Among various projects that were taken up to develop the resourcefulness of children, the one on developing interest in children and the pattern therein provided rich results. Resource development interventions were conducted for children initially as a ten day intervention in 1986 for a batch of sixteen students from middle schools and high schools, and subsequently a batch of twenty for the same period. These were repeated for several years. Thereafter, after the period of a decade of organising learning and development, a fifty day annual intervention for one hundred children was organised and it focused more on the needs of development of competencies in communication and leadership. Naturally enough, there was a prerequisite for identifying new strategies, methods, techniques and action plans and these were difficult enough for the facilitators who worked with the children on various learning and developmental projects. The fact that these children were drawn from different schools also was a matter that had to be considered because they brought with them different systems of discipline of conduct, interaction and patterns of behaviour. All the same, even though they were funded by parents to the extent of provisions of food and materials, there was a need to add separate funds of the institution for several items of interventions of learning and development.
One area for improvement that was taken up as a part of learning and development was children’s interest as a resource for effectiveness. Interest patterns of children vary from one another. However, the common ground was the fact that interest had its own pattern. The facilitators who worked with children already knew that there could be three types of interests in the children. The primary one was mostly those which were imitative. Children had a tendency to imitate any interest of the adults in their areas of development. The second set of interest happened to be cultivated interest, randomly cultivated by parents and specifically cultivated by schools. The third was more important. These refer to authentic interests. It was noticed that each child had a specific interest which she would promote for herself even when there could be adversities in pursuing such an interest. It was noticed that even when the children could not promote their authentic interest, they would find some way of indulging in that even at the risk of the displeasure of authorities, both parents and those at schools.
The facilitators decided to promote an interest and study the impact of promotion of such an interest through discussions with one of the batches of twenty children. Each child was offered an aquarium at the expense of the institution. It was also arranged that if any child wanted to buy it, she could do so later, and each child was also provided a few varieties of fishes. Not too many in number, they were expected to look after them at home. One of the participants was Manjunath Shevgoor; son of Vishnu Shevgoor, an artist and Bharathi Shevgoor, a Professor of English; today he is a research scientist, he did his Ph.D. in US after his engineering studies in India and now works with Apple on a project of effectiveness of Microchip Architecture at Portland in Oregon state of US. He was the first to take home his unit of aquarium with very great interest. In a couple of months, he lost his interest. One day, as a part of interventions, he was asked, why he was not looking after his aquarium as much as he did so in the previous months. He had only one answer to give that he was not interested. To a question on why he had lost interest, because he was one of the first to take up the aquarium project, he said that he did not know. He only knew that he was no more interested. He was then interested in cricket and followed the game thoroughly.
Children’s interest patterns are multifarious. It is not easy to decide precisely that a child is interested in a particular area because it may change very soon. When they are young, there are children, who are initially interested in becoming a policeman or the owner of a cycle shop. However, very soon, they may change that area of interest and pick something else which they may drop again very soon. The most important responsibility of parents is to identify the interest of the child by allowing the child to change from one interest to another until she finds her authentic interest. One cannot say at what age or at what season the child may discover its authentic interest, says the social scientist, Benjamin Spock, the father of child care, who has a book with the same title which is supposed to have sold a million copies within one year of its publication and to have been translated into more than forty-five languages. He tells parents that the greatest gift that they can give to children is to help in identifying the child’s interest.
Recently I had a rare chance of meeting Anvitha Nithin, who was a participant of a children’s learning intervention at our institution almost two decades ago when she was at middle school. Daughter of Dr. Udayachandra, a professor at SDM College, Ujire, and Manorama, Consultant, Community Service Beyond Boarders, Japan; Anvita now works with Morgan Stanley, Hong Kong as a Corporate Legal Negotiator. I asked her about what she remembered from her learning interventions which she attended when she was young. She said that the best she remembered was the ‘half-glass-full’ concept. She also said that it gave her courage to pursue her interest in legal studies. She knew it was difficult. All the same, she did not want to give up her interest in legal studies though it was only half-glass then. She laughed and said that she depended on her half-glass interest. Another thing that Anvitha recollected was the concept of breakthrough. She learned it by making a star by starting to draw it at one point and finishing the drawing of the entire star without lifting the pen even once. She did it successfully during the training. She said that she found her breakthrough and managed to get an admission at the Law University in Pune because of her interest.
