Drexel University Online - March and May

Creative and Preferred Extracurricular Activities Provide Gains to Students with Special Needs

On educational campuses, student involvement in creative and preferred extracurricular activities is an essential tool in each student’s personal development. The diverse experiences these activities provide can positively impact their emotional, intellectual, social, and interpersonal progress. Decades of research routinely demonstrates that these experiences are particularly beneficial when educating students challenged with social skills and motivational deficits.

The Glenholme School, a center of the Devereux Foundation, is among the many facilities studying the various methods of enhancing the social learning of students with special needs. Of the nine outcome studies conducted at the school over the past eight years, two provide valuable information on engaging students in creative or preferred activities. These studies are “The Effects of Engagement in Instructional Extracurricular Activities on Children’s Behavioral Functioning,” and “The Impact of Preferred Activities on Residential Programming on Children’s Behavioral Functioning.”

“The Effects of Engagement in Instructional Extracurricular Activities on Children’s Behavioral Functioning,” which concluded in May 2000, indicates that when students are positively engaged in activities of high interest, they exhibit more consistent and on-task behavior. The activities of this study included the equestrian program, fine arts and drama instruction, and the community service program. These findings demonstrate that educational facilities can reduce the frequency of disruptive behaviors and the need for negative or corrective behavior techniques by consistently involving students in instructional extracurricular activities. By doing so, the adults in the treatment environment can find more opportunities to reinforce positive behaviors, which research has consistently shown to be the most effective means of modifying behavior. One useful application of this study, aside from the feedback that the decision to fund creative engagement activities appears to be warranted, is that it provides empirical evidence of the positive impact interactive activities have on students.

More recently, “Measuring the Impact of Preferred Activities in Residential Programming on Children’s Behavioral Functioning,” which concluded in April 2005, demonstrates that the use of special treatment procedures can be reduced by creatively engaging students in instructional extracurricular activities. The continued focus on positive programming for students and providing a high concentration of preferred activities has led to the broadening of the scope of extracurricular activities at the school over the course of the past several years. The activities of this study involved the artistic, athletic, technological, and intellectual strengths and interests of the students that Glenholme serves. A sampling of the activities include music, dance, chorus, sports, technology, art, drama, equestrian, cooking, ropes course, and yearbook.

The Glenholme School’s outcome studies discussed here demonstrate that participation in creative, instructional extracurricular activities reduces problematic behaviors. When problematic behaviors are reduced, students are more available for learning to occur. Creative and preferred extracurricular activities are a contributing factor to the success of Glenholme’s Milieu Therapy, which is present in every aspect of student life. This program utilizes positive behavioral supports, attends to motivational deficits, and fosters self-dependence. A sampling of the current activities include equestrian, art, drama, dance, music, choral, athletics, graphic design, TV broadcasting, programming, photography, robotics, student government, community service and much more.

Involvement in creative and preferred activities provides much more than a simple creative outlet for students; it assists students in gaining experience in a variety of areas. Participation in athletics and organized activity instills cooperation, teamwork, time management, responsibility, and problem solving. Cooperative activities employ communication, negotiating, conflict resolution, and leadership skills. The various extracurricular activities can assist students’ social maturity development by providing a socially appropriate setting for interaction, discussion and relationship formation. The result is a comprehensive experience which produces a positive school environment and a strong integration to academics. Where there is improved behavior and increased academic success, there is an atmosphere brimming with accomplishment and enthusiasm.

Participation in the creative, preferred activities is not merely a pleasant opportunity, but is essential for students with learning differences. Students who participate in the various forms of activities often experience an improvement in achievement in other learning domains. Success for life can begin with a well-balanced education, one that includes a healthy involvement in creative and preferred extracurricular activities.

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