School activities

The Power and Promise of Japanese Extracurricular Activities

Whether you’re just dipping your toes into the world of extracurricular activities with your young child, or you’re already trained to juggle children’s schedules and interests after school, read on to find out why and how activities extracurricular or naraigoto in Japanese can have a positive influence on the life of your family.

A Gateway to Japanese Society

Small children need time to play and grow at their own pace. But they also need positive learning experiences that prepare them for success in Japanese society. Indeed, here in Japan, the choice of whether or not to send your young child to extracurricular activities is not just considered from the perspective of individual family philosophies. On the contrary, it is considered an essential step in familiarizing children with life as part of the wider Japanese society. Contrary to bukatsu (club activities) or other extracurricular activities run by preschools or elementary schools, naraigoto are private sector activities unrelated to children’s primary schooling.

So, on the one hand, the children of a naraigoto aren’t the same ones your child sees at school every day and they’re all there (hopefully!) because of a common interest that can foster friendships. They also learn perseverance and persistence in extracurricular activities while navigating new teachers and other children, much like the experiences of bukatsu that awaits them at the end of primary school and beyond, or company teams and events in the adult world. Also, naraigoto can complement the (pre)school curriculum by helping young children with greetings, physical strength and flexibility, fine motor skills and/or concentration.

Choose an activity

In the not so distant past in Japan, parents chose their children naraigoto. Recently, however, other parents I’ve spoken with as well as contemporary parenting books and websites I’ve consulted have almost unanimously recommended letting your child lead the process. In other words, ask yourself if they are interested in participating in activities that they feel drawn to.

Photo: iStock: Yagi-Studio

Of course, that’s not to say we should blindly sign them up for whatever pops into their heads; small children often change their interests and predilections as they try out social roles themselves. Also, three to seven year olds really can’t grasp the time and resource constraints that can factor into your decision making. And so, in this balancing act, it’s important to be clear about your family’s situation and allow your child to explore.

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