3 Tips for Building Kids’ Interests

I once heard Geena Davis say, “if she can see it, she can be it.” She was referring then to girls in film and the characters they see. But that statement resonates in other contexts, too.

A former colleague of mine at Google, Robert, shared the sweetest video of when he first introduced his toddler to robots. The reaction was priceless. Yet, I think it was one more of the things that caused me recently to wake up with a start. Robert’s kids will consider robots and programming the fabric of their everyday before they can construct complete sentences. Mine, well, let’s just say we don’t have any robots scooting around our house.

The data tells us kids, or anyone for that matter, who are deeply interested in a subject or topic are much more likely to excel at it.  More interest, more success. But how on earth are we supposed to spark our kids’ interest in something if it’s not already a personal passion of our own? Or worse, if it’s actually something we avoid out of our own disinterest or dislike? This is my approach. What is yours?

Use video and technology.

Our son came home from school the other day, belting out tunes from The Sound of Music. It was thrilling! So, what did I do? Found clips of the original on YouTube, streamed it, and made sure that he basked in the enchantment of one of my all-time favorites. Now, he’s practically a musical junkie. He showed me an interest, and I utilized the web to build on it for him. When he asked me about the moon and how far away it is, what it’s like, and other questions that eluded me, I turned to the web. And I showed him how easy it can be to find information. Together, we explored Google Sky and many other sites that allowed us to virtually visit the moon and beyond. 

As wild as the web can be, it also can also be an invaluable tool. Whether it’s educational apps (check out some of our favorites on Zoobean here), YouTube videos, or a simple image search, you can indulge your child’s interests and help spark new ones with the tap of a screen. Use these tools to augment your child’s reality and experiences at home.

Tap into your circle of friends.  

I took piano for years but basically now can only play Heart and Soul, and even that is a sorry sight (sound?). But our son showed interest in learning notes and playing, which thrilled me. What did we do? Turn to Uncle G, who works a “9-5” while also living out his passion for music. We listened to his tunes online, talked all about how he makes music in his home, and then got him to show our son some basics on the keyboard.  Not a tinkerer or a DIYer? Offer to make your favorite fix-it-minded friends dinner, and ask them to take something apart, wire some lights, fix a fan…whatever it is you need, while your child watches and learns. Not a dancer? Don’t have money or time for kids’  dance classes? Offer to clear out your living room and make space for “lessons” with friends every couple of weeks. Friends and family members have talents, jobs, and interests that can help expand our kids’ horizons and spark their imaginations.

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Be cool with being uncomfortable.

I am petrified of snakes. Petrified. But, our little guy was mesmerized when we went to a local show about reptiles. So much so that he ran to be the first in line to pet an albino python. As if a python wasn’t bad enough! He shouted, “Mom, come and feel it with me!” My gut told me to run the other way. Touch a python? But then I thought, what would Sid the Science Kid’s mom do? What will my actions teach him? So, I did it. 

In case you haven’t petted a snake in a while, they are way more rubbery than I remembered. Look, touching a python is nothing compared to my discomfort with coding in Python, or for that matter, doing Lego Mindstorms. But one day soon, I’ll be sitting beside him and my daughter doing just that. My husband doesn’t like to swim, but gets in the water, and shows our kids how it’s done, and even took swimming lessons himself to make sure they didn’t experience “the deep end” the way he did as a kid. Of course, it feels good to share what you already love with your kids, and we should. We should also make sure to take that leap that when our kids tell us they want to explore something new, even if it means getting further away from our own comfort zones.

Above all, we let our kids lead their way. We make sure they get exposure to different experiences, people, and activities, and then we let their engagement determine where we invest that extra time. In the end, what really matters is that we are encouraging our kids to be kind, responsible citizens, and that is an interest we can all nurture!