input to get better results from the AI model they’re using.
There are several free tools to get started with AI, including OpenAI’s Chat GPT-4 (language) and DALL-E 2 (visual art). If your child has shown interest, you can help guide them with an online course in artificial intelligence.
Sports, Dance & Exercise
Enrichment doesn’t have to be only about the “brain,” in which something like esports coaching might be a perfect fit, it can also be about the body. Not to mention that exercise offers awesome benefits for both the body and mind.
Now, this could really be any sport, but I’m trying to keep in mind the fact that many kids are stuck at home—often on their own. So, basketball is one of the easier sports for kids to play at length on their own.
In addition, though, there are also virtual instruction opportunities with something like a "smart" soccer ball, where kids can go through interactive training, and even join live classes.
The last thing many kids want to do is to have to go through a day that involves math in school, and then be tasked with more math during their after-school enrichment time.
So, look to make math fun, which means turning to supplemental activities that have a math component in order to “sneak” in the skill-building, for lack of a better term.
Think about things like creating a new recipe where kids need to double the given yield, or money management where kids are adding or subtracting from their allowances, and even couponing where you present different percentage-off coupons to kids and have them calculate new checkout totals, etc.
All that said, there are also math apps, and then the math board games mentioned above. Here are some resources on how to make math fun:
- 8 ways to make math fun for kids & teens
- 15 fun ways to practice math
- 30 ways to make math fun for elementary kids
Not to mention that tutoring doesn't have to fit into the "boring" box that tutoring might be traditionally known for. For instance, iD Tech has a number of online math tutoring courses, including options in pre-algebra, algebra I, algebra II, and geometry.
With after-school enrichment, one approach is to have kids dive into large projects that can be broken up over a number of days, with kids chipping away and progressing during each sitting. The other approach is to go for breadth and to allow for kids to jump into quick-hitting options.
Design lends itself to both, as kids can take on a larger design project, like creating something in Maya such as video game assets, designing a website with HTML, or special FX for films, and more. This could also be a personal branding exercise where kids create a logo and online presence.
A “smaller” option could involve mini design exercises, like creating graphic quotes for social media or making a tri-fold monster doodle activity.
What kid doesn’t watch YouTube or Instagram reels? Just like many adults have a favorite content creator, so do kids! Many children look up to creators and want to learn how to do something similar. Encouraging them to become content creators instead of content consumers also teaches them a valuable lesson about social media.
Whether they’re interested in video content, graphics, blogs, or something else, there’s a tool that they can use to get started! Here are a few ways to get started:
- Challenge writers to create a blog on Blogger or Live Journal.
- Encourage photographers to create an Instagram page.
- Show short and long-form video makers how to create a Youtube channel.
From there, you can challenge your child to choose a theme, create a content plan, and get to work! A few niche ideas to explore might include:
- Animal care
- How-to guides
As your child builds their interest, you can support them with online courses. For example, private lessons on Video for Youtube can expedite skills.
Photography is more than just a fancy word for taking pictures. It can be an involved, enriching activity if approached correctly. For instance, a photographer can adopt a particular theme and style, where they specialize in taking certain types of photos and expand on their style using Photoshop.
Not to mention that a camera is a tool, and requires precise skill and developed experience in order to truly understand all that it’s capable of, from the lens and flash, to viewfinder, shutter speeds, aperture, and more.
Theater and Acting
For kids with a flair for dramatics, theater might just be the perfect fit. Plus, acting in plays or home movies forces kids to hone in on several skills. They have to memorize lines, think quickly, express emotions, and ultimately be confident enough to get on stage.
There are several entry points to performing arts, which makes it accessible no matter where you live. If you’d like to take a DIY approach, you can encourage your child to choose a favorite actor, then watch the actor’s (age-appropriate) movie catalog. From there, they can interpret and research movie themes, acting techniques, storylines, and more.
You can also enroll your child in online or in-person acting classes. There are a variety of online acting courses to choose from—including free options. If your child is interested, they can also audition for parts in plays via local theaters, community centers, and schools.
Movie making may have meant one thing years ago, but today, the opportunity is out there for anyone to try and create a special effects blockbuster thanks to the many available tools - like Adobe Character Animator, Premiere, After Effects, and more - or, to create a simple yet entertaining stop-motion movie from an iPhone.
Knowledge of these cutting-edge programs gives kids the tools they need to become the next YouTube or TikTok star! And with the right expert mentorship and guidance, they can leverage the power of these popular platforms to share (and maybe even monetize) their ideas with a wide audience.
Filming and producing videos allows kids an outlet for self-expression as they carve out their path from imaginer to storyteller.
