Posted on: November 19, 2019 at 8:10 pm
Last updated: October 15, 2020 at 7:13 pm

Do you remember going through a “phase” when you were a kid?  Maybe when you were two years old you developed an intense interest in trains, or maybe your sister was obsessed with the solar system?

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There are now a myriad of television shows out there, like the Ellen Degeneres Show, or Steve Harvey’s “Little Big Shots”, that show toddlers naming even the most obscure countries on a map, pointing out every constellation in the solar system and giving detailed information about every U.S. president that ever existed.

Of course, everyone had that one classmate that was completely enamored with dinosaurs. You know the one- the kid who had an encyclopedic knowledge of every species, could explain the difference between the Cretaceous and the Jurassic period and knew when every single dinosaur went extinct. Maybe that kid was you.

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Intense Interests

Scientists refer to these as “intense interests” [1]. Most parents are unable to identify precisely when their child became so passionate or what specifically sparked their interest, but some studies show nearly fifty percent of children develop one between the ages two and six [2]. 

And while trains, planes, and automobiles rank as the most popular topic of intrigue, Dinosaurs come in second by a wide margin [3].  Interestingly enough, this childhood obsession does not appear to be specific to any one generation [4]. Whether you were a kid growing up in the seventies watching Land of the Lost, or in the nineties with Land Before Time and Jurassic Park, the obsession amongst our youngest populations has not waned. Kids today are just as fascinated as they were twenty years ago [4]. 

Why Dinosaurs?

It is important to note that whichever subject a child chooses to focus their interests does not seem to be brought about by the interests of their parents [1].  In fact, paleontologist Kenneth Lacovara theorizes that mastery of a topic over and above what a parent possesses could actually in part be what drives a young child to continue to explore their interest further [4].  

“It makes them feel powerful. Their parent may be able to name three or four dinosaurs and the kid can name 20, and the kid seems like a real authority.” [4]

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What’s so great about Dinosaurs?  The topic is seemingly endless- there are new species of dinosaurs being discovered all the time.  It’s a never-ending buffet for the hungry mind of an “intensely interested” child.

Why do children develop these “Intense Interests”?

It is true that not every child develops an extreme infatuation with a specific topic.  In fact, researchers at the University of Indiana found that boys were six times more likely than girls to focus their interests so intensely on the acquisition of knowledge of a specific subject [5].

Preschool-aged children first begin developing an interest in their chosen topic by asking questions.  Because of this, the child’s home environment is very important. Children rely on their parents for exposure to information, and so kids who are given more time for free play that emphasizes educational activity in the home are more likely to develop an “intense interest” [5].

Intense Interests make Smarter Kids

The important piece here is that it does not actually matter which topic a child becomes endlessly infatuated with.  Whether it is dinosaurs, airplanes, outer space or geography, the subject matter is less important than the effort the child puts into studying his or her chosen subject matter [1].

The amount of time and energy these children put into what researchers call “conceptual interests” [2] can have a profound impact on the child as he or she gets older, particularly in the development of their intelligence [1].   

Some psychologists suggest that the way in which some children study dinosaurs indicates how they will face new situations and problems in their lives [1]. These children learn independently in a way that forces them to ask questions and look for answers on their own.  Where most people stop at surface-level information, they dig deeper. This teaches them to change their perspective, use different approaches to discover new information and find relationships within their findings [1].  

Becoming an expert in one area may also give a child more confidence when learning other information as they reach school years [5].

How can parents foster their child’s interests?

Sadly, only about 20 percent of children maintain a long-term interest in their chosen subject [2].  Usually, these intense interests last anywhere from 6 months to 3 years before the child abandons them for other things.

Researchers believe that our education system may actually play a significant role in the drop-off.  An elementary school classroom is a more structured environment with more children and less opportunity for a child to explore his or her specific interests and ask questions that pertain to that subject [2].  

So what can parents do?  Engage in your child’s interest with them!  Take them to see the dinosaurs at the museum, read dinosaur books with them, do your own research and answer their questions whenever you can.  Your child’s interest may last for 6 months, it may last for years to come – either way you’ll be setting him or her up for a bright future full of confidence, problem-solving and knowledge.

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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