Can I go out to Play?
February 14, 2009 8:00 AM   Subscribe

[HobbiesForKidsFilter]: Hobby suggestions for a bright 11 year old boy who doesn't like sports. Familiar story probably for many as he is bright, considerate, thoughtful and somewhat outside his mainstream classmates obsessed with football and the like.

Mrs Funmonkey's nephew is going through a bit of a rough patch trying to find friends and interests outside of school. Small town child with access to the big city, quite bright and inquisitive but no interest whatsoever in the usual sports and trading cards like most his peers. The end result is he is pretty much on his own and lonely. Has tried acting and some other things but unfortunately nothing has stuck.

Any advice towards helping him overcome or find activities that will help him find some new friends is greatly appreciated.

Please note this is a scandinavian askme, so any type of links or advice that is country specific, e.g. meet up websites for kids in USA etc.. won't help.
posted by Funmonkey1 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (29 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
One that really hooked me around that age was painting miniatures. There's a certain pride to be had in developing the eye and fine motor control required. It can be a very impressive and often useful skill to be that precise, and it helped my low self esteem to know I could do something few others had the patience to do. If he's not going to be bothered by the nerd label it comes with you could also look at games that train the mind like chess, Go and mah jong.
posted by fearnothing at 8:14 AM on February 14, 2009

My local science/discovery museum has short courses for children in beginners electronics, chemistry and so on. If you could find something similar it could be a good place to meet some new friends.

Apart from that, how about something like the Scouts? Are there _any_ sports that interest him? If so, joining a team = instant new friends. Is he musical? If he and a few like-minded friends had instruments, they could start a rock band. Actually, forget the musical bit - you only need three chords and a bit of rhythm to get started.

As for interests, if I was a kid nowadays and got a Lego Mindstorms kit, I doubt I would ever go outside. Similarly, beginners electronics or chemistry kits have been around for a long time and are great fun for curious, intelligent youngsters.
posted by jozzas at 8:17 AM on February 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

A list from my younger self: rock climbing (both indoor at a gym and outdoor), ultimate frisbee, kayaking (both whitewater and sea), fishing, origami, theatre tech work (lights and scenery building), Lego Mindstorms and the book for it, mountain biking, trail running and hiking to be ready for cross country track, Electronic Gadgets for Evil Geniuses, mountain biking, bmx racing, skiing, motocross, skateboarding, stunt kites, juggling, model car building, and dog training.

- feel free to ask any follow up questions.
posted by tumble at 8:26 AM on February 14, 2009 [5 favorites]

I used to build flying model rockets. Also had a model railroad, took art classes at the big city museum, and (a few years later) took up long-distance cycling.
posted by jon1270 at 9:01 AM on February 14, 2009

When I was a kid, being given my own library card and getting a ride to the library every two weeks was the ultimate nerd luxury. "YOU MEAN I GET TO READ ALL THE BOOKS I WANT? FOR FREE? OH MY GOD."

When I was 11, my middle school was stocked with young adult novels, my bookshelf was filled with childhood leftovers, and letting me skip a grade and take Honors classes still didn't make English class challenging enough. Having access to the adult section of the library gave me access to all this literature I had the ability to understand but little other way to access.
posted by Juliet Banana at 9:15 AM on February 14, 2009

Heh, sounds very familiar indeed. Maybe you could get him a metafilter account? ;)

Juggling and other circusy stuff like diabolo, unicycle, poi, contact juggling, etc. It helps if you can find someone to teach and/or learn with him, but it's not crucial - I first learned to juggle and spin a diabolo from a book, and have at least one friend who originally learned poi spinning from a DVD.

These are all hobbies that are fairly easy to pick up, will be great to show off to his friends and will never run out of new patterns, styles and techniques to learn. They can also be really social, as jugglers tend to be friendly folks and non-jugglers like to talk about it; when I practise in public I end up talking to all kinds of people.

A great place to find out about juggling is the Internet Juggling Database. Click on "Worldwide Juggling Clubs" to see if it has a listing for a club anywhere near you. This site has some fairly good free videos intended to teach a total novice how to juggle. You might want to contact your local university - many universities have circus societies, and they'll probably either welcome the kid or tell you about another local-ish club that will.

