How to spark passion-led, interest-based creativity and learning in kids
How to help children identify their passions and interests, the importance of honoring them, and the benefits of a “trying-counts” environment.
Kids are amazing. One minute they’re watching their favorite television show about a cooking competition, and the next they’re whipping up a new recipe in the kitchen.
We witness this creativity (and often help out) and wonder, “How do they do that?”. It’s because children are born with an innate curiosity and love of learning. That favorite television show sparked an interest which led to a learning opportunity.
Most of us struggle as adults when it comes to child-like play, wonder, exploration, and most importantly imagination. But why? Perhaps it’s fear. Fear of wasting time, fear of failure, fear of judgment. As parents, we can’t let our fears hold our children back.
Children who are allowed interest-based creativity and learning develop a love of learning that can’t be extinguished. A love of learning should always be the main goal for our children.
John Holt, a prominent author, educator, and one of the first to spearhead youth rights theory, advises in his book “How Children Fail,”
We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions–if they have any–and helping them explore the things they are most interested in.
In this article, I’ll discuss how to help children identify their passions and interests, the importance of honoring them, and the benefits of a “trying-counts” environment.
Help children identify their passions and interests
Children develop passions and interests at an early age. An example I love to share is when my daughter was 2, she absolutely loved pretending to scan groceries or random items from around the house with her toy cash register. So much so, on our returns from weekly grocery shopping trips, she asked to scan all the items before we put them away.
Usually, that’s the last thing a parent wants to do when returning home from a big toddler outing such as shopping, but I chose to say yes instead of no. She got so much joy from this simple experience, and I like to remember this as children get older and want to explore new interests.
A great example comes from the story of Emily Mohajeri Norris and her son, Liam. At the early age of 6, Liam showed an interest in LEGOs, and his mother helped support and shape his interest.
Liam’s life could have turned out differently if his homeschooling mom didn’t recognize his strong LEGO passion and interest. At one point, fearing Liam’s interest as too distracting, Emily locked the LEGO in an off-limits room in order to get him to focus on things she thought he ought to focus on.
But, Emily soon realized she didn’t need to put limits on the LEGOs, and incorporating the activity into their homeschool journey could provide all the learning Liam needed.
Liam’s passion for LEGOs remained lit throughout childhood (with the encouragement of his mom) and ultimately led Liam and Emily to compete as a duo on Season 3 of “LEGO Masters.”
It may have been easier for Emily to witness Liam’s LEGO interest at a young age. However, it's usually difficult to gather information about a child’s interests for ages 12 and under, because they don’t have the capacity to verbalize them yet. So, how can adults help?
Tips to help you discover your child’s interests:
Trust your instincts
Embrace the child’s unique ideas and interests
Listen to and document the child’s questions and watch for trends
Watch how the child plays, what they’re creating, and what information they’re seeking out
Children explore different passions and interests through play. As they get older, this doesn’t change. An older child’s play just may shift from building cities out of magnet tiles to virtual building in Minecraft. Once you’ve discovered your child’s passions and interests, pay close attention to and honor them to see where the child leads you.
Honor children’s passions, interests, and creative moments
Leah McDermott, an unschooling mom, and advocate for child-led learning, advises on her Instagram post, It’s a wonderful thing to be able to observe and identify what your child’s interests are. But make sure you are HONORING those interests. Even if you don’t like them. Even if you don’t understand them. Even if you know nothing about them. Even if you wish they were something different. Honoring their interests is just as important as identifying them in the first place.
This is a beautiful way of thinking about our children’s autonomy and their right to make unique choices. And also a good reminder that our children are not mini versions of ourselves. Below are some ways we can honor our children’s passions, so they can truly immerse themselves in creativity and learning.
Think and speak positively about your child’s interests
Have you ever thought your way out of doing something? Perhaps you were supposed to go on a weekend trip, but you thought about the stress of hiring a babysitter, the money it would cost, and the time away from your kids. Until eventually you decided not to go away for a weekend.
The same thing can happen when thinking about a child’s interests. It’s easy to ask all the “what-if” questions until you’ve made up your mind and put a stop to your child’s creativity altogether. It’s important to keep an open mind about childrens’ hobbies and to verbalize this to your child.
Show authenticity in whatever your child is passionate about, and talk to them about it! Communication between the two of you will lead to more understanding and show your child support for their endeavors, no matter how different they may be.
Embrace the “messes” that come with creativity and learning
There’s no doubt about it, passion-led, interest-based creativity and learning creates messes. Good messes. Whether they’re in the kitchen, the living room, at the dining room table, or in the yard, the earlier you embrace the untidiness, the better.
If you’re type A personality is making you want to close this article right now, don’t go yet. I’ve got some helpful ways to tame the disarray.
Create a permanent art station at a table you don’t mind getting dirty, and leave the supplies available at all times. Teach your children this space is where they can get creative and make whatever pops into their heads. Tidy up when necessary.
Make a plan to clean after baking or cooking exploration. Assign cleaning tasks your children can complete, and let them know what you’ll be helping out with when they’re done.
Not only will you be more at ease when thinking of the possible spilled paint or flour prints on the cabinets, but you’ll be teaching your children important life skills, like cleaning up after a project.
Create a budget for extra materials and activities that spark creativity
Families are usually on a tight budget, especially when raising multiple children. If thinking about purchasing extra supplies or classes to feed your childrens’ creativity stresses you out, then make room in your monthly budget.
Once you’ve decided on an amount of money that comfortably works for your family’s income, then you’ll feel better about supporting your child’s interests from a financial aspect.
Simply honoring the activities our children enjoy and showing support will do wonders for sparking passion-led learning. The environment your children live in also impacts their imagination and learning.
Foster a “trying-counts” environment
Let’s face it, not everything a child creates or imagines is going to be spectacular. There’s going to be a lot of speed bumps on their road of exploration.
When reflecting upon your childhood do you remember an environment where the focus wasn’t solely on success or failure but the act of trying? If I took a survey, I think I’d get a mixed response, especially when it came to the topics of school grades or sports.
Fostering a “trying-counts” environment for your children positively affects their creativity and learning. When children aren’t scared of failure or too concerned about success, they can follow their passions and interests freely.
Ways you can foster a trying environment:
If a child asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, then respond “I don’t know, but let’s find out together!”. Your children will gain research skills and together you’ll both learn something new.
Children need to see adults learn new things! Pick up a hobby or learn to play an instrument so your children witness, not how you succeed or fail at it, but how hard you try.
Have regular discussions with your children about failure and success, and how these two options are not the only outcomes of following a passion or an interest. It’s the process of trying that’s the most important.
Encourage your children to try new things, whether that be foods, activities, or places, and experience these new things alongside them. Afterwards, discuss how you both felt about trying the new thing, if you liked it or not, etc.
Ignite your child’s creativity with Outschool classes
Like the example of Liam’s LEGOs passion, you never know where your child’s imagination and self-directed learning will lead them. Especially if children have a supportive environment from people they trust.
This supportive environment can be at school, at home, with friends, or even through online communities. My 7-year-old daughter chose to take a weekly Outschool class, “Gabby’s Dollhouse” Social PALS with Kate Ramsey, and it’s been amazing overhearing the childrens’ shared interests with each other and conversations.
During each class, she plays, creates art, and learns from fun activities planned by the teacher. It’s a win-win for me because I know my child’s following her interests within a supportive environment.
The next time your child shows interest in cooking, fashion, or even building computers check out Outschool’s classes. Outschool provides thousands of virtual classes to meet the creative needs of all kinds of learners.