It’s true for everybody—when you’re really interested in something, you’re engaged. You pay closer attention, learn more deeply, and go out and put that knowledge to use. The same goes for your child. And while it’s inevitable that not every topic covered in the classroom will peak their interest, there are nearly endless opportunities to encourage your child to explore what does truly interest them. By taking the time to encourage these interests, you set the stage not only for your child to experience academic success, but also for them to determine their passions, take ownership over their learning, and choose a fulfilling career path.
Get Them Talking
Step one in identifying what your child is interested is to simply get them talking. Ask them about their day at school; what were they learning about, what kinds of activities did they do, if they had free time how did they choose to spend it? Talk about which subjects, units, projects, or field trips throughout the year they’ve enjoyed the most and why. Pay attention to which questions and topics get the words flowing. It’s also helpful to tune in to what your child focuses on when they’re playing with siblings or friends. Maybe they consistently want to be running around outside, or there’s a movie they can’t get enough of, or they’re always talking about astronauts. Whatever it might be, watch for the topics and activities that make your child light up.
Find the Opportunities
The more exposure your child has to the things that interest them, the more invested they’ll become! As a parent, one of the most helpful things you can do is provide your child with as many of these opportunities to engage in their interests as possible. Look into extracurricular groups at your child’s school, community education programs, sports clubs, or classes offered through private organizations. For instance, if your child loves math and science, find out if there is a local science fair or robotics club like First Lego League they could participate in. Or, if they love painting and drawing, check out kids’ classes at a local arts center (and encourage your child to try a new medium like ceramics!). No matter what your child is interested in, chances are there is a group of like-minded individuals they can join to foster that interest.
Encourage Problem Solving
Challenges both big and small are an inevitable part of daily life. Helping your child approach various problems, struggles, and challenges as learning opportunities not only builds a growth mindset and social emotional competencies, but can also offer additional chances for them to explore their interests. When your child comes up against a challenge or problem, encourage them to dig in and find solutions. Talk through the issue at hand and brainstorm proactive ways they can create change or improve the situation.
An outstanding example of the power of a problem-solving attitude is the story of this teenager from Irvine, California, who invented sensors to help Alzheimer's disease patients. He wanted to help his grandfather who suffers from the form of dementia, and because of it sometimes wonders off. He decided to develop socks with built-in sensors which sound an alarm on a care-giver’s smart phone, notifying them when their patient has gotten up in the middle of the night. This student took a difficult challenge and turned it into an opportunity for learning and creation that will benefit many others.
Recognize and Celebrate
Young students are just developing their sense of self-confidence. That’s why it’s incredibly important to take time to celebrate your child’s interests and recognize their achievements—both in the classroom and outside of it. Try to take an interest yourself in the things your child is enthusiastic about (even if it’s not something you gravitate toward). Your child will take a more authentic and deeper interest in things if they’re given the freedom to pursue what naturally appeals to them. Express encouragement when your child takes the initiative to get involved in something, tell them how proud you are of what they achieve, and urge them to stick with things even when they don’t go entirely as expected. Modeling a positive attitude and willingness to explore yourself goes a long way in encouraging your child to take ownership of their learning and pursue passions!
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