Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on September 4, 2013.
My seven-year-old tells me that when he grows up, he wants to study snakes. He’s been saying this since he was four. He saw his first, live snake at the Sandy Creek Nature Center, and every time they bring out snakes in his classes, he almost leaps out of his pants.
We’ve been making a book about snakes, we’ve watched videos and television about snakes, and we’ve read books about snakes. Despite this, though I could be wrong, I don’t think snakes are my son’s passion. Why? There are subtle clues.
This past spring we checked out a bunch of library books about snakes, but my son never picked one of those books during our book time. My second clue is that he rarely asks questions about snakes anymore. I know he loves snakes, but I don’t think he loves them as much as he thinks he does.
In project-based homeschooling, it’s a parent’s job to observe their child and watch for their interests. No interest is too small, and almost any subject can be studied and branch out into many directions. Parents can stealthily guide their young students to the right resources, and like a magnet, the kids will be drawn to them because they already have a natural interest.
Whether this interest in snakes is fading or just on the back burner, I don’t know, but I do know there’s an overarching theme to all of his interests, both large and small.
I see his undying fascination with all things nature. Sure, all kids love nature. I used to think he was just like all other kids, but now I realize his interest goes beyond the ordinary. I get a zillion questions a day from him that mostly has to do with animals and the natural world. His make-believe world is all about animals.
When he was four, I worried about my son’s shyness, but once we began taking classes at the nature center, he blossomed. He’s not afraid to ask questions there, and he has no problem leaving me behind to follow the facilitator on the trail. He is always ready to help turn over a log or shout out that he’s found something interesting.
One of the facilitators at the nature center got to know my son, and she told me that he had a true passion for nature. She said other kids will look at the animals and other discoveries out on the trails, and they’re like, “Cool!” but then they run off. My son can’t get enough. He stays by her side, wanting to see and learn more.
I’ve also noticed that his younger brother isn’t as enamored by nature. While his big brother was in camp a few weeks ago, he took a walk in the woods with my husband and me. He was impatient and uninterested in discovering what was in the woods, and when I asked him if he was having fun, he said, “No.” Later he changed his mind, but his big brother never had to warm up to the outdoors.
One of the most exciting parts of parenthood is discovering who your children are and what they love. I don’t know what my son will do when he becomes an adult, but I won’t be surprised if it has something to do with biology.
I’ll continue to feed his natural interests in nature, but I’ll also introduce him to other subjects, places and ideas. You never know where the threads of these inquiries will meet. It’s as if my son and I are weaving a tapestry, but the final design is yet unknown.
What are your child’s deep interests?