Too often, activities that can be classified as hobbies—collecting things, building models, getting out the craft box—are relegated to an occasional lazy weekend or unexpected day off from school: “It’s a snow day! Let’s learn how to knit!” Hobby experts, however, point out there are many reasons why these activities should be pursued more purposefully and on a regular basis.
For starters, hobbies are a tangible way for kids to explore their interests, says Michelle Kempema, a hobby enthusiast and executive director of the Colorado Model Railroad Museum (CMRM). Kids go outside to look at the night sky, touch the stamps, and pick up the scissors, fabric, and glue. It’s a hands-on experience. Plus, many of these activities teach proficiency in science, technology, engineering, art, and math, what you’ve likely heard referred to as STEAM skills. Perhaps most importantly though, Kempema says, hobbies teach problem-solving. “Everybody needs that,” she adds. “No matter what you do in life, you need to learn how to look at something critically, see if it succeeded the way you wanted it to, and change whatever needs to be changed to make it successful.”
Ready to explore options with the kids? Here are five great hobbies, and the surprising benefits they offer, as well as easy ways to get started.
Have you ever sighed at the sight of your formerly clutter-free living room being taken over by trains, tracks, and a handful of Lincoln Logs? Yep. Me too. But there are significant benefits to letting little engineers go to town creating a city all their own. The process could also provide a chance for budding architects to develop a city map. It allows young artists to create their own trees and animals. Future politician on your hands? Models necessitate problem-solving about the community’s needs like electricity and where there’s room for expansion. “You can start as small as, ‘I just want a train to run on a track,’” says Kempema, “But in the end, you’re actually building a miniature of an entire world.”
Get started: Visit a train museum like CMRM or an event like the Rocky Mountain Train Show—scheduled for April 2 and 3, 2022, at the National Western Complex—to see what type of trains your child is most interested in. Once you’re ready to make a purchase, you will have to invest in the train and track from a hobby store, each of which are likely to run upwards of $100. (Check toy stores to find smaller sets for younger kids.) After that initial investment though, there are ways to cut costs on the accoutrements. Have your child cover cereal boxes in construction paper to look like buildings, and then repurpose farm animals, Lego figures, and Matchbox vehicles from other play sets to build out the town.
One of the beauties of needlecrafts like sewing, needle felting, and quilting is combining a functional skill with creative expression, points out Christina Patzman, president of Denver’s Fancy Tiger Crafts Co-Op. Kids who pick up this hobby will be able to repair a rip in their favorite pajamas and, if they stick with it, design a blanket, scarf, or skirt, all while developing fine motor skills. “Learning to make something with your hands is really empowering,” Patzman says, pointing out that choosing colors and patterns also teaches a child to reflect on their personal style. Needlecrafts have the additional benefit of immediate gratification—anyone can follow a simple cross-stitch pattern—and continued challenges when incorporating advanced techniques and patterns. Just be sure to give the child some space once they know the basics. “Sometimes I see parents just taking over, and I feel like that defeats the purpose,” Patzman says. “I always tell my students, ‘This needs to be yours.’”
Get started: Look for an inexpensive kit or basic, beginner materials and tools. For tiny tots, try punching dime-sized holes in cardboard and tying a piece of yarn to one of the holes. Then let your child use their fingers (no needle necessary) to thread yarn through each opening. As your child’s interest increases, look into an in-person class where kids can get hands-on instruction on a borrowed sewing machine.
Too often kids are looking down at their phones. Teach them to look up with a visit to a Denver Astronomical Society (DAS) event, where they’ll be fascinated to see what the moon’s surface really looks like (spoiler alert: it’s not cheese) or see the soft coloration in Saturn’s rings. “It sparks their curiosity,” says Ron Hranac, a DAS lecturer who often gives kids a chance to hold 4.5 billion-year-old space rocks at his talks. “Stargazing, in a general sense, has helped me be a better observer, period.” Just learning easy-to-spot star groupings like the Big Dipper and looking through a borrowed telescope are beneficial for budding scientists, he adds. “The astronomy part gives an opportunity to get some real hands-on, or eyeballs-on, experience at looking at and enjoying what’s in the sky.”