Also head to the Home of Poi, a community dedicated to poi spinning. Poi is probably easier to pick up than juggling without a teacher, and this site has great lessons for poi spinning, staff spinning and a few other things. The online lessons are free and comprehensive, but they also sell a DVD which at least two friends of mine learned from. My friends and I have bought from their shop several times, and can vouch for their reliability and good service. Note that there's no need to buy poi to start learning - just put a weight (e.g. a small orange or a handful of uncooked rice) in the end of a long sock.

I'll also second tumble's suggestion of stunt kite flying. You can find plenty of books on how to build and fly kites of varying sophistication, from bamboo-and-binliner single line kites to multi-line kites sewn from ripstop nylon with fibreglass rods. Making them is great fun, and some of my happiest memories from childhood are of learning to fly kites that I'd built from scratch. On a related note (building stuff that flies from household items), this book is awesome - full-size tracable templates and detailed, colourful instructions on how to build gliders, darts and stunt planes from paper, card and balsa wood / straws. Plenty of good stuff in there about the science of flight, too. I had a copy when I was 11ish and had great fun with it.
posted by metaBugs at 9:44 AM on February 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Building and flying model airplanes? My husband's been doing this since he was a kid, and modelers can get insanely geeky about it (in all fairness, a lot of engineering and electronics are involved as well as delicate craftsmanship). You can start simple and cheap with rubber-band-powered balsa models so don't be scared off by the high-tech spendy stuff.

If you look around on the web you might find a model airplane club in his area. Be forewarned that the members are likely to be mostly retired engineers and few if any kids, but your nephew might acquire a dozen new "uncles" who'd be delighted to help him with his hobby projects. If he doesn't have much in common with kids his own age, he might get on well with an avuncular older crowd.
posted by Quietgal at 9:53 AM on February 14, 2009

Doesn't like all sports? Or doesn't like certain sports, like team sports or competitive sports?

Seconding all the suggestions re: rockets, trains, models, science kits etc. as well. I loved all of that stuff, couldn't get enough. Learning an instrument is also a good idea.

Have you tried asking him? I'm not sure most kids are ever flat-out asked what hobbies or interests they'd like to explore rather than being presented with a list of parentally pre-approved carpool friendly options from which they are permitted to select.

At least that's how it tends to work over here in the U.S. to large measure, which is a pity.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:18 AM on February 14, 2009

Seconding rock climbing! Present it as a puzzle. It hooks the most unlikely kids (well, grown-ups too).
posted by jet_silver at 10:29 AM on February 14, 2009

What about photography? A digital camera can be used to take pictures of people, new places and everyday things, and then there are creative opportunities for working with the pictures taken.

I bought my nephew -- who is around the same age -- a nice digital camera last year after he showed interest in mine, and ended up making individual collages of photos for cards this year.
posted by sueinnyc at 10:44 AM on February 14, 2009

There are some quite nice boardgames out these days, many of them coming out of Germany; Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, etc.

posted by fings at 11:59 AM on February 14, 2009

Get him a instrument, maybe a cheap guitar.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 12:55 PM on February 14, 2009

Thirding climbing which is what I came in here to suggest dammit! It's big amongst that agegroups parents in Sweden at least, so I imagine the same in Norway, my local wall is teeming with kids at the weekends. Kids gear can be had dirt cheap second hand on blocket (or the equivelant). Kiting is also a good non-sport-sport, but also mentioned! I had also intended mentioning clown-school, but was beaten to it, but wanted to point out that that's a very doable thing in scandyland, there are usually plenty of schools, courses etc.

Otherwise, being a country boy, should be plenty of room to let him get into motocross or other bike/4-wheeler activity? If he's actually geeky as we are assuming, as opposed to just "considerate" as you say then mebbe he would like to be the guy who keeps them running, even if he isn't into driving them? Again if he is geeky, then geocaching would be a good way of combining activity and science and you could probably set up a parents and kids group.

Again, basing on Sweden here as opposed to Norway, but assming stuff is similar. As well as scouts there are various other youth organisations, some run by political organisations. If the parents are ok with that then the equivelant of Unga Örnar or something might be good.
posted by Iteki at 1:50 PM on February 14, 2009

Stamps and coins!

