Sports, musical instruments, art, cooking, dance, gardening - there are so many potential hobbies for kids! Our older son is firmly entrenched in tennis and video games, while our younger son loves rock climbing, taking care of his guinea pigs, cooking, and gardening. When I look back on their younger years, it seems that they came to some of these hobbies completely on their own, such as tennis, rock climbing, and guinea pig parenting, and some stemmed from watching us, such as gardening and cooking.
I’d love to see bonsai gain popularity as a youthful hobby in the United States. I understand first-hand how challenging it can be to try to actively direct kids into an activity versus letting them discover their passions independently. I did a little research to understand more about how children select hobbies and how parents can offer support.
Hobbies are Important for Children
I love this statement from Families magazine, “The best hobbies for kids are ones that help them to learn about the world…kids' hobbies and interests are born from a spark of passion.” There are proven benefits of hobbies for children, including eliminating boredom, making friends with similar interests, learning new skills, helping relieve stress, nurturing creativity and new ideas, and boosting self-esteem and confidence.
How Parents can Help Their Kids Find Hobbies
My own experience was validated through my research - sometimes children pick hobbies by replicating what they see their parents doing, and other times, hobbies are discovered through self-direction. Parents can help their children find hobbies by first observing their interests, skills, and strengths, and the activities that bring them joy. Next, create a list together of the things they like or might like, and discuss together what sounds the most interesting. Then, provide opportunities for exploration of those hobbies! It’s important as a parent to keep an open mind, and not try to push children down any particular path.
Why Bonsai May be a Good Hobby for Your Child
Published research demonstrates that interacting with nature helps children develop resilience and promotes social-emotional well being. It also provides a practice learning experience. Gardening - digging, potting, and watering - promotes physical and mental development, and can help children gain confidence, responsibility, and self-reliance. Everything Mom reinforces this with practical advice, “Gardening is a lifelong hobby [that] will be useful forever.” Bonsai is a very specific form of gardening, but offers the same benefits - children will get to see the fruits of their labor as the trees grow, just like when they pick vegetables!
Types of Bonsai Work Children Can Do
Children’s Health of Orange County provides an outstanding list of behaviors parents can expect of their children at various ages between 6 and 12 years old. Here is a breakdown, as applied to bonsai:
6 to 7 year olds:
- Practice basic skills like watering
- Draw pictures of their tree with new shapes and designs
- Learn the names of popular bonsai tree species
8 to 9 year olds:
- Use tools like tweezers and scissors to trim
- Fertilize (with adult supervision)
- Enjoy starting a collection
10 to 12 year olds:
- Wire and bend branches to shape bonsai
- Visit bonsai gardens and appreciate older more refined trees
- Watch YouTube videos to improve their skills
How can you help your child start a bonsai hobby? Bring them to a local bonsai garden or shop, or go online and order them a small starter tree. Make sure that instructions are offered specifically for children. If their interest grows, children will find ways to upskill themselves - YouTube videos, local clubs, and maybe even introduce bonsai to friends and family. We actually created a video, "Making Bonsai Fun and Accessible for Kids!" that is free to watch on Youtube. Offer support, guidance, and motivation, and then allow your child’s imagination and interest to take over!