5 Extracurriculars That Are Great For Kids With Learning Disabilities

Extracurriculars are valuable for all children, but they can be especially important for students with learning disabilities and differences.

These children may not feel successful in school because of their academic struggles; out-of-school offerings provide them with opportunities to succeed beyond the formal learning environment. Many of these activities enable children to strengthen the very skills they have difficulty with in the classroom, while also engaging in fun, creative experiences.

Read on to learn about five extracurricular activities that are especially beneficial to kids with learning disabilities (LD).

1. Theater

Acting has many academic and social-emotional benefits for children with learning disabilities. Multiple script readings help children improve their reading fluency, including their vocabulary, reading accuracy, and intonation. In addition, the practice of discussing a script, its meaning, and its character development helps children practice close reading skills and critical analysis — both of which are important for reading comprehension.

Acting also provides students with an outlet for their artistic expression, which can serve as a powerful confidence booster for children whose academic struggles may prevent them from recognizing their strengths. Moreover, the opportunity to be a part of an ensemble allows students to deepen their collaborative and social skills, which also improves their self-esteem.

2. Visual Arts

Students can use the visual arts to communicate their thoughts and feelings in ways that are both creative and therapeutic. Thinking visually is a strength that many students with learning disabilities possess, and being able to produce visual work (as opposed to written pieces) can be especially empowering for them.

A report by Very Special Arts (VSA), an international organization for arts, education, and disabilities, noted that “[a]rt not only gave students with disabilities a way to express themselves, but it also enhanced their self-esteem.”

3. Sports

Athletic teams and activities offer experiences that can lead to improved self-image and metacognition — planning and understanding how to carry out an activity — for children with learning disabilities. Sports can also inspire kids to develop new skills that positively impact their academics, from improved mathematical abilities to strengthened organizational and collaborative sensibilities. And, importantly, exercise has been linked to better behavioral and academic performance in students with ADHD, as well as a reduction in ADHD symptoms.

Formal sports programs also enable students to develop a growth mindset, which is the concept — put forth by Stanford University researchers Carol Dweck and Lisa Blackwell — that our brains grow the more we learn. The coaching and practice built into these types of programs help children see the ways in which their skills can develop with effective instruction and hard work. Dweck and Blackwell have shown that children who develop a growth mindset are more engaged and successful academically.

4. Music

Music too can be particularly constructive for students with learning disabilities or ADHD. Researchers have noted that people who play music tend to have improved executive function skills, which are frequently underdeveloped in students with ADHD. By building organizational structures into a student’s life, music training can serve a supplement to the direct organizational skills training that many experts recommend for students with ADHD. Daily practice and regular lessons help such students learn to establish and maintain effective routines.

That said, traditional music instruction may be difficult for students with dyslexia or ADHD, since reading music presents similar challenges as reading words. Instruction in playing by ear is one solution that allows children who struggle with reading tasks to develop their skills and passion for this art form. Researchers have also noted that individuals with ADHD tend to exhibit more creative and spontaneous thinking than their peers, making genres such as improvisational jazz and rap promising pursuits for these kids.

5. Coding Clubs

Coding and computer programming classes are making their way into more and more schools’ curricula, and with good reason. The benefits of coding are manifold, and include improved higher-order thinking, organization, and even spelling.

Coding clubs also provide an opportunity for students who are experiencing social difficulties, such as a Non-Verbal Learning Disability, to meet other children who struggle with social communication. For example, kids with High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often thrive in coding environments. In fact, organizations like the nonPareil Institute are now helping to prepare students with ASD for technology careers.

If an extracurricular your child loves isn’t on this list, it doesn’t mean he or she is not benefiting from it. Any activity that allows a student to feel confident is worthwhile. Many extracurriculars have the added benefit of strengthening academic and social-emotional skills.