When it comes to kids' hobbies, one thing I hadn’t expected about having a child was the amount of time I’d be spending in the John Lewis electricals department. My three-year-old is engaged in a long-term love affair with Henry Hoover and all related Numatic products, and so Saturdays are now all too often spent pestering the staff in Household Electricals.
We watch Henry Hoover TV on YouTube (where Henry and Hetty have somehow procreated), and I have looked into whether we can go and visit the factory. He likes our friends more if they have a Henry Hoover, and his preparedness to go to their houses is entirely contingent on whether or not there’s a Numatic product waiting.
No, this isn’t what I thought I might be doing with my toddler, but it’s important my partner and I encourage and support his interests, and show him that when he gets enthusiastic about something, we are listening, even if we are occasionally confused, or reluctant to watch Hetty Hoover’s pregnancy cravings (yes, it’s a scene) for the millionth time.
Here at Koru Kids, we spoke to fellow parents about what they do to keep up to speed with their children’s interests. How do you tell the difference between a passing fad and the start of a lifelong passion. How do you get them to commit when learning is tough? And what strategy should you be using for discerning what they enjoy if they aren’t sure themselves?
For mum Anastasia Abramson, in the first instance, it’s all about leaving enough time to figure out what might be new on her daughter’s horizons.
“I want to follow [my daughter's] curiosity, so while I plan some days out and activities in advance, I also leave some time for spontaneity so we can do something that’s captured her interest recently. I try to act on suggestions and ideas my daughter makes as quickly as possible. So when she chose a kids’ cooking book at the library, I got her to choose a recipe to make so that I could buy the ingredients ready for when she’s off nursery next so we could make it together.”
For older children, chatting about hobbies and making space and time to investigate different topics can be fun for everyone; Koru Kids Service Lead Toby Radcliffe makes a daily catch-up into a jumping off point for exploring possible new activities:
“For my five-year-old, we ask in the evening what made them smile and what made them think that day, which gives things to talk about and starts more questions, usually from her. Things that come up that are new or come up a few times we encourage and see if she wants to explore those things more over the next few days and weeks,” he says.
With smaller children who may not be able to articulate what interests them, being able to put ourselves in their shoes and letting them play with what Mother Pukka aka Anna Whitehouse (Twitter, IG @mother_pukka) has called ‘non-toy toys’ shows children early on that we’re here for what they’re getting into. Don’t stop play just because you don’t think something can be played with (risk assessments aside). To go back to my son’s vacuum fixation, while as a 36-year old, I can’t always appreciate the value of hours spent playing with a cleaning tool if I pretend for a moment that I am also three, I can see that a hoover with a smiley face is an entrancing prospect.
It’s for this reason that Daniel Magnowski says he enjoys the simplicity of what engages his three-year-old son. “What may sound like pleasant if orthodox activities—a walk along the river, or through the park—are transformed by joining in my son’s interests, which can be all-consuming in their intensity for a couple of hours. On one January afternoon, for example, we had a beautiful walk along the river from Putney to Hammersmith in search of puddles, the bigger the better, each one assessed for the likelihood that a spider might be able to cross it.”
Of course, aside from feeling temporarily out of the loop, shifting interest from playing in the local park everyday to dragging around a tattered cardboard box generally doesn’t have much impact on you as a parent.
But when it comes to physical toys, there’s the matter of cost. As such, it’s best not to anticipate what kids enjoy by buying piles of stuff they then ignore. Instead, one great hack is to try the Whirli toy box subscription service which allows you to rotate toys the minute they’re over them, or use a toy library like the one in Walthamstow.
The same goes for school-age kids’ hobbies, which can change overnight and if they are extra-curricular, tend to be expensive. Just ask anyone who is supporting a future showjumper, or Angelina Jolie, who has spoken about her six children’s many and various pastimes. “You don’t know who your children are until they show you who they are and they are just becoming whoever they want to be,” the actress has, said although I suspect having this attitude is easier with a team of assistants to run the resulting scheduling nightmare.
Often, older children shift their interests suddenly and naturally as a result of their development. But it can also be a result of either a new classroom craze (remember fidget spinners, anyone?), or sometimes because they’ve hit a frustrating phase in the mastery of their hobby.
In that case, keeping up a routine and encouraging them through tricky periods can pay dividends later in life – being able to stay motivated when something is hard-going is a core life skill. Make sure your children know that a hobby can also be a responsibility, and that there can be bad days as well as fun ones.
Given that kitting kids out for new hobbies can be so expensive, how do you keep the cost down while letting them try something new?
Koru Kids’ social media executive Anna Bosworth (IG @anna_bosworth) has a great solution: “We love taster sessions. [My daughter] has tried horse riding, football and swimming, and a taster session lets us gauge if she really likes it enough to continue it with regularity.”
“She is now five and has strong opinions about what she likes and doesn’t like. She was quite resistant to ballet at first — we used to do a Saturday morning class and she was just so tired from the week. Now she goes on Mondays after school with her Grandma and the perseverance has paid off. She loves it and is getting better each term. I’m glad I kept up the routine of making her go; sometimes kids will whine and it feels like the easy option to let them give up, when sticking with something might be better in the long run.”
That said, sometimes you just have to accept that kids go off things for no apparent reason and can’t be persuaded to keep it up, especially when they are younger. As Daniel Magnowski puts it, “I bear in mind that, following the example of the swimming pool we went to five times a week for at least three months then was casually dropped like he was never that into it, he could get to the end of any of these interests any day.”
And what about when they’re into something you’re clueless about? Vicki Psarias-Broadbent, who blogs as Honest Mum (IG, Twitter @honestmum), says it’s important to be broad-minded about your kids' hobbies even if they aren’t your own, or if they’re not something you’d try. At her children’s suggestion, she recently joined TikTok so she could watch their videos, but says without their prompting, she wouldn’t be on the network: “I think being open and adaptable to their interests is key.”
So while I wait to see if my son will be into languages, sport or cooking, and want to watch Newcastle matches for more than two minutes at a time, for now, you’ll find us very happily in John Lewis, talking to the Henrys.
Do you travel for your children’s interests, plan holidays around them, or spend your weekends seeking out certain animals and buildings for their amusement? Tell us about it on the Bringing Up Great Kids Facebook page.
Koru Kids' baby & toddler nanny service can support your little one's hobbies and interests too, ensuring they continue to develop as they should in a nurturing environment during the week. For more information, click here, or sign up on the link below.
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