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Is it Better to Go Wide or Go Deep When it Comes to Hobbies?


Image: Nomadic Lass via Flickr

In the past few weeks, we’ve started a lot of things that we haven’t finished.  We’re working through a few books at once — Python for Kids and Super Scratch Programming Adventure.  We have an unfinished game of Zork on the iPad with the thief still skulking around.  We started Dash online and worked our way through a few lessons; and now that tab is staring at me while I write this, guilting me as if it can see that the Snap Circuits are out on the dining room table and I have a post-it note reminding me to order a Raspberry Pi.  Lego sets are half built, we have dice but no game in progress, and a solar robot with no sun (or perhaps just a bad panel).

Don’t even get me started on apps.  The Room is still unsolved, Can You Escape is holding me hostage, and I can’t remember the last time we watched a whole video with Khan Academy.

Sometimes I feel as if there is too much out there; too many cool opportunities, too many cool projects: just too many parts and books and sets that pile up, covering the surfaces of my house and making me feel very very anxious over how many things we’ve started but haven’t finished.

I mean, don’t we need to finish them?  Like library books?  Or… dinner?

I’ve been internally debating whether it’s better to go wide or go deep when it comes to interests.  Is it better to dabble, trying dozens of games and books and projects?  Or is it better to seriously commit to one thing — Python, let’s say — and immerse ourselves in it fully?

Because the kids have limited time.  Very limited time, once we toss in school and homework and language lessons and sports.  And I want them to discover all the things I thought were fun as a child, and experience all the new stuff that has come out in the meantime.  Some of the activities will fall to the wayside out of disinterest, and I think that’s okay.  They shouldn’t keep up with something if it doesn’t speak to them.  But that still leaves too many interesting possibilities to fit into a compact schedule.

It’s important for a child to follow a project through to its end point.  To decide to code a video game, and finish the video game so there is the pride that comes from having a finished product.  But how many finished products are enough finished products?  The Wolvog completed a great game at computer camp last summer.  Can we count that as a goal reached and now play around for the rest of the year?

I think more than other areas of life — at least for girls — there is a feeling that if a chosen area isn’t explored well and deeply, the cry of “fake geek” will ring out, as the Doubleclicks express so well.  I’d love to expose my kids to facets of Geekery that I don’t know well, such as Dungeons and Dragons.  It’s been over 20 years… uh… maybe more… since I’ve last played.  And unfortunately, it’s a game where it’s hard to find friendliness unless you go deep.  Unless you fully immerse yourself in that world and learn the rules and commit to a campaign.  I can’t speak to what it is like to try to fit in as a boy, but I can tell you what the ChickieNob will experience if she doesn’t delve deeper that the Ring trilogy and the Hobbit when it comes to Tolkien; her thoughts will be dismissed, her commentary written off.  Even if she does read the Silmarillion or The Children of Húrin, her ideas still may be dismissed due to her sex.  But at least she can fight back by shooting off all the names of Morwen.

And then there is just the bare fact of not going deep enough: you can’t, for instance, accomplish a lot with a surface understanding of coding.  Is it worth touching on programming at all if we’re not going to follow through to the point where we can depart from the books and do our own projects?  Sometimes depth matters beyond proving your Geek mettle.

With writing, there are some ideas that fully come to fruition, gently guided from a series of notes into a published novel.  There are many other ideas that grabbed me in the moment, filled me with excitement while I wrote, but fizzled out after a chapter or two.  It’s not that I didn’t love those stories, but it wasn’t the right time to tell them, either due to mood or timing or other commitments.  I know there is always a chance that I’ll circle back to those stories, especially if the right opportunity presents itself.

Maybe that’s the attitude I need to take with some of our projects.  That it is better at times to go wide until you find the place to go deep.  And plumbing the depths of a bit of Geekery isn’t something that happens for every project, book, or game started, but instead is something that can’t be always planned or predicted.  Sometimes we just stick with things because they stick with us.

