In the fast-paced world of modern education, where academic excellence often takes centre stage, it’s easy to overlook the profound impact that extracurricular activities can have on a child’s development.

While classroom learning is undeniably important, it is often the experiences beyond the textbooks that shape a child into a well-rounded, confident, and capable individual.

From honing essential life skills, to nurturing passions, and fostering social connections, schools such as Mayfield in Sussex are recognising how extracurricular activities play a pivotal role in shaping the future of young learners.

Read on to find out why extracurricular activities are so important for child development.

An important way for children to discover their passions

Extracurricular activities are brilliant for helping children to explore their passions and interests. Discovering different interests helps young people learn more about themselves – from their likes and dislikes, to their strengths and weaknesses.

When children are passionate about something, they are naturally more motivated and engaged. This enthusiasm drives them to learn and explore further, leading to a deeper understanding of the subject or skill. Identifying and nurturing passions early on, can help children explore potential future career paths.

Choosing a school that has a broad range of extracurricular activities gives your child the best chance of discovering their passions. Mayfield School, for example, offers its students over 100 extracurricular sessions a week. The School prides itself on offering a wide and varied extracurricular programme – with activities ranging from Sushi Making, to Astronomy Club, Junior Tech, Kickboxing, and even Dungeons and Dragons. 

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Horse riding at Mayfield

A great way to boost physical health and mental wellbeing

According to The Children’s Society, in the last three years, the likelihood of young people having a mental health problem has increased by 50%. Extracurricular activities are a brilliant outlet for children to release stress and anxiety. They can also help children to stay physically fit and healthy.

Mayfield School offers an extensive programme of ‘Wellbeing’ activities – from Chill Out Club (where students can take part in a range of mindful crafting activities such as colouring and origami), to Yoga, Gardening, and Welly Walking Club (a weekly walk with staff and their dogs in the School’s picturesque grounds).

All students at Mayfield participate in Physical Education, and have the opportunity to play in the School’s sports teams. The School also encourages every pupil to take part in at least one extracurricular physical activity per term and there’s a variety of activities available such as personal training, dance, and tennis coaching.

Mayfield also has a purpose-built Equestrian Centre on site, allowing pupils to stable their horses. Budding equestrians can also loan a horse. From competing at the top level, to developing a passion for these magical creatures – time spent on the yard helps pupils to not only stay fit, but it also nurtures their mental wellbeing.

Ella, a local student from Penshurst, is Mayfield’s Equestrian Captain. She feels riding has complemented her studies. She says: “Riding has helped me maintain my wellbeing throughout my studies and I love being out in the fresh air. I have also really enjoyed getting to know a wide range of girls, from across all the year groups, riding alongside them at all the NSEA (National Schools Equestrian Association) competitions.”

Mrs Deborah Bligh, Senior Deputy Head at Mayfield says: “It is taken for granted that the more you practice for exams, the better you do. The same principle applies to wellbeing. Extensive research has shown the mood boosting effects of doing something you love and we all know about the power of exercise for producing endorphins. Mayfield provides an exceptional array of extracurricular activities that enables students to spend time doing things they enjoy, learn new skills, make friendships, have fun and get fit, and in doing so, ensures the girls have established the habits to see them through to an emotional and physically healthy adulthood”.

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Netball at Mayfield

Extracurricular activities help to build confidence and self-esteem

Achieving success in extracurricular activities can boost children’s confidence and self-esteem. It allows them to set goals, work towards them, and experience the sense of accomplishment when they achieve them.

Mayfield’s Duke of Edinburgh Award (DofE), is dubbed by the School as ‘the ultimate personal development programme’. Pupils complete four sections covering Volunteering, Physical, Skills, and Expedition, plus Residential at Gold level. Taking part in the DofE helps pupils to develop a sense of respect and responsibility for themselves, their community, and the environment.

The DofE also helps pupils develop their leadership skills. There are many opportunities for girls at Mayfield to take on leadership roles, whether that’s becoming a subject ambassador, helping girls lower down the School, or taking on a prefect role – with roles as varied as Charities Prefect to Technology and Innovation Prefect.

Yaa, a Lower Sixth boarder at Mayfield, has helped to build her confidence by joining Mayfield’s performing arts clubs. She says: “Drama has really helped to bring me out of my shell and has given me a sense of confidence that helps with all aspects of school life. I’m now able to challenge myself to do things outside of my comfort zone.”

