My kid is always holding paper.  Sometimes it’s green or purple, other times it is post-it note size.  But usually he is working with a regular letter size piece of white printer paper.  

Let’s back up a bit.  My son can’t bother to learn to tie his shoes and usually opts for skipping them altogether.  He shakily and slowly struggles through writing simple words. He sometimes forgets to pee in the bathroom. 

But my son can fold the best dang wing-flapping, head bobbing, intricately folded dragon.  All he’s missing is the fire breath.  

I did not teach my son to do origami.  He did not learn origami at a class or from a teacher.  Instead, my son learned how to fold origami from youtube tutorials, library books, and trial and error.  He is usually to be found in the garage, on the porch, or in the living room sitting in the middle of cut up and crumpled up pieces of paper as he is carefully folding a new project.  Don’t bother to try to talk to him – he will not hear you.

It’s an obsession.  Not a passion, not an interest, but an obsession.  

I tried to take him on an outing to the splash pad the other day and we ended up at a local little joint for a summery treat.  He was having none of it. He resorted to just breaking it down for me in simple terms. “MOM! Nothing will cheer me up except for folding!”  

It was then that I understood that origami, to my boy, is not something he enjoys doing.  

It is something that he NEEDS to do. No splash pad, summery treat or fun outing would replace what his growing mind wanted to do.  

The question arises. 

Is this normal?  Is this even ok?

Here are some points to remember when observing that your child has an “intense interest.”

  1.  Pay close attention.  Is this something that you, as the parent, are pushing for, or is this something that the child is innately interested in?  In other words, is this you “passion pushing” or is this a child-led passion? Does he want to make it to the olympics and compete on the bars, or do YOU want him to?  Does she want to wake up early to practice baseball or do YOU want her to? Does he want to save his money to buy another ream of white paper to fold, or do YOU want him to?  You get it – make sure that this is something that your child wants for himself. If the answer is that it is a child-led passion, proceed with number 2.
  2. Notice functionality.  In other words – is your child still getting up to use the washroom, interested in eating, keeping up with friendships, and able to sleep?  If so, great! Move on to number 3.
  3. Keep blood flowing.  My son’s specific intense interest means he is sitting a lot more than he used to. There is less running around and jumping on the trampoline and riding bicycles.  Gently encourage some movement, but don’t push all the joy out of it. Get out a baseball glove and invite him to play with you for a bit, but don’t discourage him from the “origami.”  
  4. Understand.  Remember a time when you were really into something – even if it was a love interest!  It was hard to think of anything else, right? Understand and realize that your child has internally positioned goals – this is amazing!  He has set goals for himself and is motivated on his own to achieve them. You don’t even have to nag! Success! Wonderful! High five!
  5. Show interest.  You may have no interest in folding a swan, playing chess, or rolling sushi.  But you DO have interest in your child. I know it. Sit down with her and let her teach you.  This step is extremely important.
  6. Lastly, realize that his interest will likely change.  Don’t move to Japan so that he can be trained by the master origami-ists.  In all likelihood, he will decide to move on to something else at some point in time.  If you are hung up on him becoming the next Brad Pitt just because he spent a couple of years interested in acting, then he will feel your disappointment.  It is healthy for him to test out different arenas. Give him the space and love to do that.  

Does your child have an intense interest?  Amazing. According to a CNN article, a “2008 study found that sustained intense interests, particularly in a conceptual domain like dinosaurs, can help children develop increased knowledge and persistence, a better attention span, and deeper information-processing skills.”  That study can be found here.   

Finally, Peter Gray has an amazing book, called “Free to Learn,” that is full of great information, research, stories and examples of how letting children play without adult interference can help them succeed.  

Carry on.  And let those internally motivated kiddos do the same!