Eye on Extension: Supporting healthy hobbies

VALLEY — I expect many of you found yourselves, as I did, without internet or cell service for a few days last week. For many parents and caregivers, that meant finding unplugged entertainment for bored children. During this time, I really connected to a post I saw from Hobbytown that encouraged parents to look at the downtime as an opportunity to get kids connected with an offline hobby.

Hobbies are those activities that people do regularly in their free time and that provide them enjoyment. We all have hobbies in our lives, though sometimes, as we put other people and things first, it’s easy to put them on the backburner. Research shows that it’s really important to make time for hobbies for our kids, and ourselves.

In the 1995 study Psychological Benefits of Leisure Participation, researcher Howard E.A. Tinsley found that participating in hobbies led people to have improved physical and mental health. They also had higher life satisfaction. Sounds pretty good, right?

Hobbies also provide a ton of other benefits, many of which are really important for healthy child development. First, they help provide structure. Youth benefit from having set commitments each week, like regular time for their hobbies. These commitments teach kids about time management and setting priorities.

Being involved in hobbies can also help connect youth with others. They allow us to be social, and build relationships with people who share our interests. The interpersonal skills kids can build through these interactions can help them succeed in school and life.

Hobbies can also be a great outlet for pent up energy, and help alleviate stress. People that are passionate about their hobbies can lose themselves in the activity, which helps keep them centered and stress-free. Working on hobbies can also build self-understanding.

Participating in leisure activities also helps build skills. What skills can be improved will depend on the hobby, but could include motor skills, concentration, focus, teamwork, problem solving and creativity. As youth achieve goals, and gain mastery through a hobby, they also build self-esteem.

You might be thinking, this sounds great, but what should you do to get your kids started? The first step is letting your kids explore lots of options. Provide them with opportunities to try lots of activities out before they go all in on a specific hobby. We’re really lucky in that we have tons of opportunities locally to try stuff out, from origami meetings, to model rocketry classes, to dance lessons. Scouts and 4-H are also great organizations where kids can explore different interests.

Once your kid has explored different options, you can help them select a hobby that matches their personality, talents, and tastes. Feel free to provide guidance, but make sure kids make the ultimate decision. Kids are more likely to be invested and stick with a hobby if they have a say in picking it!

Once kids select a hobby, you need to help provide the supplies they’ll need, and a space to work or practice. Don’t go crazy buying supplies, especially if your kid changes interests rapidly. Start with the basics, and have kids earn more supplies by showing commitment. Remember that many hobbies require space, and might be messy. Set aside an appropriate area so that kids can take ownership of their work.

The last thing you need to do is show encouragement and support. If possible, participate in the activity with your kid, or encourage them to demonstrate it to you, and other friends and family. Encouragement can be really important, especially as youth are growing into a hobby. It can be easy to get frustrated with a hobby if it starts being difficult. Help provide the support to get kids through these rough patches so they can continue to improve and grow.

As adults, we should also look for ways to share our hobbies with youth! Kids might not end up having the same interests as us when they grow up. However, seeing adults excited and engaged in hobbies helps set a good example, and exposes them to new activities and ideas.

We use our Cloverbuds introduction to 4-H group as a place where kids can incubate interests in various hobbies, like gardening, cooking, and art. At our meeting on Friday, July 20 I’ll be sharing one of my hobbies, bird watching, with a special field trip. If you have a kid in your life ages 5 to 7, we invite you to join us at the Alamosa Wildlife Refuge from 9:30 to 11:30 am to learn about local birds. Meetings cost $10 per child, and cover supplies and a snack. All are welcome, but participants must RSVP by July 18, at 719-852-7381 or [email protected], to participate.

Amy Henschen is the 4-H Youth Development Agent for Colorado State University Extension. To find out more about Extension and the 4-H program visit http://sanluisvalley.colostate.edu or call 719-852-7381. Extension programs are available to all without discrimination.

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