What do Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Bill Gates have in common in their educational background? No, they didn’t all go to Ivy League universities – but they all went to technology summer camps or after-school activities. Extracurricular programs open many doors and are rich in experiences. There’s an after-school activity for your child, no matter their age or background.

Check out our top 5 ways after-school programs create an enriching learning and growing environment:

Exposure to new topics
After-school programs are a great way for kids to dip their toes in something new in a safe, fun place. Programs offered at schools or at organizations may not be covered in regular learning and could be something completely off-the-wall, niche or leading-edge. Take this opportunity for you and your child to learn together. Finding something your child enjoys and has potential in, helps develop confidence, self-esteem and a budding passion.

Social skills
Extracurricular programs are not school and shouldn’t feel like school or homework. They are often spaces where kids can act freely and more open, allowing kids to be themselves and easily meet other like-minded kids. These programs give kids the opportunity to express and practice their social skills. Look for spaces that foster this environment and let kids experiment and even fail.

Trying new topics and learning differently help children discover their passion and decipher what they like and don’t like. Kids with goals and passions are more likely to show motivation, better grades, self-esteem and develop social skills. Starting earlier is better, as kids inherently learn how to focus, master and establish hard-working skills.

Decision-making skills
There are many after-school activities out there, from dance to science classes. Go through all the various programs with your child, find out what they like, the pros and the cons. Completing this exercise will help them build decision-making skills, prioritization skills, responsibility and self-awareness. This will help shy kids express themselves and build their voice.

University and job applications
Not only do after-school activities provide well-rounded skills, but on a more practical level, they can help with school and job applications. Universities often look at other activities to gauge a better understanding of the future student.

Remember when choosing after-school programs, make sure to discuss with your child and not overwhelm them. You can event start simply at home and invite some of their friends over. If they are really not interested, give them some time and don’t force it. Look into and ask your child why they don’t want to try a certain program. There may be an underlying issue, like bullying or exhaustion. There are different activities and giving them a breadth of options is helpful. Perhaps they want to do something more individualized (ex. reading or swimming), more active, more academic or simply join a class with a friend. Ask if the program has trial classes or if you can join for just a few sessions to test it out.

After-school activities are just as important as school, homework and time with friends. They can really help provide direction, create a new social network and aid academic success.

What do you look for when you look for after-school programs for your kids?