Identifying and Encouraging Your Preschooler's Interests

By the time your child has reached preschool age, you may have noticed that there are certain activities, toys, or games that he is drawn to. The ability to spot your child’s interests and nurture them is valuable in helping him to develop a sense of self, and build a love of learning. Here are some tips and guidelines to help identify your preschooler’s interests, and encourage him to pursue them.

How to spot your child’s interests

Preschoolers are curious by nature, and will often investigate several different toys, activities, and behaviors. However, it’s possible to identify the interests that your child prefers above others. Observe your child throughout the day, and notice which activities, games, toys, or other things fulfill one or more of these characteristics:

  • Holds your child’s attention
  • Makes your child smile or laugh
  • Is one of the first things your child chooses to do or interact with
  • Attracts your child’s attention with little prompting from you or others
  • Tends to encourage patience, problem-solving, creativity, or other positive traits in your child
  • Is frequently talked about by your child

Your child’s preschool or daycare is a good resource to help you answer these questions. You can speak with her teacher or caregivers directly, or examine the child care center’s reports to identify patterns that suggest a particular interest your child is developing.

Sometimes, these interests are a surprise to parents. For example, a child born into a family of baseball fans may turn out to be fascinated by butterflies and birds instead. Whether or not your child’s natural talents and interests align with your own, it’s important to let her develop her own opinions and preferences. This is an exciting time for everyone in your family, and helping your child figure out her unique nature will build self-confidence and a love of discovery.

Encouraging your child’s interests and talents

Once you have a good idea of the things your child is interested in, you can begin to encourage and nurture these interests. Here are some ways you can do this:

  • If your child likes puzzles, encourage her logic and reasoning skills with different sorts of puzzles and games. These can include memory games, mystery stories, and creating a map she can use to find a hidden treasure.
  • If your child likes animals, he can help feed the family pet or go on a bird-watching walk with you. Having open-ended discussions about animals he sees on a daily basis will help him to make his own observations about the behavior of wildlife.
  • If your child likes to run and climb, she may take to more movement-based or athletic pursuits. Encourage her to try more physical activities such as dance, yoga, or age-appropriate sports.
  • If your child likes art, give him opportunities to draw, paint, and create as much as possible. Encourage him to try out different materials for arts and crafts, including colored tissue paper, egg cartons, chalk, sponges, wood, and clay. Local art fairs, galleries, and festivals are also great ways for your child to experience art.
  • If your child likes books and reading, read books together as much as possible. Your local library is also a great resource, and may offer storytime or special events for preschoolers. Expose your child to a variety of books, but don’t become frustrated if she expresses an interest in reading about one topic over others.
  • If your child likes building blocks, he may have a natural interest in mathematics. According to a 2003 study, play with building blocks during preschool years was linked to higher mathematics achievement in later education. Try asking your child to create structures in a particular order of colored blocks, or talk about the different shapes of the toys he is building with. Understanding patterns, sizes, and shapes are the foundations of math skills. Encourage hands-on play and experimentation.

Whatever your child is naturally drawn to, it’s important to respect her interests and find creative ways to help her develop them. Helping her build on skills she already has will foster a lifelong love of learning, and build self-confidence.