Why do Children Prefer Some Activities to Others?

30 April 2023
Posted by: Chelsea

The reasons why some children prefer certain types of play or early academic activity over others are not understood.

Parents can help to diversify their child’s interests and influence this to some extent but allowing a child a degree of freedom to choose their activities is highly advisable – within reason!

Children’s abilities and interests – a controversial subject

Since the 19th century, people have argued fiercely over ‘nature’ versus ‘nurture’ in terms of how children develop. That debate continues today and broadly involves arguing how much of a child’s development, interests and abilities are innate and how much arises from things such as their education and home environment.

Although this subject has traditionally generated considerable heat and vitriol between child development specialists (e.g., gender characteristics), in more recent times, a greater degree of pragmatism has arisen. Most child development experts will now acknowledge that both genetics and the environment play important roles and that arguing about percentage contributions is probably meaningless.

Your child’s Activities and interests

From the time your child is a toddler, you may start to notice differences in what they appear to be interested in when compared to their siblings or other children.

Some may want to spend far longer playing with blocks and building/crashing. Others may prefer painting and making a mess, seemingly finding blocks of little interest.

You may see one that is fascinated by picture books and will contentedly sit for extended periods ‘reading’ them. Yet another child will find it hard to settle and want to be constantly trying to climb and explore.

It’s perfectly natural to see some children that are more sociable than others and by contrast, some children that seemingly prefer to play alone at times.

By the time children reach preschool or early primary ages, these differences of interest will typically have solidified even further. However, they remain fairly flexible and can shift considerably as your child ages.

That’s why in schools, pre-schools and daycare centres, there will be considerable emphasis on diversity of experience for the children. Where possible, that approach should also be mirrored in the home.

This is because it is now accepted that the richer and more rounded a child’s activities are, the more they will be able to develop broad-based skills that will help them as they progress in the wider world.

How to diversify your child’s interests

Here are a few top tips to help:

  • DO NOT remove their favourite toys and pastimes once they’ve started playing with them, asking them instead to play with something else. This will only generate resistance to the ‘other thing’ you’re suggesting;
  • when they’re not around, substitute some other activities for the ones they usually engage in;
  • get started by engaging yourself in the different activities concerned. Most younger children are fascinated by what their parents are up to and will love joining in;
  • praise their efforts once they do. Never criticise or mock what they’ve done or suggest they need to practice more;
  • vary things. If they’re not showing any interest in painting or drawing, do painting one day then let them do what they want for a day or so then try to engage them in say some drawing time;
  • remembering that all these activities are meant to be fun, avoid setting a schedule of the “you need to spend time doing this every day” type – something that will only result in the forced activity being seen as a chore and then resentment;
  • try not to assign relative values to their activities. Saying that other activities are ‘better’ than where they normally want to spend their time will again have negative results and risks demoralising them;
  • it’s also important to introduce a lot of various activities covering numerous domains. Trying to shape their interests into a given area, such as art or building, may prove counter-productive.

It’s also important for toddlers and pre-schoolers, that as you try to diversify their activities, they don’t turn into lessons with measures and targets as such. They will learn by casual absorption as they play.

Finally, don’t necessarily expect diversified activities to radically change what they seemingly want to spend their time playing and doing. Ideally, providing them with exposure to other things will increase their awareness and choice. Shaping their interests isn’t the objective.

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