Drawing & Animation
Like most activities, drawing and animation can be fun at the entry-level, but can be even more beneficial at the advanced levels that follow. The same goes for video games (and yes, video games can be good for kids), where kids can have some good entertainment just by playing them, but can take things to new heights in terms of conceptualizing their own games, or even learning how to develop.
Anyway, back to drawing—it’s an art for good reason! A great enrichment activity, then, would be to task your child with something like character design, where they go through the different steps of defining a character, and then bringing them to life through animation and even 3D design.
Journaling is a great way for kids to express gratitude, work through their feelings, build writing skills, and share memories that they’ll cherish for years. Journaling also takes on many forms. While traditional journaling is word-based, it can also be rooted in art. Plus, they can have different themes, depending on your child’s interests.
Examples of different types of journaling include:
Travel journal: Log all the travels you’ve been on and what you did in different locations.
Sports journal: Keep notes about the sports you play, your role on the team, and what’s going well during games.
Feelings journal: Identify your feelings and emotions by writing down what’s happening and how you feel about it.
Art journal: Draw or paint to express what you’re thinking and feeling.
Bullet journal: Create a monthly theme and set up a layout however you like, whether that’s just journaling or including a calendar and to-do list.
Traditionally, there of course is trying to learn a new instrument, but when it comes to music as the focus of your enrichment activity, it can mean more. For instance, kids can get involved with digital music production, feeding their inner-composer to create the next big electronic music hit!
By using professional software to create their own beats, and then learning how to polish them to studio quality, kids can realize creative potential they may have never known existed.
Robotics can be a ton of fun, but also provides benefits like problem-solving, teamwork, and even visual programming. Plus, robotics sets are accessible, including options from VEX and LEGO, and others. And who knows where involvement in robotics might lead—robotics engineer, programmer, designer?
Robotics also lends itself to teamwork and collaboration - even if your child is in an online course. For instance, a virtual robotics course brings kids together to program robots with graphical code blocks, and to explore topics like AI and computational thinking.
Strategy, logic, and a lifelong pastime await on the board! Not only is chess fun to play, but kids will also enjoy its competitive potential and endless opportunities for learning.
So, if you're looking for a low-tech hobby that's incredibly family friendly, chess is both a simple solution and a limitlessly complex (while still fun!) mental challenge for kids.
Cooking and Baking
As we discussed above, cooking and baking can help kids learn important math skills in a fun way. Getting in the kitchen can also provide a sense of accomplishment as kids learn how to create food from basic ingredients. They’ll learn important fine motor skills as they work on measuring, stirring, and chopping. You’ll also get the chance to provide some useful information on healthy eating while in the kitchen.
Depending on your child’s age, you may need to accompany them in the kitchen or take them to a cooking class. Likewise, you might need to invest in child-friendly tools, like a kid-safe knife set. As they become more skilled, you can set them up with a recipe or instructional video and let them work on their own (just be sure to jump in for anything involving hot surfaces).
There are a variety of resources online, including the following recipe round-ups:
Gardening is an entertaining way for kids to get outside without having to go too far. They can have fun getting a little dirty while also learning lessons in science. Growing their own food can also instill a sense of appreciation for the food they find on their plates every day.
To start, you’ll need:
- Space to plant (either a section of your yard or a few pots)
- Seeds (make it interactive by letting them choose what to plant)
- Garden spades
While you’re at it, you can teach them (or help them research) information about gardening. That includes everything from soil quality to photosynthesis to watering schedules.
The brain’s elasticity is what allows us to learn. When you’re younger, the brain is more elastic, making learning languages far easier than when you’re older. That said, teaching your child a second language at a young age can be both fun and easy.
There are a ton of ways to learn languages. You can sign your child up for DuoLingo, which teaches language for free via a gamified app. Or, expedite the process with an online course or tutor.
For example, your child could learn English through tech via private lessons. Either way, this skill will stick around for life!
Writing is a wonderful enrichment activity because it doesn’t take much to get started, and the opportunities are endless. Meaning, a child can sit down with a pen and paper or word processor, and with a prompt, can write creatively on what they’re tasked with.
For instance, how about:
- If you could change your name, what would it be and why?
- If you could have lunch with anyone in the world, who would it be?
- Which is better, baseball or golf?
You could go on and on, and here is a list of kids writing prompts to consider.
Don't be fooled...
Meaning, don't be fooled into thinking an activity can't be enriching. I think we as parents sometimes fall into the idea that if something is fun, it can't be beneficial. Just like when it comes to food—if it tastes good, it can't be healthy!
But, there is definitely a balance that can be struck, with plenty of fun activities being enriching and "nourishing" for our kids.