We here at the Davidson Institute have put together some resources to help gifted students explore their interests—whatever they may be. We know that sometimes age can seem like an obstacle in pursuing your passions when you’re a young and highly capable child, so we’ve tried to find something in all areas no matter your age.
We invite you to look at our top tips below. These are tried and true strategies we’ve seen Young Scholars in our program use to dig deeper into their interests. If you run into a roadblock as you journey forth, you can always return to these tips to think through ways to push pass the roadblock.
Top Tips for Exploring Interests and Developing Talent
- Build a read/watch/listen list. One way to really dig deep into an area of interest is to make a list of different books, documentaries, TV shows, podcasts, magazines, blogs, and other pieces on the topic and then work through each of those one-by-one. For example, let’s say you’re interested in astronomy–stars in particular. Perhaps you ask your school or local librarian for some recommendations on some books on this. The librarian suggests several including The Stars: The Definitive Visual Guide to the Cosmos. You also discover that there’s a radio program called StarDate and a TV show called Cosmos. You could decide to listen to StarDate each week, watch all the back episodes of Cosmos, and work through The Stars (it’s 256 pages so it will probably take a little bit of time). You could also add in activities you want to do that are inspired by what you’re reading and watching. For example, maybe you read Night Sky: A Field Guide to the Constellations, and then you decide to start keeping a star-gazing journal based on which constellations you can see from your bedroom window each night. Really, this is like creating a little class but way better because you get to decide what you’re reading, what you’re doing, and when you’re doing it. In college, this is called creating a syllabus, but you don’t have to wait for college. You can do this yourself!
- Make a space. One of the things that can keep us from working on a project is having to get out everything and then put it all away every time we want to do some work. Ask your parent if you can carve out a corner of your room or take over part of an unused space in your home, garage, or backyard. Gather all the things you need to work on your project and lay it out in a way that make sense to you. Make it a comfortable place to be. It can be elaborate and simple. For example, if your goal is to read all the Harry Potter books and then write your own book about magical creatures and where to find them, perhaps you set up a desk under your basement stairs with all your Harry Potter stuff arranged just so for maximum inspiration. Or maybe you just pull a comfortable chair next to your bookcase with a side table for your cups of tea (Lancashire Tea, obviously–JK’s preferred brand).
- Create a museum. Beyond making a space to work, you could also build a museum in your house to display your creations. This could be a simple shelf with objects and labels or a gallery in a hallway with framed pieces. Or you could go bigger–designing exhibitions, writing a collections policy, creating interactives for guests, and leading tours. When we think about museums, we often think about art galleries, science centers and history museums. But there are museums for everything like the National Museum of Mathematics and the National Mustard Museum. Even zoos, aquariums, arboretums, and botanical gardens are considered museums; they just have living collections!
- Make the most of family trips. If your family is planning a trip, ask if you could help plan one or two activities. Perhaps there’s a special place or an event that would let you explore your interest more. Have a favorite author? Perhaps he or she is a giving a talk nearby. Working on perfecting your painting skills? Perhaps there is a workshop at an art museum or a tour of public murals given by a local artist. Fascinated by military history? Maybe there is a re-enactment happening.
- Publish or participate in a competition. Why not share your passion with a wider audience? There are several magazines that publish student work. For example, Stone Soup publishes work by students ages 13 and under exclusively; no adults allowed! There are also many individual competitions that you could enter. For example, if you’re interested in ancient civilizations, maybe you could participate in the National Mythology Exam.
- Start a blog or video series. If you are computer or video savvy, you could document all you’re doing and learning through a blog or a video series. Please ask your parents about setting up an online account as there is a lot to consider when putting information online. If you aren’t too keen on sharing your stuff so publicly, you could make a private/hidden blog or video series or you could go old school. Perhaps you build your own books (book binding is still a profession!) or make your own printing press to publish your ideas.
- Get creative! The last few thoughts were a lot about putting your ideas out there with words. But there are lots of ways to turn your dreams into reality. If you’re building your own board game, maybe your local library or makerspace has a 3D printer you can use to create your own game pieces. If you love animals but you can’t get a pet, maybe you could start a dog walking business.
- Make connections across subjects. Think about how you can explore your interests in all your classes even if at first it doesn’t look like it’s going to fit. For example, let’s say you really like building and tinkering with things, and your teacher assigns a history report on pioneers moving West across the United States. You could ask your teacher if you could build models of different types of houses that pioneers built or look at the different modes of transportation they used, discussing the various merits of oxen, mules, and horses. If you like multiple things, think about how you could combine them. If you’re interested in medicine and drawing, one field that combines those things is medical illustration. (All those posters in doctors’ offices were made by someone!) Did you know that there is an AP Studio Art class in drawing where you spend your time developing a portfolio of work on any subject you want? You could do a whole series on the hand–showing first the bone structures, then muscles, then the veins and arteries, and finally the skin.
- Design an Independent Study Course. When you’re in middle school or high school, you could ask if it would be possible to spend one of your class periods studying what you want with the guidance of a mentor or teacher. Not many schools offer classes in anthropology, but you could ask to study this on your own with the help of your social studies teacher. If you want to follow this route, you might consider writing a formal proposal that explains your goals for the class, outlines the assignments you’ll complete and when you’ll complete them, lists the texts you’ll use, and details how this will work logistically (where and when you’ll do your work, who will mentor you, etc.).
- Consider working on an independent project if you’re not in middle or high school yet or if your proposal gets denied. This could be something that you work on in class when you’ve completed your other work. You could ask your teacher to help you locate resources and give you feedback on your project to help it grow.
- Take an Online Class. In addition to independent study courses, another option for taking a class your school doesn’t offer is enrolling in an online class. There are tons of options when it comes to classes. You can explore some of the opportunities in our Online Program Comparison charts!
- Dual Enroll at a Community College or University. Many school districts have a formal arrangement with a local college or university which allows high school students to take college courses. Ask your school counselor or adviser if this is an option where you are!
In Your Community
Sometimes we think, “There’s nothing to do in my town! Couldn’t I live someplace else!” Often, we overlook all the awesome things our hometowns have to offer. Take another look. Ask around. You might be surprised at what you find. Below are few types of organizations to look for.
- Museums, libraries, and parks can offer so much! They may have workshops, camps, talks by important figures, and other special events. They may also be able to connect you with additional resources and even possible mentors. Museums, for example, often employ specialists in certain areas (curators). If you’re interested in insects, a local botanical garden may have an entomologist on staff who you could talk to. National and state parks may employ a number of different specialists such as geologists, arborists, and hydrologist. Remember that there’s a lot of different types of museums, libraries, and parks out there. Zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and arboretums are museums with living collections. And they may be closer to you than you think. Have you heard about the Little Free Libraries?
- Colleges and universities can have museums, libraries, and parks on their campuses and offer all that those organizations have to offer. Additionally, you may be able to attend a class (through dual enrollment or by special permission). You may also find mentors or tutors who are professors or advanced students.
- Makerspaces are places where people can gather to work together on projects and turn ideas into realities. Makerspaces provide space, people, and equipment to make dreams happen. Different makerspaces have different equipment or focuses. You might find a 3D printer, a laser cutter, a sewing machine, blacksmithing equipment, woodworking tools, and much more at a makerspace.
- Nonprofit and government organizations may offer programs in your area. For example, if you’re interested in history, you may have a historical society which offers walking tours that detail local history, an archive of important documents and artifacts from your area, or an oral history program which captures everyday people’s experiences in your town. Or there may be a youth council group that you could join as part of your town’s government.
We hope these ideas help your family nurture your bright student’s gifts and talents!