“Curiosity is, in great and generous minds, the first passion and the last.”
— Samuel Johnson
When I was nine I wanted to learn how to ice-skate — probably not the first thing my parents would have guessed I’d show interest in given my warm-winter Southern California roots — but once I got going, my focus zeroed in on mastering how to reverse directions, skate backwards, and spin. So, I worked hard one summer and practiced my turns over and over again until spinning forward to back became as easy as walking down the street. And while I’m no elite figure skater, I still adore hitting the rink every winter.
In contrast, I come from a waterlogged family and was a great swimmer as a child. My good-natured and very generous scuba-loving father saw my talent and signed me up for scuba lessons at the ripe ol’ age of 11 — not my idea — and although I gave it a half-hearted shot, I hated wearing the gear, was bogged down by lessons that lacked spontaneity, and feared the deep-water drills to lift weights from the bottom of the pool. I still squirm at the claustrophobic thought of donning a wetsuit, weights, BC, and tank. Lucky for my dad — who still dives every weekend — my little brother and sister followed very closely in his underwater footsteps.
My sister: Now a master diver who’s also working toward her ship captain license
Are you jotting mental notes of your own set of contrasting experiences that circle around following your passions vs. being coaxed into something you demonstrated talent in? While we have the capacity to help children enjoy adult-generated ideas and experiences such as hiking, reading, opera, scuba, or monster trucks, we should also be aware of overcommitting children to activities that aren’t of intrinsic interest.
According to Mitch Resnick, director of MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten (a learning research lab for children), a child’s future success lies in focussing on personal interests and then working hard at getting better at them. It’s important to keep in mind that just because a child is GOOD at something, it does not mean that he or she ENJOYS doing it (think about those piano lessons you took as a kid…or is it just me?). I was actually a pretty great high school calculus student, but once I got to college the only thing that motivated me to attend my 8 am math requirement was a scooter ride with a cute boy. Once the pre-rec was out of the way, the boy disappeared and the remainder of my education was 100% social science. And then, surprise, surprise, as I focused exclusively on my passions: art and design, I connected with my future husband in the Film and Theater department. It’s funny how these things can happen.
But, this is a story about passion, not romance. Getting back on track…
In order to learn something new, both children and adults need to be excited about what they’re doing. Think about how much more information you absorb if you’re invested in a topic or experience. In an iVillage parenting article on creativity,Resnick says,
“We want people to grow up with a love of learning, where they’re excited about trying new things. If you’re pushing them to work in a regimented way on things they don’t really care about, that’s going to steal that away to the point where they come to see learning as a chore.”
So the question I have is this: How do we determine what our kids are really excited about? They may show an interest in something, but interests can shift as quickly as the weather.
Here’s a thought…
As a graduate student, I was introduced to the idea of documentation in learning environments. While observing children participate in their everyday activities, I would make notes of their behavior, discoveries, interests, questions, and interactions in order to better understand what learning looks like. Following the observation stage, notes would be transcribed and then synthesized for emerging themes and threads of continuity. Documentation is great because it removes you from making assumptions based on prior understandings and asks you to look objectively at what’s in front of you.
And here’s the plan…
Each day over the course of one week I plan to document my daughter’s passions, asking one simple question: What does she gravitate toward? After documenting her interests for the week, I’ll synthesize the “data” and follow up with activities that support her interests.
And I’d like to invite you to join me! For one week, pay attention to what your child or children are truly interested in and make some notes. And then the following week, do at least one thing to support those passions that emerge. And if you can, keep me posted in the comment section (below) on how it goes.