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As  Winter is well settled in,

do you know if your Youngster

has Discovered a New Interest?



Iseult Catherine O'Brien

Montessori Teacher & Supervisor | Volunteer Tutor 


Some elements of this Article relate to the education system and national sports in Ireland.







This Post is a pondering on what might engage the interest of our youngsters, and is certainly NOT a prescription on how they SHOULD spend their free time now that they are less likely to be playing outside given the weather, or that we should be grilling them on what's going on!  


Creating an open, relaxed, space, is the best way to hear the latest.


In primary school in Ireland, the classes after 'infants', 'senior infants', cover the ages of approximately 4-12 years.  Older students might also be interested in developing a Project.


Rather than just falling back on the usual indoor activities of  X-Boxing, online gaming, getting caught up with various social media and YouTube output, and watching television, when the weather is too bad to go out, or friends are not available to call round, what other attractive options are open to  youngsters?



 Where an idea comes from does not matter.


What does matter is that youngsters are given encouragement, and they can feel the enthusiasm around them at home, during the development of a new interest.  If they need help in the early stages to work out how to source information on what has tickled their curiosity,  it would be easy for parents, guardians, and carers (PGCs), or older siblings, to assist in starting off a Project.


A time often comes in the life of a youngster, who has been encouraged to keep a wide-open, questioning, mind, that a topic calls out to be investigated.  Having looked through family photographs, for example, seeing one's grandparents looking young, on their wedding days, wearing gorgeous / hideous clothes, could spark an interest in many aspects of family histories.  


Perhaps, Botany, Nature, or the changing of the seasons, might spark an interest in the mechanics of how leaves change their colours.  Please see my Articles, Nature in the City, and Children's City Life, for some of the Science.  A Project may be sparked by a topic of interest in one element of a school subject.


In this period of Remembrance, covering World War I, 1914-1918, elements of World War II; the Easter Rising, the War of Independence, followed by the Civil War ~ the last three occurring in Ireland, many a young girl or boy might be interested to find any family connections with the many conflicts, and what happened to their forebears.


The Project may have become fascinating to the whole family, but it is the Youngster's OWN Project and it is for her or him to ask for opinions, and he / she should definitely NOT to be offered advice or information.


Once a young student is back in primary school or first year in secondary school, he or she shall have approximately an hour to an hour-and-a-half of homework plus study daily, depending on the class teacher, and / or the School's attitude to how much homework is sufficient.  Most youngsters have extra curricular activities: judo or karate; Irish dancing and other styles of dance, including ballet and tap; music and drama classes. 


Most youngsters also play some kind of sport, and in Ireland the GAA football and hurling, plus camogie (a girls' and women's game played with a stick as with hurling) are hugely popular.   They are based on teams from townlands up to County Teams, and potentially good players are noted from a very early age and mentored.   The All-Ireland Final in either Football or Hurling is a sporting highlight for a great part of the population.


Equally, football, rugby, and basketball are very popular sports to play and to view.  Likely talent is spotted early, and hot-housed.  The participation in sport has become a serious business, and that starts from the earliest years.  


Boxing, and especially girls' / young women's boxing, has become very popular.  The great Katie Taylor has been a marvellous example of, and ambassador for, the sport for many years. 


To continue my parochial theme, we now have Dubliner Kellie Harrington, who won the gold medal in the 60kg lightweight division at the AIBA Women's World Championships, held in New Delhi.


Even if a youngster never enters a boxing competition, the discipline of boxing training is good for the development of stamina, commitment, mental and physical alertness. An exponent develops self-reliance and self-confidence.  These are natural developments of learning the skills required, and apply to most sporting undertakings.


One of my students gave up championship boxing to concentrate on her studies for a State Examination year.  She kept up her championship level training for most of the year, until the exams approached, and only then reduced her time commitment.  It was clear to see how her level of physical and mental awareness and alertness fed into her ability to get into the heart of a poem, a story, or an essay.


I believe all children should experience and enjoy the sense of being part of a team, winning or losing, but always playing together, for each other.  


With the ever stronger emphasis on excellence, some young people feel excluded from the school sporting activities, as they may not be particularly skilled at sports.  It is no shame to be on the 'E' Team.  I graced the Hockey 'E' Team for some of my school sporting career!  


