Fostering Focused Interests

Decades ago, I used to edit an antiques and collectibles tabloid. The publication contained many interviews with people who studied and collected specialty items. I was amazed at the items that wound up in these collections, the numbers of people who became passionate about their areas of interest, and the amount of information that could be learned from trivia that may have seemed meaningless to the rest of society.

One man’s house was filled with bells of all sizes. Another person’s basement contained display cases of pencils. Still others collected vintage buttons. Each of these people could cite all kinds of historical facts about his collection.

A visit to eBay will also reveal the number of people who collect and sell special interest items. These are not hoarders. These are people who genuinely get excited about their area of interest and learn everything they can about it.

Young people also may find niches that allow them to focus their learning through collections. Really being able to “get into” a subject builds traits that may transfer to more traditional areas of learning and also guide students to future work. Some of these traits include:
  • tenacity
  • networking with others of like minds
  • creativity
  • stress reduction
  • pride in one’s accomplishments
  • setting and working toward goals 
While there are many hobbies, collections, and special interests from which a child may choose, I will use trains as an example to illustrate my point. As parents and educators, we want to encourage young people to pursue their passions. Here are some possible ways to do that with trains.
  • Museums: When you’re traveling, take time to visit railroad museums. For a list of railroad museums across the nation and throughout the world, visit
  • Train Stations: Click here for a list of train stations around the world. Some have historic architectural significance and some are very modern.
  • Build a Model Railroad: Building one’s own model railroad is a fantastic way to enhance creativity, work on fine motor skills, manage money, learn to read and understand detailed instructions, and plan. Such hobbies often begin in childhood and continue long into adulthood. For learning all about building a model railroad, check out Building Your Model Railroad.
  • Books: Want to learn about the history of trains and railroads and the people who were most influential in creating them? This information will help a student to understand the development of transportation and help put general history in perspective. One also can learn about today’s high-speed trains and commuter systems, the future direction of rail travel, and how that might influence societal trends. For a list of railroad books, go to sites such as Railroad Bookstore or Golden West Books.
  • Train Clubs and Organizations: Clubs and organizations are great places to not only learn about your hobby, but also to meet other people with the same interest. Adult members may act as mentors to young people, providing encouragement and expertise. For a list of model railroad clubs, go to Rails USA and search by your state.
  • Take a Ride: Consider a vacation by rail or just a ride downtown on a commuter train. See listings at Train Traveling. Search local transportation systems such as light rail, subways, and elevated trains at local public transportation sites. 
You can take any subject in which your child shows an interest and brainstorm all of the possible ways to support that interest. You never know where it may ultimately lead.

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