There are several areas of interest which can be promoted in a child once the child’s inclination is known. Of course, it can be promoted by a parent or a teacher keeping in mind the possibility of the child giving up the interest after satisfactory progress is made in it because the child may find that area no more interesting. Pressurising the child because some time and money have been invested into it may not be of much use because though the child may show an interest because of the pressure from the adults around, it may not continue to pursue the interest because it is not its genuine interest.
There are several areas that had to be considered for promotion of any interest in a child. The first area of interest of any child ought to be of intellectual growth. Learning of anything which may even include very ordinary things like knowledge of arranging a table with enough space for the child’s toys as well as school books needs intellectual support. Similarly, reading or writing, learning of new languages, involving the satisfaction of curiosity and any activity or thought processes where the child’s intelligence has to be applied will help the child to identify its interest in intellectual growth.
Art and music are two other areas where the child’s interests may be promoted. Dancing, painting, sculpture and different types of music can entertain a child. The more a child gets into this, greater are the chances for the child to excel in them. So is the case with sports and games. Children take to one variety of sports and then give it up to opt for another. This can also happen in the case of learning to play musical instruments. One may be interested in a percussion instrument and very soon may switch over to a wind instrument. For several years, in the adult learning and development interventions, especially in Parent Effectiveness Programmes, Facilitators asked parents a question about a boy who was gifted a hockey stick by his father and subsequently, very soon, the boy asked for a cricket bat, whether as a father one would buy the cricket bat. Large number of participating parents answered that they would not do it because they were afraid that the child would think that he could waste money by moving from one bat to another. So, there are possible value conflicts that parents can face, like the value conflict of carefulness in spending money and promotion of interest. Sociologists and psychologists are of the view that promotion of interest is more important than teaching a particular value which could be done at any other time.
Some children are interested in travel and exploration. What is essential here is to allow the child to join any team which is organising travel or casual exploration projects like visiting a hill or a cave. Similarly, there may be children who are interested in nature or wildlife. Sometimes, parents don’t understand the interest of a child in bird-watching or as strange an attraction as an interest in snakes. The fear that the parents have are legitimate when it comes to children’s interest in wildlife and their willingness to take any risk in pursuing the interest. While it is important that necessary precautions are entertained, it is also important that the child is allowed to pursue its interest.
There is a time when children may be interested in food, including cooking. There is a great role that the mothers can play by allowing the children to be around when cooking takes place and allot smaller tasks of cleaning or cutting vegetables or even washing vessels to children. This has multiple benefits. One is that the children understand the amount of efforts of a mother; in most cases it is the mothers who cook at home; and volunteer to help once the quantum of work is identified. This creates an interest in the child. While laying a table for dinner, it will be worthwhile to involve the child in doing it because it can start an interest in the child. There are possibilities of artistic expressions also finding its way during the processes of the laying of a table.
Another area of interest of children which is violently taken away is their interest in a specific profession. Parents want children to be doctors or engineers and there have been plenty of cases where the children have failed in their professions because they took up studies only because of parental pressure. A child cannot easily find its professional choice until it is grown up. It is important that parents introduce the child to profiles of different professions other than medicine or engineering because it is possible that the child’s interest is something different and they may not even get an opportunity to express it. Professional excellence and thorough involvement cannot come from pressurised creation of interest.
One area of interest the children should be helped to develop is interest in animals. Pet keeping, wherever possible, is essential for the development of any child as it contributes to the understanding of human living in comparison with life of animals. A dog or a cat or a bird at home can make a world of difference for the growth of the child, especially in the development of the finer forms of emotions and their resonance with the external world. So is the case with gardening. Even people who stay in apartments may keep a couple of flower pots in the balcony and allow the child to water it regularly. This may result in a great learning for the child and its interest in gardening or anything connected with trees, plants and flowers, and, more importantly, the processes of natural growth.
Promotion of authentic interests of children is undoubtedly in the hands of the adult world around, especially the parents. Curtailment of the freedom of the child to choose its own area of interest to pursue is a great handicap that creates disadvantages for children. In fact, the life of a child can be made miserable because certain interests are cultivated as per the norms of the parents which results in destruction of authentic interests of children. More importantly, as an adult, child may find life itself uninteresting because an imitative interest was cultivated. What matters most to children is that their interest patterns are guided right from very young age so that when they grow up, they will be able to take their own authentic interests.
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