Eleven-year-old Medhansh Dwivedi lives in Bengaluru and loves history. He reads innumerable non-fiction books on Indian and world history, loves to play strategy board games inspired by the region’s past, and even has a social media channel called ‘This Day in History.’
The fascination began when he discovered non-fiction books on Indian and world history. Inspired by his love for the subject, his parents, Rakshita and Abhishek started a Kids History Club where they have like-minded history buffs who debate and discuss Indian and international history, wars, revolutions, and even sports history.
When children exhibit such keen interests — some they love writing, ithers dancing, some sports or even cooking — most parents aren’t sure if and how this can be encouraged, since it may not necessarily lead towards the professions the children may choose later in life.
Here’s what you can do to encourage your children to explore their interests and passions, and why it’s important.
Observe daily interactions and play
When my daughter was a preschooler, she loved art and painting. The first thing she would do as soon as she woke up was to open her chart paper and doodle or draw something. This interest blossomed when she was in elementary school, and her teachers told me she would grow up to choose art as her calling. But that’s not why I encouraged her passion — I did it because I knew it made her happy. I stayed away from strenuous mainstream art classes. Instead, I gave her a free rein to explore her art and to draw for pleasure.
She loved free-form painting and would spend hours over it, but her interest in it simply disappeared in grade 6. She switched to exploring geography, history, and computers.
This could partly be due to her teachers, who encouraged a love for new subjects, or due to the broad interests of her peer group. Maybe art was not a career-calling, but simply her way of making sense of the world.
When Bengaluru-based Priya Ramakrishnan’s daughter was in middle school, she loved theatre. An incredible performer who played the lead in many school plays, Ramakrishnan’s daughter completely lost interest in theatre when she entered high school — she decided instead to seriously pursue business studies. “She was flawless as a performer but suddenly her interest vanished and she moved on to other things,” says Ramakrishnan. “I believe that she got ample time to invest in theatre but somehow it didn’t turn into a lifelong passion.”
Ramakrishnan believes that children go through different phases when it comes to developing interests and it is up to parents and educators to introduce them to as many experiences and disciplines as possible.
Explorations can also begin at home
Interests and inclinations sometimes shine through in subtle ways. Ritu Bhatnagar, a Bengaluru-based mother, insists that she and her husband always treated her daughter as her own person and include her in everything they did as a family. “I could never understand why families chose to go to kid-friendly places on vacation,” she says. “We took our daughter everywhere we went, which is why she developed an interest in architecture, history, and archeology. In the higher grades, she switched her interest to science. I come from a family of doctors and so I got her to talk to her cousins and aunts who were pursuing biochemistry, microbiology, and even a research program. I believe that this exposure truly helped her,” Bhatnagar adds.
Interests can be encouraged in different ways, not necessarily by shuttling children among many activities, classes, and clubs. The dinner table, for example, is a great starting point for explorations. Rakshita Dwivedi, another parent, says: “As a family, we have this ritual of quizzing during meal times, where we talk about countries, historical events, and sometimes current affairs.”
Look for interesting subject combinations in high school
When students are at the tail end of grade 10, they are forced to narrow down their broad and varied interests — they are asked to choose specific streams of subjects. These streams are often categorised into science, arts, and humanities, even when we know fully well that we live in a multidisciplinary world where everything is connected.
Bengaluru-based parent Nandita Ingawale believes that subject streams restrict choices. “My daughter wanted to study both science and geography but geography is considered as an arts subject in most schools,” she says . “We found out that to pursue a Bachelor of Science program in Geography, she needs to pursue science in grades 11 and 12. My daughter did choose science but in the process, students like her do not get the chance to explore diverse subjects like psychology, commerce, sociology, or even finance.”
While earlier only international curricula would open up a range of subject combinations for children in high school, lately, some schools with Indian curricula too have started offering interesting and new subject combinations with allied or vocational subjects.
There are schools that offer math and physics with economics and accountancy. Schools also offer subjects like artificial intelligence, design, entrepreneurship, legal studies, and even physical education.
Ramakrishnan, who is also the Principal of Gnan Srishti School of Excellence in Bengaluru, believes that children discover their true interests in different ways. “Two children I know took up Science with Economics. They’d planned to take up Math or Physics in college but they loved Economics so much that they finally majored in it and are doing well,” she says.
Sita Sreelal, who studies law in Durham University in the UK, says that she started leaning towards law because she “became interested in reading about political science and history”.
Sreelal’s advice to students is to always keep their minds open to new possibilities. “I realised I was not suited to science subjects so I opted for humanities in school but this year in college, I have taken a module on bio-technology, and I may even specialise in this subject later,” she says.
Recently, I read an article about schools in Chennai and Mumbai that conducted workshops for high school students on forensic anthropology excavation. Such immersive sessions are great ways for children to understand how they can apply subjects in school to interesting real-life scenarios and pathways.
Interests and hobbies are deeply valuable to children. They counterbalance the culture of academic overwork that most children experience today. Children may not formally pursue these interests but everything they learn or explore in a non-academic setting enriches their view of the world.
Shweta Sharan is a freelance journalist who lives in Mumbai.