The bits I remember are the meeting up with team-mates, and if playing an away match, finding out the buses required to get there.  Things have changed a great deal, and many young people are not expected / allowed by parents to take two or more buses to a strange school for a match.  


I remember the cold hands on the hockey stick, and the sting of the ball.


I remember great goals, and memorable tackles, but the joint effort and the pleasure of just playing together are what I remember with fondness.  


All youngsters should have that sensation and memory in their lives.


I am certainly not advocating youngsters should give up their sports, or exercise in general.  Youngsters, especially boys, NEED three hours physical exertion daily, including lots of running around.  How many children get sufficient exercise to assist in their concentration, retention of facts, ability to sit still in class, and very importantly, not getting a name for being rowdy just because they cannot sit still for four straight hours?


No child or youngster should be expected to do so!


Please see my Post, WHAT ABOUT THE WORK / LIFE BALANCE FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNGSTERS? giving details of studies on the alarming consequences to children and young people, particularly boys, if they do not get the opportunities of sufficient exercise daily.  There are long-term educational deficits, and some children can get unreasonable reputations as 'unruly' because they cannot sit still for hours at a time, and were never designed to do so!


Youngsters should be encouraged to keep up with a Project at weekends, and when matches cannot be played because of water-logged pitches. A great deal of planning, and deciding on resources required, plus laying out the basis of the Project, can be done at home on rainy days.  Visits can be made to the local Library and to Youth Resource Centres nearby,  which can be useful places to find out about new and exciting way to present a Project, possibly using software not available at home or in school.


There are many resources available to people about which they know nothing, until they go looking!


Some youngsters have their own enthusiasms which they follow-up, without any need of encouragement, via the local Library, online, and investigating local sites of historical, social, industrial / post-industrial interest, usually accompanied by a reliable adult, where necessary.  These enthusiasms, which can become life-long, or just last a season, should be encouraged by the family in general.


Help may be welcome with understanding particular elements of the topic.  So, a relaxed show of interest in how the Project is going, may be sufficient for the youngster to mention a query for which  he or she cannot find an answer.


Depending on the availability and value of the information uncovered by the youngster, it may well be collated to the point where it could be described as a display Project.


However formal or informal the Project ends up being, the youngster shall have learnt about:

*   Tracking down sources of information ~ photographs, maps, documents, and personal journals or histories;

   Talking to / interviewing older relatives and neighbours for information;

*    Evaluating data found, and deciding what to use and what to discard or file for possible future use;

*    Finding out how to negotiate the research facilities of the local Library, how to ask for help, and how to ask for specified further material from the Central Library facility.


Most librarians are charmed to help a youngster bursting with enthusiasm, and are happy to show the correct ways to discover relevant material, how to reference it, and to encourage the use of the Library as part of their personal and educational fulfilment.


Children should be brought to their local Library regularly from as young as possible. 


Most have facilities and activities for very early readers, and their younger siblings.  To learn to feel at home in the local Library, with one’s own Library card, is a rite of passage for every child. (I know it was a most significant, important, day for me.  I felt I now belonged with others who also loved to read and to know.)


Accompanying their PGCs to the Library regularly, and seeing how they find what they want, and how they talk about books and activities, upcoming events, with the staff, is an important on-going experience for all children.


This is a part of the crucial observing and learning of social interaction and engagement skills, in a relaxed, natural way.


These would be great experiences in learning how to interact with people in a positive and engaging manner.  Having seen PGCs talking to relative strangers in shops, and heard how to ask for advice or for a particular item, young people pick up these skills unconsciously. 


Young people can be nervous or shy, disinclined to approach strangers to ask for help or advice.  Having seen, and later engaged in, social interactions with people in shops, chatting to neighbours, and learning how to introduce themselves to someone new in school, for example, are all very valuable skills. They are especially helpful for shy young people, as they are given templates on how to go about everyday social activities.


A good quality dictionary and thesaurus are fundamental resources for every family. 

A good quality dictionary is a fundamental resource for every family.  They can be bought fairly readily second-hand or in charity shops, as people come to rely more and more on online dictionaries.  One does not have to spend much.  Having a book in hand, having found the explanation or spelling one seeks, one may then carry on, flicking through the pages, enjoying the discovery of extraordinary, fascinating, or plain very odd words!  That is so much more engaging and interesting than entering a word in a search engine!  


