How to Balance a Child’s Interests with New Ideas & Experiences

by ChristinaPilkington on October 6, 2012 · 5 comments

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Here’s a question I received on Interest-Led Learning’s Facebook page last week from Monica:

When I was in school in 3rd grade we had to write a story a week on Thursdays. At first I hated it. It was hard and I really had no interest in it. BUT…after a few weeks I started to like then love it. It could be about anything, and I began to wish each day was Thursday. My question is how do you balance interest led learning with getting kids to stick something out that I think they will come to love?

This question made me think about things that I first was not interested in but now really like.

When I was younger I only read fiction. Of course for school, I had to read a lot of nonfiction. In fact I was forced to read it whether I wanted to or not. It wasn’t until I was in my early 20’s that I started to read fiction and non-fiction equally. I had to find those subjects I really loved; I had to choose only those nonfiction books that captured my attention.

I love being around the ocean, but I’ve never really liked swimming. I had a bad experience taking lessons when I was 5, and ever since then I don’t like getting in water that much, especially cold water. But on our honeymoon, my husband wanted to go out on a boat to a particular reef to snorkel. I really wasn’t looking that forward to it.

But I wanted to share this experience with my husband. I loved him and wanted to understand why he loved snorkeling so much. It turned out that I really enjoyed myself. I don’t think I’ll ever love it in the way my husband does, but I’ve come to appreciate what he loves about swimming in the ocean.

I would never have known that snorkeling could be so much fun if I hadn’t tried it. In recent years I’ve also tried new foods I thought I’d hate and new experiences like mountain climbing that I’ve come to enjoy (despite being in tears halfway up the mountain from my fear of heights).

So, I guess I’d have to break down my answer into two parts:

1. If kids are not regularly introduced to new ideas, experiences and skills, they might not find those things that really ignite their interests and passions.

Of course there are thousands and thousands of different things we can introduce to our children. We’d have to live dozens of different lifetimes to even come close to experiencing the huge variety of things to do in this world.

But if we just stick bringing the types of things into our homes that our kids already show an interest in, we’re limiting the scope of their worlds. We’re not giving them new ideas to consider, new viewpoints to look at, new skills or knowledge that might lead them in exciting new directions.

I’m sure many of you, like Monica, can think of a moment when you were introduced to something new, or visited a different area of the country, or learned a new skill, and that opened up an entirely new world for you. Your interests and passions took a turn in an entirely new direction.

I would say this about Monica’s story, though. She said she had to write a story every Thursday, and then after a few weeks she grew to love writing those stories. So she only had two or maybe three times of not enjoying story writing before she then grew to love it.

If she would have continued to be forced to write those stories week after week and month after month and kept on hating it, then she might have been turned off from writing stories for a really long time, or maybe even forever. On the other hand, if she had hated it, and not been pressured to keep writing the stories and then come to creative writing a few years later, she might have had a new interest in it.

Unfortunately, in most school situations and even with many kids learning at home, kids aren’t given that opportunity to stop doing the things they either hate doing or are not ready to do at that time. What interest or joy they could have in the same activity in the future is jeopardized.

I don’t think we should just stick to helping our kids learn more of what they are already interested in. I think that’s a great starting point and a point at which everything else should branch off from. But introducing them, not forcing them, to do new things will help them develop their current interests, too.

Being creative means taking two thoughts or ideas that don’t seem to go together and finding a way to merge them into something new. The more ideas and experiences we can give our kids to choose from, the richer and more expansive their interests and passions will be.

2. There’s nothing wrong with asking your kids to try something they might seem reluctant to do; it’s the way that you go about asking them, though that will make all the difference.

As your children’s mother or father, you know your children better than anyone else. You know the types of things they like to do, the topics that get them excited, their energy level, if they love to be around other people a lot or need a lot of alone space. Because you know them so well, you have a pretty good idea if they’ll like a new experience or learning about a certain topic.