Last year, Lizzie represented the School at the Model United Nations Conference – an educational simulation of the actual United Nations in which students can learn about diplomacy and international relations – in Torun, Poland. She says: “Taking part in the conference helped me grow in confidence, and I learnt some really useful skills, such as learning to negotiate and find common ground, as I worked as part of Nigeria’s delegation and had to work with delegations from other countries to get resolutions passed.”

Providing opportunities for volunteering and community service

Extracurricular activities often provide a framework for young people to engage in meaningful volunteer and community service work. These activities not only benefit the community but also allow students to develop important life skills, such as leadership, teamwork, communication, and a sense of social responsibility.

In 2021/22, 51% of 16-24 year olds in England volunteered at least once (Statista) – one of the lowest participation rates when compared to other age groups. At Mayfield, every girl in Lower Sixth dedicates at least one activity period every week to the School’s ‘Actions Not Words’ programme. This involves pupils volunteering at a number of local primary schools, nursery schools, and care homes. As part of the programme, students host lunches and afternoon teas for older people and undertake charity fundraising throughout the year.

Not only valuable for higher education applications, volunteering helps to teach young people selflessness and the importance of making a positive impact in their community.

Mr John Doy, Head of Sixth Form at Mayfield says: “I’m quite a fan of the quotation from Ghandi that “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” – sixth form students are at a really crucial point in their personal development and having the opportunity to serve others can be a formative experience for young people and help them to get a fresh perspective on life.”

Mayfield’s Ceramics Studio

Developing new skills and allowing creativity to flourish

Extracurricular activities give young people the opportunity to learn and develop various skills that may not be covered in the academic curriculum.

Extracurricular activities also help to foster creativity by offering a wide range of experiences, teaching important life skills, and providing a supportive environment for personal growth and innovation.

The diverse range of experiences on offer at Mayfield School allow students to widen their skillset, meet other students with similar interests, and explore their creativity. 

A great example of this is Mayfield’s renowned Pottery Studio, which is said to be one of the best equipped in Europe. Helping Mayfield’s students to develop many skills, ceramics requires both aesthetic and analytical judgement. It allows children to express themselves, but also teaches self discipline, as well as confidence and self esteem. Ceramics students at Mayfield achieve outstanding examination results.

Mrs Annabel Bunce, Deputy Head Academic at Mayfield says: “At Mayfield we passionately believe in the benefits of a holistic education. By providing two hours of dedicated extra curricular time each day, we can educate the whole person, as well as giving balance to their academic lessons.  Our provision of extensive opportunities for the girls allows them to develop their own passions and interests beyond the confines of the traditional curriculum, allows them to develop a much stronger sense of self, which in term promotes greater happiness and wellbeing. Happy students then also thrive in their academic study.”

Extracurricular activities go hand in hand with academic success at Mayfield

Putting students in the best position for further education and career opportunities

Most universities, colleges, and further education institutions consider extracurricular activities as part of the evaluation process for applications. Students with a diverse range of extra and co curricular experiences may have an advantage over other applicants.

At Mayfield, teachers, parents, alumnae, peers, employers, representatives from business, universities in the UK and overseas, and career professionals all help to support and guide pupils through the School’s careers education programme. The School hosts events and talks with a diverse range of role models to help inspire their pupils. Talks from women working in disciplines such as science and technology aim to help grow girls’ confidence. Recent talks have featured former pupils, including Medtech entrepreneur Giovanna Forte, Actor Fenella Woolgar (she recently starred in Call the Midwife), and World Champion Rower Emily Craig (2022 World Champion in Women’s Lightweight Double Sculls).

But it’s the breath of educational experiences at Mayfield that really helps students achieve their aspirations. From this year’s Upper Sixth cohort, there are countless examples of students who combined extracurricular activities with their studies to get into the universities of their choice. John Doy, Head of Sixth Form says: “One enterprising student set up her own ceramics designing business and got straight onto a Fine Art degree without needing to take a Foundation year and is still growing her online business whilst at university.” 

Ultimately, the skills and experiences that your child has gained through extracurricular activities will also set them up for life after school, putting them in a good position for future careers.

This is a sponsored post created in collaboration with Mayfield School, Catholic independent boarding and day school for girls aged 11 to 18, set in the Sussex countryside.

Read more school news here.