Not long ago, speaking to a large midwestern audience, I asked, "How many of you, when you were children, had a hobby?" Nearly everyone raised a hand. I then asked them to keep their hands in the air if at least one of their children had a hobby, which I distinguished from organized, adult-directed, after-school activities such as Little League. Most of the hands went down.
Thirty-odd years ago, almost every kid in my neighborhood had some sort of hobby. Collecting and trading baseball cards was a popular pastime (one that's making a strong comeback today), as were coin and stamp collecting. One of my friends was into photography (he's now a photographer), another was into building radios (he's now an electrical engineer).
Hobbies benefit children in numerous ways. Because they are expressions of personal accomplishment and a means of self-discovery, hobbies help build self-esteem.
Hobbies are educational tools, as well. For example, a child who becomes interested in rocketry -- one of the most popular hobbies, by the way -- learns about propulsion and aerodynamics. By working on hobbies, children learn to set goals, make decisions, and solve all sorts of problems. Finally, hobbies often mature into lifelong interests, even careers.
If all of that sounds good, and you'd like to help your child develop and sustain a hobby interest, try these suggestions:
Set a good example. Scott Harris, a hobby shop buyer and hobby workshop leader in Gastonia, North Carolina, finds that children with hobbies tend to have parents with hobbies.
Be prepared to sacrifice space. Your child will need work space for his or her hobby projects. Designate a particular room, a corner of the basement, part of the garage, or similar area. Regardless of where you set up the space, your child should be able to walk away from the hobby and come back to it later. The work space should also allow for plenty of paint spills, scratches, and other hobby-related accidents -- the inevitable by-products of creative activity.
Provide some guidance. "Nothing will kill a child's enthusiasm for a hobby quicker than lots of frustration during the learning stage," cautions hobby expert Harris. Help your child get off to a good start by demonstrating how to closely follow a set of directions, and how to handle sometimes-delicate hobby materials with proper care.
Limit television watching. Since 1955, when it became a fixture in America's households, television has come to dominate the spare time of the American child. By age 15, the average child has spent more time watching television than sitting in a classroom. Let's face it, it's impossible to work on a hobby and watch TV (or play video games) at the same time.
For want of spare time, a hobby may never develop. But find a hobby, and a talent may be born, a life enriched.