I few months ago I was listening to an interview with Pam Sorooshian. She was sharing a story about how she wanted her daughter to take karate lessons. At first her daughter said no. But Pam was convinced that if she just tried it that she would like it.

One day the karate studio offered one free trial lesson. Pam convinced her daughter to try it just one lesson, and if she didn’t like it than she didn’t have to go back. Well, her daughter wound up not only loving it, but one day earning her black belt.

Her daughter never would have known that she had such a passion for karate if her mother had not gently coaxed her into trying it. But I don’t think this story would have been as successful if Pam had not had a deep, trusting relationship with her daughter.

Her daughter knew that Pam truly had her best interests at heart and really believed that she would like karate if she gave it a try. Also, Pam didn’t force her daughter to try it. She gently introduced the topic several times; she gave her a way to quit if she didn’t like it.

If we have a trusting relationship with our kids, if we ask them to try something and they know that we’ll allow them to quit if they give it a chance and still don’t enjoy it, I think most times our kids will be open to trying out those things we ask them to do.

I’ve noticed in my own family, that even in cases where my kids really don’t want to do something I’ve asked, like helping to straighten up the house, when I let them know that I really need their help, that they play an important role in helping the house run smoothly, they usually agree to go along with what I’ve asked.

If you think something is really important for your kids to learn, or it’s something that you just know they’d love if they gave it a chance, than I’d suggest bringing the topic up gently and see how they react.

Give them real, honest reasons why you’d think they’d like to do what you’re suggesting. You could bring the topic up in a different way by connecting it to a current interest or goal.  Or you could drop the subject for now and wait for a different time.

If my kids protest and don’t want to do something, I personally don’t want to fight them over it.  It’s not worth my relationship with my kids to force them to do things they really don’t want to do. If it’s that important to me, I’ll work hard at finding a way to show them why it’s so important to me.

As far as what to do if your kids have been participating in activity for awhile and want to quit, I wrote a post over a year ago called the Art of Quitting you might want to check out, too.

Photo Credit: nist6ss

How would you answer Monica’s question?

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  • http://thegettys.blogspot.com Susan

    Monica’s question is a great one! I like your response very much, Chris…I think, as in most everything, it’s all about balance. Forcing a child to do something they hate is NOT the right way to go, in my opinion. I know in our home that does not work. But, I absolutely believe it’s part of our job to introduce new ideas and opportunities in the way that suits our kids the best.

    • christinapilkington

      I’m finding sometimes it can be hard to maintain that balance. I used to think that every day should be balanced like that….they give ideas and I give suggestions. But sometimes weeks will go by that they want me to suggest things to do, and then they will pick up on something they are really into and weeks will go by that they have lots of their own ideas. So, I think balance can also be in cycles, too. Each day might not seem balanced, but looking over the months and years, there is a unique flow.

      • http://thegettys.blogspot.com Susan

        I know exactly what you mean about balance being difficult to maintain! I agree about it being in cycles…I hadn’t really thought about that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joanotto Joan Concilio Otto

    This is a great question – and one I try to balance as well. I think the thing is, in our family, our 12-year-old daughter Sarah is discovering new topics of interest for herself all the time, just in day-to-day living! Now, is it “writing stories” or “taking karate lessons”? Well, not exactly, but it’s finding a new church (yes, she found our current church) and some other fairly large-scale things. I think age plays a role, too; I would probably direct more things her way if she were younger, but at almost 13, she knows her heart, and she’s willing to open it to new things without a lot of mom-prompting!

    • christinapilkington

      I think you’re right about the age thing. Older kids have been introduced to more things, so I think they have a larger storehouse of ideas and experiences to choose from when making decisions. And it’s also a matter of personality, too. My daughter welcomes ideas and suggestions much more than my son. And finding a new church is a huge accomplishment! It’s a skill that’s very pratical and useful. It requires a lot of decision making. I want to treasure these younger years with my kids, but I’m also looking forward to the awesome things they will do when they’re older too!

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