Get a REALLY nice stamp collecting album and a book on how to clean coins using safe household materials. I did this for hours a day.

When I got a new piece, I would re-do my entire collection, and I loved it.

This not only satiated my desire to categorize and organize all things, but I also learned all the capitals of every country in an Atlas along with their currencies.

Good luck and Magyar Posta!
posted by hal_c_on at 1:52 PM on February 14, 2009

As a follow-up to my post:

I know people make fun of those who are coin collectors, or those who identify themselves as philatelists. Fuck 'em.

Although I don't collect coins or stamps anymore, I still have a box or two in my parents' house that is worth quite a bit of money. And I do feel that kick sometimes when I spot a foreign coin, or I see a stamp thats worth half a penny. Thats something nobody will be able to take away.

Best hobby ever...for a curious kid. MeMail me if u need details on how to set him up.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:59 PM on February 14, 2009

What about teaching him how to cook? I loved to bake when I was his age (still do). If your nephew is having a hard time fitting in socially, it's probably not ideal for him to take up a hobby that's very individual, like model building (yes, I know that modelers get together sometimes, but that's a very niche-y community). Cooking is great because it's something he can do alone or in a group, and the end product is something he can share with everyone.
posted by folara at 2:02 PM on February 14, 2009

My son hated team sports but loved street skateboarding, which requires all kinds of rigorous practice. We got him a guitar but 11 proved to be too young. He didn't pick it up again for a few years. We found that the things that really caught his attention were slightly dangerous (BMX riding) and involved some brain work to figure out. Turned out he didn't hate sports after all, he just found it crashingly boring to stand in a line of kids waiting his turn to hit a ball.
posted by toastedbeagle at 2:06 PM on February 14, 2009

At that age I loved building my own RC car and raced it against friends and even in little tracks built in parks. 11 and 12 is a wonderful age to learn technical and mechanical skills as kids that age are all like minor-league geniuses compared to how they will be when older.

Other alternatives: model rocketry, home genetics kits, computer programming, brew your own root beer, an xbox360, etc. (or anything from Edmunds). Perhaps those are more gifts than activities but a lonley kid might appreciate some alone activity a bit more than being dragged out to something he isnt interested in. Some kids are just late social bloomers.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:31 PM on February 14, 2009

Mr A and I are both geeks and have geeky kids. Astronomy was my particular thing as a kid and one of my boys enjoyed it, too. Seconding fearnothing about miniature painting. My astronomy son got somewhat interested in dice-based battle games but got really interested in painting the characters and creating and painting the 3-D landscapes that add to the gaming experience. There are stores here that sell the characters, paints, accessories, and have meet-ups for like-minded kids and older to paint, play, etc. Perhaps there's something like this where your nephew is if you think he would like this.

The individual sport thing is something both my geeky kids liked while they both dislike team sports intensely. The older one is particularly interested in skateboarding and snowboarding. The younger one likes track and field.

Mr. A was a geeky kid musician who now plays professionally. We gave both our sons instruments of their choice, and lessons, and both are talented teenage musicians. "Unfortunately" ;-) the younger one is a fine and passionate percussionist....
posted by angiep at 3:07 PM on February 14, 2009

I was going to first suggest computer programming. I tutor a lot of kids who are that age and have a similar underwhelming interest in sports. The other extracurricular activities that seem to have worked well for my young students include fencing lessons, music lessons, and scouting.
posted by lgandme0717 at 3:57 PM on February 14, 2009

I recommend Geocaching.
posted by Edubya at 4:17 PM on February 14, 2009

There is a competitive robotics league for kids his age called FIRST Lego League. It's originally an American thing, but there is a regional tournament in Bodø, so there's likely a team in your area. The basic idea is that the kids use Lego Mindstorms to build robots that then compete against each other in an obstacle-course type format. If you can find a team near you, it would be a good way for him to meet other bright, geeky kids. I participated in the high school league run by the same organization and had a really good time all around. If this is an option, I highly, highly recommend it.

