School’s out! If your kids will be spending more time on screens this summer, you can support them in expanding upon their interests.
- Randy Kulman, Ph.D.
Kids love summer vacation: no school and more free time. It often means more time on screens, too, which leads many parents to wonder: Is there a way to transform kids’ screen-based interests into off-screen hobbies? The answer is yes — 21st-century kids are already using their screen time to discover and redefine their personal interests. A few examples:
- I routinely meet kids in my clinical practice who love to cook. When asked how they developed this interest, they cite cooking shows on television such as Top Chef and Master Chef Jr.
- Hundreds of kids who love the video game Minecraft have reported an interest in architecture, history, geology and physics. Minecraft also expands expertise in areas such as mathematics, coding and creating videos.
- Many kids use DIY (Do It Yourself) videos to teach themselves skills in construction, web design and art.
Summer can be a time to help your kids find their passions. You can help your kids recognize that many of the most important things they need to learn in life won’t occur in school but instead through their own exploration.
The key requirements for developing a hobby
In order for kids to develop a new hobby or interest they need:
- 1. some degree of inherent enthusiasm
- 2. time to spend developing and exploring (which summer vacation provides)
- 3. access to the tools and activities that support a new hobby and
- 4. adults who are actively involved in nurturing alternative interests by driving, funding, participating and encouraging new hobbies.
Transforming a child’s screen-based interests into a new activity or hobby immediately starts with some built-in enthusiasm for the subject, as kids are already exploring a topic in their technology use. It’s also a way to catch your kids where they already are, rather than trying to get them engaged in something you think would be good for them. You can look at the games, apps, technologies and videos in which your child is already engaged to determine the types of hobbies and interest that could be expanded. In order to do this effectively, you’ll need to spend some time observing and learning about the technologies your child loves. This process may very quickly improve your communication about what your child is doing with media.
You might also want to find games, apps and technologies that fit into an emerging interest of your child. For example, if your child has expressed an interest in history, you might search for games that can teach history as part of game play such as Civilization 5 or Ultimate General:Civil War. Sports or dance games such as Fifa 17 or Toca Dance could prompt a genuine interest in soccer or dancing.
It’s got to be fun
In order for kids to use their screen time to develop other interests, it’s got to be fun! The key is for parents to be able to guide their kids toward technologies, apps and games that are engaging for them but can lead them to expand upon an interest. You might want to do research on websites such as LearningWorks for Kids or Common Sense Media to find media and technologies that can support new hobbies and interests for kids.
Here are some activities that are well-suited for leveraging screen-based time into new hobbies and interests. We have given you suggestions for specific games, media and apps as well as how you might use them to nurture these interests and hobbies.
Cooking. Learning how to cook and making new recipes is a great activity for a rainy summer day. Have your child plan for and cook dinner for the family. Learn new recipes for kids’ favorites such chicken nuggets, pizza, and mac and cheese. Check out these techs to foster this hobby:
Animals and Nature. Many kids love animals and enjoy sharing their knowledge about nature with their parents and peers. While they can learn a great deal from going to a zoo or by reading, technology and media offer incredible opportunities to learn more and becoming an expert. Check out these techs to foster this hobby:
Reading and Writing. Sure this sounds like school, but when kids get to choose what they read and have topics about which they want to write, these can become compelling hobbies. Technologies can make reading and writing far more engaging than they were even 10 years ago. Some kids love reading and writing at fan fiction sites, where contributors extend storylines on books such as the Twilight series. Kids who might normally be reluctant readers can develop the hobby and love of reading when they are introduced to audiobooks or when they use a tool such as Amazon.com’s whispersync that links a highlighted ebook to an audiobook. Check out these techs to foster this hobby:
- Fan fiction Harry Potter
- Movie/book combos: Divergent, Hunger Games, Diary of a Wimpy Kid
- Audible for Kids
Randy Kulman, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and founder and CEO of LearningWorks for Kids.