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Children and the Importance and Benefits of Hobbies

Updated on July 5, 2012

Nowadays, the vast majority of children (at least, the ones I know), have extra-curricular hobbies and activities. Some have multiple commitments and seem to have something going on nearly every day. However, overburdening a child can be detrimental and leave them with little down-time to relax and chill out. Children need space and freedom to be creative in an unstructured environment. Having nothing to do and nowhere to be can often lead to a child's most imaginative moments. Filling their every waking moment with an activity can be rather full on.

That is not to say that a well-chosen hobby cannot be hugely beneficial. If a child is enthusiastic about a particular activity, whether it is an out-of-school sports club, weekend drama class, music lessons or enrollment in a dance school (the list of extra-curricular activities on offer is almost endless) then taking it up as a hobby on a regular basis can enrich young lives. I do think that the key to finding a successful activity is that it should come from the child, rather than a well-meaning parent. Even if it initially the parent's idea, if the child doesn't embrace it then maybe it isn't the right activity to pursue. If interest and enthusiasm simply isn't there, the child will view it as a chore. I know children who moan when carted off to a supposed 'hobby' as though they are in a school detention. That, to me, is not how it should be. A hobby should fuel aspirations and be a motivating experience. Above all, it should be something that a child wants to do.

I know that I was lucky as a child. I happened upon a hobby that I was completely passionate about for years - I would have been perfectly happy if I had done nothing else. Actually, it was my mother who bought skates for my sister and I, before taking us along to the new artistic roller skating club in town. But I was glad she did. i was so excited about it. At the time, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean were at the pinnacle of their career and we (together with many of the other children at the club) aspired to be just like them. We watched them score 6.0 across the board with Bolero at the 1984 Winter Olympics. It was a great moment in the history of figure skating that further fuelled our passion. We spent up to seven hours a week at the skating club, and it was always fun and always somewhere we wanted to be. We made great friends of different ages - these friends supported us like family when our club entered competitions. (The connection of a shared activity can really help children to bond, even when they find it less easy than others to make friends at school.) All in all ,our club was hugely sociable and our confidence was boosted with each accomplishment. When we first started, each time we passed a grade we were given the appropriate badge which we sewed onto our tracksuit tops. We were driven to reach the next level, not because we were told we must or because our parents hoped we would, but purely because we wanted to.


Confidence, Self-Esteem and Ambition

Children's confidence and self-esteem can grow and bloom when they find the right hobby. For children who are shy or who find it more difficult to make friends at school, a good club can help them to integrate and feel included. It can give them a platform on which to excel; it can help to bring them out of themselves so that they can realise their full potential in life. Achieving goals and accomplishing milestones, no matter how small, all help a child to feel worthwhile. Good coaches and mentors help to bring out the best in young people, often more so than in a school setting, where pressurised teachers have classes full to bursting point. I remember how much my skating coach meant to me throughout the years that I belonged to the club - and even beyond. A brilliant teacher, who made everyone feel worthy and special, is how I remember her. Looking back now, my childhood would not have been the same if I had never been given a pair of white skates.

Finding something to be passionate about, be it sport, drama, horse riding, music or anything else, gives a child something to work at; a sense of ambition. Achieving goals outside of school can instill a feeling of pride in a child - a distinct sense that they are a worthy and capable human being. Indulging in a hobby can teach a child that it is possible to realise a dream simply by going after it. All children, deep inside, want to feel that they are good at something, even if they don't always show it and instead display a don't-care attitude. Perhaps it is no coincidence that young people in deprived areas where there is little to do can end up feeling hopeless, thus turning to less desirable activities. Hobbies help to curtail boredom in older children. And even small merits go a long way in boosting a child's esteem - a great goal in a football match; a grading in karate; a solo part in a play. In the end, life is made up of small moments linked together - and often it really is the small, but significant events that can make the difference.


Success, Direction and Dreams

Of course, realising a child's potential does not mean that they have to be the best or reach the top in their chosen pastime. Pushy parents can dampen a child's enjoyment. Pressure can be detrimental, as can being critical. Rather, it is the journey along the way that matters. The path a child takes through life helps to shape them. Perhaps success can be classed as a child learning to perform in front of others, as passing the next level or grade or as simply being part of a triumphant team. Perhaps it could even be classed as meeting a group of like-minded peers and finding new friends which enrich life. Out-of-school clubs can be like small communities and because everyone is focussed on the same interest, it is often a lot easier to get to know others. In a sense, the boundaries are already partially broken down.

I think it is important for children to find a sense of direction, especially when they begin to reach adolescence. Without a focus that really inspires them, children are more likely at this age to become wayward and lose purpose. My son recently discovered a hobby that he has become hugely passionate about. Before he began this hobby - shotokan karate - he was beginning to act in a very apathetic manner. Prior to this, he had had many hobbies but he had never embraced them fully and his interest had quickly waned. He had all but grown out of toys and more childlike endeavours, but he didn't seem to be replacing it with anything other than an obsession with computer games and The Simpsons. The trouble is, watching TV and playing games cannot possibly nourish ambition or bring with it any real sense of fulfillment . It is a passive pastime that is more likely to encourage procrastination.

Now my son has found something that he really loves to do, he does not need reminding or nagging. He is self-motivated to learn and accomplish, so much so that I am beginning to wonder if we can really fit so much karate into each week! He sees the more advanced children and he is inspired to reach the same level. He has self-belief, because he does not question the fact that he will one day catch them up. The idea of competitions enthuses him, even though he has never shown a competitive nature before.

Once, I won first place in a competition and was awarded with a gold trophy. At that moment, as I stood on the rostrum, I felt like the proudest person in the world. I felt worthy and that I had achieved something good - and even though it was purely a moment, I carried it inside me for much longer.

Most children don't end up becoming Olympic champions, famous musicians or world-renowned dancers. Children have idols and aspire to be just like them, but of course only the elusive few ever make the grade. But young kids with idols can dream, and hoping and dreaming can take you to a better place. Hoping and dreaming makes you feel as if there is a place worth going to. The ambition of wanting to reach the top of the ladder; the pride at every small award accomplished - it's really about what you feel inside that enriches your life. At the end of the day, it is not necessarily about where you end up, but where you dream you can end up. Hope is a very powerful motivator; demotivation is so often what kills society.


A Passion For Life and Qualities Carried Through to Adulthood

If a child develops passion for a hobby and pursues it with zest and direction, then it could help to nurture a passion for life itself. Many positive elements may be carried through into adulthood - the ability to pursue a task and work at it; a sense of direction and motivation; a higher self-esteem that is beneficial in the adult world of work. Good clubs can also nuture a child's ability to work well within a team, and to show leadership qualities when called for. Knowing how to take the lead is a great advantage as a child grows older, helping them to get ahead in life. When a child finds the 'right' hobby they are more likely to become self-motivated, and this can lead to a hugely rewarding experience. All of these skills help a young person to head through life with the ability to realise their own potential in whatever they choose to do. Leadership skills, self-motivation, confidence and good teamwork can greatly enhance many areas of a person's life. One hobby, pursued with passion, can certainly help a young person to bloom.


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