As I sat down to write this, my 4.5 year old was settling down to one of his very favourite activities – with four different editions of the Top Gear New Car Buyers’ Guide laid out in front of him, he set about comparing all the cars page by page. His brothers’ nap time at weekends is precious to him – this is the time he gets to spread out his beloved magazines and absorb himself in Hondas, Chevrolets and Fiats for a couple of hours. When I say he is a car enthusiast, I don’t just mean he enjoys playing with cars. He has been able to identify 95% of the cars he comes across since the age of 2 and I clearly remember one of his first words being Vauxhall (or ‘Boxhall’). People assume that my husband or I must be car enthusiasts, but his interest is entirely his own – we just do our best to keep up with him.
As time passes and his interest shows no sign of waning, I have realised that this is actually quite a useful and beneficial hobby for him. If you have a similarly inclined child and find yourself wondering how many more times you can wax lyrical over a BMW’s lights, there are in fact numerous benefits to having a car obsessed infant:
1) My boy is very easily pleased. On days out as a toddler he would genuinely believe the car park was our destination, and there is still excitement in his face whenever we approach a car park. A covered car park is particularly joyous. His favourite activity as a two year old was going for a walk round the block to check out which cars were parked where. As a special treat, once a week or so we would pop into our local Skoda garage where they knew us and would give him brochures. Yes, I did have to spend a lot of time down on my knees examining exhaust pipes and the shapes of the lights, but I couldn’t complain that he was a demanding child.
2) He can keep himself amused for hours. His ability to immerse himself in tasks such as lining up cars in a traffic jam or spelling out makes of car with magnetic letters and flashcards has been extremely helpful to me when I have been otherwise engaged with retrieving small boys from the washing machine.
3) Incredible observation skills. He was recently able to deduce which car in the school car park belonged to one of his teachers, who works part-time, by quietly noticing which days it was and wasn’t in the car park. Motorists in any of the roads parallel to us who innocently change their routine in any way will not go unnoticed by this boy.
4) Reading skills. The hours he has spent trawling through his car magazines set him up well for his reception year at school. Essential words he can now recognise include saloon, coupé and hatchback – surprisingly none of these have yet featured in any of his school reading books. He is also developing a basic understanding of finance, having recently asked me about the meanings of APR, interest and credit.
5) World geography. Through his viewing of Top Gear he now has a real interest in anywhere visited by the ‘Top Gear teachers’ as he calls them. Paris is a particular favourite, although if and when he visits he is expecting nothing less than a night time view of super cars speeding around the Arc de Triomphe. He has, though, taken the news of Clarkson’s sacking extremely well and is looking forward to finding out who the next ‘teacher’ will be.
6) Career opportunities. My boy once copied the front cover of one of his magazines. We sent it to WhatCar? and he now has an offer of work experience. As a 4 year old he is further ahead with his career planning than I was at 24. Or than I am now in fact.
Of course there are disadvantages, which I’m sure parents of similarly obsessed children will be able to relate to. The idea of the car park as a destination, for example, is not ideal when you are actually trying to visit somewhere. Many a time we had to drag an inconsolable toddler from the car park to the attraction we were actually visiting. Similarly, a peaceful stroll in the countryside might seem like a lovely idea, but the peace is soon ruined by a small child asking on a continuous loop where all the cars are. I am mightily relieved that this stage seems to have passed and he does now realise that there are other things to enjoy apart from things on wheels (even though these are obviously still the best).
There have been some interesting choices of bedtime books. We have been known to cuddle up and read Citroen brochures, Auto Express and books on engines. The workings of valves is a favourite topic, although I sometimes find it too much to take in at the end of a long day.
Bewildered though people often are at the sight of my 4 year old pouring over his magazines and brochures, particularly on days like today when he is also wearing his home-made Easter bunny ears, I am grateful for this hobby of his which has been a key part in forming his endearing little personality.