My other big recommendation would be music lessons of some kind; I've played the trumpet since I was eight, and it has always been one of my favorite intellectual outlets. Don't force him into an instrument he doesn't like, though. Find out what music he likes to listen to and try to steer him towards wanting to play it, too.

You say he's not much into sports, but a more individual-oriented sport, like fencing, running, or martial arts, might be enjoyable for him. I had friends growing up who did all of these, and they got a lot out of them even though they wouldn't get caught dead holding a football.
posted by Commander Rachek at 4:38 PM on February 14, 2009

Magic! Sleight of hand and card tricks and other simple tricks that use common household items are so fun around that age. You can start with Magic For Dummies-type kits from Klutz and there are some great books of card tricks available.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 5:18 PM on February 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Electronics! Very low cost for entry and there are kits that cover all sorts of neat things to get him started. I recommend Getting Started in Electronics, plus around $100 worth of tools and initial parts that he can pick up at any Radio Shack. Then aim him towards Make magazine and get out 'the way.
posted by jquinby at 5:36 PM on February 14, 2009

I know it's been mentioned before, but I'll jump on the music bandwagon.

At least when I was in school, there main segregating factors were sports and music. When I realized every single one of my friends played an instrument, I picked one up as well. If you can get him interested in guitar he will be grateful later, as it is a lot easier if you start young. I know someone mentioned that 11 was too young, but really if he is interested in it it is a great age I reckon.

Music is a great way to express yourself, it is rewarding, people think it is/you are cool, being in a band is great fun and an excellent way to make lasting friendships, playing an instrument is like being in a big global club, anywhere you go you can meet other musicians and have something great in common. Plus, you know, it teaches good skills like diligence, and when it comes down to it music theory is just a bunch of numbers, so it stimulates the brain in more than one way. And if you enjoy practicing because the thought of becoming better is motivating you, there is almost no limit on how much time and energy can be spent on it (as opposed to say rock climbing, which might be more of a weekly event or whatever)

Okay, rambling aside, get him a guitar and some lessons.
posted by atmosphere at 8:48 PM on February 14, 2009

Just something else I thought of, try not to get him interested in things like video games, I think an xbox is a terrible suggestion because while fun, really doesn't give you anything at the end of the day except being skilled with a console (unlike say stamp collecting from which you can learn if nothing else about other countries, but also there is the limitless possibility in the subject matter of every stamp sparking your interest. I loved stamp collecting, but it is obviously not considered very cool). Video games will encourage a child to stay indoors and will make making friends even more difficult, as well as possibly lowering interest in academic pursuits. Choose something that will give him a skill or at least be a social hobby.
posted by atmosphere at 9:11 PM on February 14, 2009

My suggestion is paintball. It's technically a "sport" (depending on who you ask), but it's not usually the sort of ultra-competitive full-contact sport that football or basketball is. It's more like skateboarding or stunt biking, in that there's almost zero expectation of playing it "professionally" and so people are nice and laid back.

It also isn't particularly mainstream, so you're more likely to find weird and interesting people involved. Likewise, it doesn't demand great athleticism to be competitive. Some of the best players at my field are overweight and almost never run, but are great shots and think tactically. Being fit definitely helps, and you can play it as a purely athletic game... but, you can also play it like chess where you're one of the pieces.

I just started playing a month ago, and I've never played a sport in my life. I've found that the kids who go out and play at my field at least are pleasant and mature. They're not the kind of geek who plays AD&D, but they are a certain kind of abnormal. And while there are a couple of assholes whose greatest joy is inflicting pain, that type gets shut down and ostracized really quickly.

And, if he's geeky, he'll have a great time tinkering with his equipment. I have as much fun fiddling with my gear as I do playing the game. In fact, the gear makes it feel more like autoracing than soccer to me... which makes it feel like far less of a sport.

I have evidence that paintball is played in Europe, although I don't know about Scandinavia.
posted by Netzapper at 9:19 PM on February 14, 2009

Role Playing Games?
posted by gonzo_ID at 12:36 PM on February 15, 2009

Seconding magic! Start with "Magic for Dummies" as previously suggested, or "Now You See It, Now You Don't" by Bill Tarr.
posted by RobotNinja at 6:50 AM on February 16, 2009

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