Get started: Visits to many DAS events are free or low-cost, but families can also enjoy stargazing from the comfort of their backyard. Download a free star-finding app like SkyView Lite, spread out a blanket, lay back, and take in the amphitheater of celestial beauty before you. Grab binoculars if you have them lying around.
Listen to National Chess Master and founder of the Chess Academy of Denver Todd Bardwick describe his favorite pastime and it’s a wonder we don’t have all of our kids learning about pawn structure and king safety as soon as they can say “checkmate.” “[Chess] will help them greatly in school, sports, business, and life because it teaches them thinking processes that overlap all those things,” Bardwick says. The game imparts critical thinking skills since players need to contemplate decisions and their consequences, as well as patient analysis of various moves rather than impulsive action. It also teaches how to look at problems from different angles. Best of all: “[Chess] gives them a variety of problems to solve, and it’s in the context of a game,” Bardwick says, “which makes it fun.”
Get started: With plenty of chess boards costing around $10—some come with checkers, too—the game itself is relatively inexpensive. There are also numerous free apps, some designed specifically for kids; check out Chesskid.com for good teaching videos. Once your child shows an affinity for chess, look into school clubs, or local camps and classes like those offered by Bardwick’s Chess Academy of Denver.
Structure is so important for kids, and stamp collecting just might give them a little bit more of it. “Collecting is a way of sorting out and organizing things,” says Bill Blankemeier, a volunteer at the Rocky Mountain Philatelic Library (RMPL) who’s been an avid stamp collector for more than 30 years. With freedom to organize by the type of stamp, colors, age, region, and more, your young collector gets to “organize things the way they like.” Beyond that, stamp collecting dovetails well with children’s other interests. If your little one has a penchant for flowers, for example, their affection for stamp collecting may blossom if they search specifically for flower stamps. Kids who show interest in history may consider the stories behind who and what is chosen to grace the surface of a stamp, and how that provides a glimpse into society values.
Get started: The least expensive way to start cultivating an interest in stamps: “See what kinds of stamps are on the mail at home,” Blankemeier says. “Most people throw that stuff away, but you can start a collection that’s very inexpensive because it comes to your house for free.” Grow the interest further with a visit to a philatelic library, where experienced stamp collectors can walk young ones through the many different aspects of the hobby and guide them toward stamps that suit the child’s specific interests. Budding collectors on the Front Range can join the Metro Denver Young Stamp Collector’s Club at RMPL.
Encourage your kiddo to pick up a new hobby. Whether they pick up a needle and thread, catch the collecting bug, or seek out a totally different creative or scientific outlet (taxidermy perhaps?), hobbies offer kids a chance to have fun in the here and now while learning skills that will pay dividends in the future.
24 Fun Hobbies for Kids
- Collecting (coins, dolls, baseball cards, etc.)
- Creative Writing
- Jigsaw Puzzles
- Paper crafts/Paper Making
- Jewelry Making
- Word Puzzles
- Music (singing, playing an instrument)
- Model Building
- Duct Tape Crafts
Where to Start Your Hobby Search
Chess Academy of Denver provides camps, private instruction, school programs, and online classes in chess.
Colorado Model Railroad Museum in Greeley features an impressive collection of model trains on display, a 5,500 square foot operating model railroad, and a full-size Colorado & Southern Railway caboose to walk through.
Denver Astronomical Society hosts a Junior Astronomers club and regular open house events at the Chamberlin Observatory near the University of Denver for anyone to view the night sky through telescopes.
Fancy Tiger Crafts offers fabric and needle craft classes, as well as project kits and supplies for beginner to advanced crafters.
HobbyTown stocks stores with everything you need to get started on a wide variety of hobbies. Multiple locations across metro Denver and the Front Range.
Rocky Mountain Philatelic Library hosts the Metro Denver Young Stamp Collector’s Club for kids ages eight to 16.
—Courtney Holden is a Boulder-based writer resigned to the fact that she will never be as proficient with Legos as her five-year-old son. She’s determined to keep trying though.