Or sometimes your mother tells you that she spent a lot of money on that Lego set, and it better get built.

Just sayin’.

Do you think it’s better to go wide and try a lot of things, or go deep with just a few areas that interest you?

cross-posted with GeekDad


1 Nicoleandmaggie { 11.17.13 at 9:09 am }

Better than playing their stupid trivia games is telling them to f-off. She doesn’t have to prove she’s a real geek girl to anybody. Another great hobby for her might be reading scalzi’s blog where he gets into the practice of attacking geek girls more in depth over several articles.

As to depth vs breadth, I think it is up to the kid. My dh and I were allowed plenty of leeway and still finish projects as adults if the incentives are aligned. Hobbies are nice because you can put them down and pick them up later if you want.

2 Kate (Bee In The Bonnet) { 11.17.13 at 9:11 am }

I’m a dabbler myself, until I find an area where I want to “go deep”. Of course, I’m also a serial “go deep”-er: I studied music from the age of 10 to the first years of college, when I then stopped. And then, a few years later, I picked it up again, and majored in music for 3 years until I decided I really didn’t want to teach or perform as a career. I did the same thing with Japanese. And I do the same thing with my hobbies– sewing, knitting, crochet, needlework, wire knitting, etc.

It’s like I need to delve deeply with something until I prove I can do it well– very well –, and then, I’m done.

So yeah, I’d say you’re doing a great job exposing ChickieNob and Wovlog to tons of different areas of geekery, and I admire your desire to give them, especially ChickieNob, a foundation for authority and authenticity in the geek world… BUT, I kinda think that’s part of growing up.

When I read this, what I read is a parent trying to give her children the best foundation to greet the world from a place of authority. But people may question our authority on a subject, and we have to be able to comfortably express our views, maintain that our views are valid, even in the face of someone who possibly is a bigger expert in an area than we are. Having read the Ring trilogy and the Hobbit gives ChickieNob a perfectly valid point of view on Tolkien. Someone having read the Silmarillion (and hey, if they can make it through that insanely dense tome, more power to ’em…) does not take away ChickieNob’s authority on her reading of The Fellowship of the Ring. It’s hard to look in the face of someone who has more depth of experience on a topic and realize that we still have something valid to add to the conversation.

So, basically, my take on this is that you are doing right by your children by offering exposure to their “whims” (well, not “whims”, but their varied interests as they come across them and ask for more information). They will find their depth if they want to. Or maybe they’ll be serial “deep”-ers. And that’s okay. They can still have a valid, authentic experience and still talk about subjects with the authority of their experience, without being the world’s leading expert on Dungeons and Dragons.

3 Catwoman73 { 11.17.13 at 12:46 pm }

Personally, I go deep with everything I do. Absolutely EVERYTHING. From running to housekeeping to work… everything. If I can’t do something 100%, I just don’t do it. However, I have a four year old, and I have a very different philosophy for her. I firmly believe in exposing her to a huge variety of activities, with the idea that it will someday help her figure out what her ‘thing’ is. So, I let her dabble in a little of this, a little of that. If she wants to try ballet, we sign up for a session. Gymnastics? Sure! Piano lessons? Absolutely! The only activity I insist on for her is swimming lessons, as I believe learning to swim is necessary for safety. There are activities that I would love to see her take an interest in, but I don’t sign her up unless she expresses an interest. She needs to find her own way.

Incidentally- I have this theory that exposing our kids to lots of stuff, and allowing them to find out for themselves what they enjoy and what they are good at, is the key to keeping them out of trouble down the road, in adolescence. This theory comes from my own experience- I was a gymnast, and experienced virtually nothing else growing up. I was ok at it, and I liked it, but I feel like I missed out on a lot because of my immersion in gymnastics. Therefore, I hit highschool, and started getting in a lot of trouble. So I’m determined to handle things differently with my daughter. I’ll be sure to let you know how it works out for me in 10 or 15 years!!!