Spell checks cannot be relied upon when wishing to produce, quality, correct work.  They are not sophisticated enough to know what many ordinary words means, and let errors slip through.  Never rely on a spell check: if you have used it, please read through your document very slowly, to find the errors that remain.  


I believe in the value of every youngster’s time being respected discovering new worlds in gardens, messing in streams looking for monsters, and running away, through the park or woods, from massive, blood-curdling, imaginary, hounds.


However, there are always those very rainy days when going out is not possible.  Could not parents, or older family members, who may be knowledgeable about the neighbourhood, be encouraged to talk about local family-run businesses over many generations; or the part played by locals in various risings, rebellions, or workers’ actions through history; where the old tram tracks are still to be seen; who were the local poets, writers, scientists, botanists, herbalists, traders, and astronomers, forgotten sports heroes and heroines, amateur and professional?


Even an adult telling the very smallest part of a story, all he or she may know, might be sufficient to engage the curiosity of a youngster.  Was someone in the family history known for an act of bravery or extraordinary stupidity, or as a crafts person or designer of renown.  Was anyone a World traveller, or did anyone run away to the circus?! 


Perhaps there is a family story passed down through generations, which has never been investigated fully.


Don’t we all love a family mystery!


I would never wish to take away youngsters’ days of freedom outdoors ~ to play, explore in Nature, share, and inhabit these imaginary worlds.


... having an on-going project, to which a youngster can turn for pleasure and fulfilment, during the harshest ... days, ... is a glorious other World into which to retire.


However, with frequent moans of “I’m so bored”, heard because going outside is not possible, it could be the very time to introduce a tantalising snippet of family or local history.


People are curious ~ we always want to know how the story ends!


From a low-key series of chats with grandparents or local older people to find out what life was like for them at the same age as the youngster, and what they can tell about the local ‘big personalities’ when they were young, to embarking on a full-scale Project built on a few hints and questions, young people learn a great deal through osmosis, as well as the recognised knowledge gained.


They learn, unknowingly, the skills of how to communicate well; realising that listening closely is very important, and that the correct, gentle, questions can open up a whole world of insights.  Grandparents and older neighbours are usually happy to tell stories from their youth, and frequently welcome the company and interest of youngsters.


I am definitely NOT suggesting that a youngster should be PUSHED into undertaking and completing a Project over the Autumn / Winter.  However, having an on-going Project, to which a youngster can turn for pleasure and fulfilment, during the harshest Winter days, or when going out to play is not possible or when friends are unavailable, is a glorious other World into which to retire.


The skills a youngster develops when interviewing and chatting to neighbours and older people are:

*         The development of independence;

*         Self-confidence;


        Self-directed work, and;

*         Social skills and interaction.


These are hugely important to every youngster’s personal development, as delineated by Dr Maria Montessori.


Undertaking any Project would be an outstanding opportunity to develop these life skills.  The youngster would also learn:

    The tricky skill of how to manage data gathered;

*      Arranging it in a narrative, perhaps with drawings, documents, photographs or maps;

*      Possibly including a conclusion drawn from a deep knowledge of the material uncovered.


At second level schooling, most students will undertake Project-Based Learning (PBL) work as part of their syllabus.  This involves the learning of all the different modalities: visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, and tactile.


Having planned, designed, researched and interviewed, developed, edited, and structured, a personal Project, these younger students will be starting second level school with the confidence and skills to help them make this great transition easier.


MOST importantly, they will have developed their OWN Project, based on their OWN efforts, and their OWN motivation, and will have produced work of which they can be proud.   Developing this self-reliance and self-confidence, will help youngsters in every aspect of their lives, for the rest of their lives.


Kind regards


Iseult Catherine O'Brien


If you have any comments, positive or negative, I should welcome hearing your views.


If you find any errors or wish to disagree with any of the above, I should be very glad to be told.


If I quote a person, group, organisation, or establishment, I do my very best to source the material quoted, and to attribute it properly.  If I cannot satisfy myself I have found the author or speaker who voiced a quote, I resist using it, no matter how tasty a bite!  If I refer in passing to views expressed by others, I attribute the views even if they have not been given verbatim in the text.  


I work on a basis of goodwill and good intentions.  I shall make errors, being human, and when I do, I apologise now, and should always welcome a correction, which I would insert in the relevant Post prominently, in clear unambiguous text and type, repeating the apology. That's is the best I can do!