I think that the word "obsession" typically gets a bad rap. I mean, you usually only hear it used in a negative context like when some obsessed girl gets caught stealing Brad Pitt's underwear or when a neglected wife complains that her husband is obsessed with football. But having lived with two obsessives for a while now (and, if I'm totally honest, being a bit of one myself) I can definitely see the upside to obsession.
I have come to realize that obsession usually defines a period of intense learning. Now, let's be clear, there are all kinds of learning and some are as not always as beneficial to your life long knowledge base as others. (Like do you really need to know that much about someone else's unmentionables??) But this type of driven, intense learning about some things (the right things) can really help catapult you up to the top of the next knowledge plateau.
As everyone who's ever met Dashell (or who has read this blog for a while) knows he has had a small obsession with trains for quite a while. And, as it has been starting to fade, I am actually beginning to miss it. I'll admit it, for a while there, I would wonder, periodically, if there might ever be anything (ANYTHING) else that might possibly pique his interest that was not train related. But now that he's moved on to garbage trucks, I am definitely missing trains. (Garbage is simply not as fascinating to me as it currently is to him. I've tried. Trust me. I've tried. But it just leaves me cold. And, well, a bit dirty feeling.)
As I reflect back on our brighter (cleaner) more interesting days of trains, I realize that Dashy's train obsession was not only fun but really inspired him to learn a lot of new words and concepts. His grasp of direction came from his love of trains. (Not to mention his "mastery" of the words associated to those concepts.) So I tend to attribute a good chunk of his vocabulary to his train obsession....
- train (of course)
- flat car
- freight car
- coal car
- mountain (he has one on his train table, but is also able to identify them in the real world.)
- cow catcher
- train track
- hook (as in the cars "hook" together)
- the letter "r" (he learned this because of his love railroad signs)
- gas tank
...as well as a few cute phrases like "All aboard!", "Tickets please", "backing up" and "going 'round the bend".
He would spend large amounts of time putting together long lengths of track...
And building tunnels and bridges...
(What the picture can't depict it that there were very elaborate rules as to which trains could be on which bridge. It was very confusing for Mommy, but Dashell was adamant about keeping the trains segregated. Who knows what goes on in their heads sometimes!)
Given how the tracks fit together, I like to think of this as a lot time spent working puzzles. (Which, as a side note, he has become quite fond of lately. Currently he's pretty bored with the typical beginner puzzles. He does have one puzzle that, although also a single piece per hole puzzle, doesn't have pictures under the pieces. Unfortunately, even though it is slightly more challenging, he can put that together pretty easily too. So, the other day, I got him some puzzles where all the pieces fit together to make an animal and he likes them, but they are a little frustrating because they don't have a picture of the animal in the hole where the pieces fit. And he keeps asking for a picture. Does anyone know if there is a middle ground between the big chunky single piece per hole puzzles and the ones I just described? If you do please let me know. Thanks!! Anyway... back to trains.) I think hooking the trains together was also like doing a puzzle... the magnets on the trains only allow you to hook them one way. At first this was really frustrating for him, but in a couple days he got the hang of it and became a master.
And of course, there is guiding the train around the track. What better way to work on hand-eye coordination? Or making up scenarios like the train has to go to the station to pick up the people. The people have to get on board and then the train goes a little further and stops so that the freight cars can be unloaded, etc. Imaginative play! Right? Right?! Maybe I'm just trying to justify the hours and hours that my child spent over the last several months playing with trains, or maybe, just maybe, I might be onto something here. Whaddya think?