Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Guest Post: Finding Common Ground Through Four Educational Hobbies

Finding Common Ground Through Four Educational Hobbies

Growing up in a house with a sibling with Down syndrome, I know well the challenges that many families face on a daily basis. For my family, it was a struggle to find hobbies that could attract and hold my brother’s interest, while also building his education. Balancing busy work lives with three kids, my parents relied heavily on my sister and me to safely include my brother in our play and hobbies, allowing him to learn and play at his own pace. Here are a few of our more (and less) successful hobby-sharing endeavors.

To me, sports are some of the most educational hobbies that any child can engage in, and I am glad that my brother and I grew up in a time when he was able to fully participate in group sports. Obviously, there are some activities, like martial arts or contact sports, that may be best to avoid, but overall they are a source emotional and physical education. While most children with Down syndrome won’t wind up in the Special Olympics, I think they are a valuable hobby to engage in. As my brother has gotten older, he’s begun to struggle with his weight – like many others with Down syndrome – but he still retains his love of running, which is a fun bonding activity whenever I am home to visit.

Coin Collecting
My brother was just young enough to be very interested the State and National Park Quarters when they first began to be minted. He was already obsessed with maps, and the quarters fed that enthusiasm. We set him up with some coin collecting supplies and always brought our change to him so he could search for a new state quarter for his collection.
We ended up getting the National Park Quarters Collecting Kit from Whitman Publishing, and it’s still one of his most cherished possessions today. Coin collecting was one of the biggest hobbies for my brother, teaching him organization, how to save parts of his allowance and how to make even a small search into an exciting one.

Family Puzzles
Many people with Down syndrome find it difficult to focus on tasks, but if you select the right sort of puzzle they can be great sources of fun and creativity. Puzzles that reward success on multiple levels are excellent for emotional and physical development. My brother enjoyed 3-D puzzles with highly tactile blocks early in his life, but always liked to help with larger puzzles alongside my sister and me. As long as you are willing to encourage and praise during the process, finishing a puzzle can be a great experience. Everyone likes to see that final created product, and that accomplishment was no less important to my brother.

Science Projects
While you may want to avoid some of the more volatile science experiments (over-powered baking soda volcanoes also lead to parents blowing their tops, oddly enough), longer term projects can be a great way to spark curiosity and fun.

I’ve always enjoyed collecting odd colored stones and geodes, and my brother was fascinated with a quartz crystal I’d dug up on a walk. Together, we embarked on making our own crystal geode models. Sure, they’re not quite as flashy as an actual geode, but they are fun to make and showed how things can be unimpressive on the outside, but beautiful on the inside. Most museums also sell crystal growing kits that can allow for some experimentation, but definitely require a watchful eye.
As my family discovered, the easiest way to encourage a hobby is to actively build activities around your child’s interest. This should be the case for all children, whether they have Down syndrome or not, but I feel it is especially important to allow children with Down syndrome to express themselves as they see fit. It can be a challenge to identify and nurture these interests, but encouraging your child to be curious about whatever interests them can be a powerful educational tool. Just be sure to build barriers and encourage additional avenues to expand their curiosity.

Rainier Fuclan is a freelance writer for Medical ID Bracelet Marketplace, a Hope Paige company that provides fashionable and functional medical alert bracelets.

No comments: