Paleontologist or poet? Experts share advice on fostering kids’ interests

WASHINGTON One week, it’s outer space; the next, it’s impressionist art. Any parent will tell you that when it comes to young kids, interests and obsessions change quickly and often. But that doesn’t mean they should be dismissed.

A paleontologist and a poet share their best advice on how parents can foster curiosity in kids — especially when it comes to reptiles and reading.

Sold on science? Get outside

Paleontologist Scott Sampson says there are a number of reasons why kids are delighted by dinosaurs. For starters, they’re big and bizarre, often decorated with horns, spikes and scales.

But best of all, they’re extinct.

“So you don’t have to worry about them coming up from underneath the bed. They’re these huge monsters that kids can fall in love with but not be afraid of,” said Sampson, host of PBS’ “Dinosaur Train” and author of the book “You Can Be a Paleontologist.”

Sampson fell in love with dinosaurs at a young age, and he says kids with the same interest today are much better off than he was.

“I had to go and read every book in the library, and there weren’t many. These days, kids can look at books, they can look at documentaries, they can go online to websites,” he said.

However, the best thing for little ones fascinated by prehistoric beasts is to get outside and explore their surroundings on their own — “because all those birds we see out there are actually living dinosaurs, so kids can go and observe dinosaurs themselves,” Sampson added.

Plus, he says the more time kids spend away from the screen and immersed in nature, the more they’ll want to learn about other science-related subjects.   

“Get outside, get into nature and make your own discovery,” Sampson said.

Creative kiddo? Pick up some poetry

New York Times best-selling author Kwame Alexander says poetry is an excellent medium for young kids interested in reading and writing. And if you need proof, just look at the power of Dr. Seuss.

“It’s so short and so concise and full of rhythm and energy,” Alexander said.

If you have a creative kiddo on your hands, or even one resistant to reading, poetry could be the gateway to a love of literature. Alexander suggests sharing a poem with your child, such as one from Langston Hughes or Shel Silverstein, and reading it together.

“I think poetry is so concise that it can be a bridge to get kids wanting to read even more. And it’s so short it builds confidence,” he said.

If you have an older kid who can read independently, let your child make the book decisions.

“Books are like amusement parks and, sometimes, you’ve got to let kids choose the rides. I say let the child pick out the book they want,” said Alexander, who adds that his daughter is into graphic novels, so he lets her read them “over and over again.”

“And every now and then, I slide her in a book I want her to read.”

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