4 KnottedFingers { 11.18.13 at 1:54 am }

I go deep with EVERYTHING! I also however am the queen of unfinished projects. Don’t even get me started on the 195 stories that have been started on my computer. The 82 knitting project and so on. I do occasionally finish something though LOL

5 a { 11.18.13 at 12:19 pm }

I feel like I should force some continuity on my daughter, because she’s interested in trying things, but she’s not interested in working at them. Where is she going to get if she never has to work at anything? But then I remember that she’s just a kid and a broad range of experiences is probably better in the long run (for her general happiness) than extreme focus on one thing. When she finds something she wants to do, she’ll work at it, and it will likely have no origin or input from me.

6 Aislinn { 11.19.13 at 11:41 am }

I think that with children, the “deep or wide” question will more times than not, answer itself. I think that it’s awesome to give children the chance to have a wide range of hobbies and interests, but once they find the one that really interests them, then they’ll take it as “deep” as they want to. That may morph into Wolvog starting his own computer company, or it may mean that he simply has an interest in technology; he’ll take it to the level that he’s comfortable at and interested in.

7 Ellen K. { 11.20.13 at 12:18 am }

I’m with nicoleandmaggie — ChickieNob could learn to say “eff off” rather than play genre trivia games with boys or men who are so narrow minded that they speak to a girl only to criticize or dismiss her. I was astonished by the level of misogyny and resentment/obvious fear of sexual inadequacy in some of the links and comments about “fake geek girls.” ChickieNob can become more focused on some aspect of Geekdom if she likes; she is a good reader, she’s a smart kid, she seems very self-aware; she can figure it out. Or not. She’s not likely to become as intensely focused on anything as Wolvog. Sometimes I gather that she falls into a “caretaker” twin role, so she might show interest in one of his hobbies as a way of connecting with him or maybe even humoring him. I see this in I & N often. I. doesn’t love the Hulk comic book that N. wants me to read to the class on Thursday, but she very gamely said that all the kids will enjoy it and especially the little boys who are really into superheroes.

I struggle to avoid comparing my twins’ levels of focus and interests, or assigning value judgments to them. I. draws a picture. It’s lovely, and I am proud of her skill and happy to link her to my dad, who is a draftsman and occasionally painter. N. begins a picture and doesn’t complete it, but she will tell me a really kick-ass story about it. Different strokes. : )

If you have to go very, very deep to find friendliness, such as in D&D gaming, IMO that means that the majority of participants/fans are not particularly deep themselves, probably not very well informed about the rest of the world, and IMO not worthy of the effort.

I tend to go wide rather than deep. I would prefer that I & N learn to go a little bit deeper than their mom, but they are only 5 and broadening their horizons is more important than narrowing their points of focus.

8 Elizabeth { 11.23.13 at 6:21 pm }

I’ve done both myself – at one time I was a dabbler in a number of different fiber-related hobbies: knitting, crochet, cross-stitch, hemp jewelry, even friendship bracelets. Then I read a personal essay in a knitting magazine by a woman who had at one point in her life become obsessive about knitting, dropping all other hobbies. And I thought that is so cool, and around that time I discovered knitting blogs and the online knitting community and became fully entangled in it (I was going to say “hooked” – but that would be crochet, not knitting) ;-)… for several years. Since having kids though I’ve lost the ability to focus on any kind of hand-craft project except those I can do without thinking (knitting socks) but I’ve also realized that being that deeply focused on just one thing isn’t sustainable in the long term for me. I really miss cross-stitch, for example. I’d love to become re-acquainted with crochet. Not to mention herb gardening (which I’ve only ever dabbled in in the most desultory of fashions). One of these years I’ll figure out how to pick up those other interests again.

All this to say, to everything there is a season – a season to graze and browse, a season to dig in deep with one thing, and a season to go back to grazing.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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