Kids benefit from hobbies new and old

Not just goofing around

Does your kid have a hobby? Do you know anyone's kid who has a hobby?

Adults have hobbies. Kids used to have them, too. There's a lot of anecdotal evidence that indicates there's at least a perception that the number of youngsters pursuing hobbies has declined. There seems to be a decrease in leisure time and an increase in TV-watching and videogame playing.

Hobbies come in all shapes and sizes, but the hallmarks of every hobby are: making something of your own, learning new skills, and doing it on your own time, because you want to.

Turns out hobbies provide much-needed centering and relaxation for children. One reason is that a hobby allows the brain to go on autopilot. There's freedom from nervousness, self-consciousness and stress. Basically, a hobby puts you in a comfort zone. Words associated with hobbies even sound soothing. Tinkering. Puttering. Dabbling. Hobbies unlock creativity. They involve kids in constructive pastimes that may lead - who knows where?

A little digging revealed that there are young hobbyists in Madison. From new media to model railroading, kids are latching on to what they love and using new tools like the Internet and state-of-the-art electronics to add excitement and real-world relevance to their pursuits.

Peter Streicher runs the MEDIAWORKS Program at the Goodman Community Center. Three evenings a week, a fired-up group of kids show up for a free videography workshop, where they are handed cameras and allowed to use them creatively to complete a group project.

"It's crazy how much they love it," says Streicher. "They've seen their parents use digital cameras, so they're a little bit familiar with the equipment, but not much. Here they discover how cameras can be used beyond documenting birthday parties."

Kids create stop-motion videos, documentaries and claymation shorts. Streicher's approach is to let them start with shooting the photos or videos and introduce them to software "only when they're ready."

The kids keep coming back. Streicher says he has enough demand to run the program all weekend. Qualities that emerge in kids who embrace videography as a hobby? "Fearlessness. Curiosity. Excitement and drive," says Streicher. Examples of Streicher's students' works can be found via the Goodman Mediaworks YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/user/goodmanmediaworks).

Collecting "lore" (think cards, creatures or comic books) is still a popular hobby. Grade-school kids trade in a mysterious hybrid language from the world of Yu-Gi-Oh, Pokemon and Bakugan. Many middle-schoolers and teens enjoy manga (Japanese comics) and anime (Japanese animated films). Josh Crawley of Westfield Comics, 7475 Mineral Point Rd., says there are plenty of reasons kids are drawn to collecting everything they can about certain characters and their worlds.

"For one thing, it's cool because older siblings and friends are doing it. Then there's the sense of adventure. From Pokemon to Legend of Zelda to Captain America, there are these alternative realities, dominated by giant lizards or what have you, and it's just exciting." Kids also like the art. Crawley says that reading comics is different from watching cartoons. "You get to pore over them and think about the combination of words and pictures," he says.

A hobby stimulates interests and expands knowledge in subtle ways. Baseball card collecting, for example, fixes a player's history, hometown and state, along with stats, in kids' minds. Not only that, it teaches them organizational skills and the value of a fair trade. Jeff Daniels, owner of Baseball Card Shoppe in Westgate Mall, says kids enjoy face-to-face conversations with peers and parents about their cards.

"It's a great way for parents and kids to relate to one another, and a fun thing to do on the playground," says Daniels, whose father started the store. Baseball card collecting is one pastime that hasn't changed much in the last hundred years. "They tried to introduce a cyber-card, where you could custom-design the size and design of your card," says Daniels. "But for some reason, people rejected the idea. There's a standard size baseball card they want to hold in the palm of their hand. And looking at the computer screen just doesn't do it for them."

Technology has made model trains more exciting. George Stahl, part owner (along with Chris Rooslie) of Madison Hobby Stop, 6622 Mineral Point Rd., says the cars are more intricate, and new electronics allow kids to operate multiple trains from one control center. But, he says, the real benefits haven't changed much.

"I think model railroading is good for kids because it teaches them how to put buildings together, do wiring, work with plaster," says Stahl. "A lot of parents bring their kids in here, hoping to get them away from TV and videos. We run the trains for them. We often see the parents back closer to the holidays, picking out a set."

A model railway club for ages 8-18 meets monthly at the Last Square, a hobby shop at 5944 Odana Rd. Coordinator Karen Myers says the mix of different ages doesn't matter.

"They all come together through this common interest. You're either into it or you're not, and these kids are into it. It's great to see how it draws them together to share ideas."

The group works on a portable layout stored at the Last Square, installing wiring, planning buildings, repairing cars. For more information, go to www.nmra-scwe.org and click on "Club Programs."

So how do you spark your kid's interest in a hobby? Try a variety of activities and be open to feedback. Then provide a work space and allow for spills, scratches and other hobby-related accidents. Support your children by attending hobby-related meetings and workshops or just helping them understand directions. Set a good example - kids with hobbies tend to have parents with hobbies. It doesn't hurt to guide your children toward what interests you, but make sure, in the end, that they choose their own hobby.

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