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Tips for Exploring Interests and Developing Talent in School Settings

Gifted Education and Support

We here at the Davidson Institute have put together some resources to help gifted students explore their interests—whatever they may be. It may seem like age is an obstacle to helping your child pursue their passion, so this compilation of suggestions tries to incorporate suggestions for a wide age range. 

Find some inspiration. If your child is interested in a variety of subjects or hobbies and isn’t sure where to start in their talent development journey, it might be helpful to explore on of the following project sights. These are all great ways to try out a new interest or talent to see if it might be right for your child. 

  • On DIY, you can earn patches for completing projects in different areas like astronomy, bookbinding, game design, photography, and so much more. They offer step-by-step videos to help you complete your projects. It’s kind of like Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, but you decide what to do and where to do it. 
  • Check out the project library from past Maker Camps. 
  • Start with a Book has projects and resources connected to books on different themes. Click on “Explore a Topic” and then get topic-based book recommendations and hands-on activities (mostly for ages 3-12). Each topic page also has a list of websites and apps to allow kids to dig deeper into the topic. 
  • Science Buddies has a search tool to browse various science project ideas, and they offer project guides that help students through each step of the science project (i.e. researching, developing a hypothesis, testing, etc.). There’s also the opportunity to Ask an Expert to get feedback from actual science experts as well. 
  • Wonderopolis is a place to get your burning questions answered (like “Do plants think?” or “Why didn’t people smile in old photos?”). At the end of each wonder, there are ideas for projects and additional ways to explore further. 

Once you have an idea of interests that your child has, how can you bring those interests into the classroom? 

Make connections across subjects. Let’s think about how students can explore their interests in their classes even if at first it doesn’t look like it’s going to fit. 

For example, let’s say your child really like building and tinkering with things, and their teacher assigns a history report on pioneers moving West across the United States. They could ask the teacher if they can 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. To add extra challenge (and maybe less stress) you can work with them to use recycled or household materials to construct the models. 

If they like multiple things, think about how your child could combine them. If they are 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 students spend their time developing a portfolio of work on any subject they want? They could do a whole series on the hand–showing first the bone structures, then muscles, then the veins and arteries, and finally the skin. 

See more tips on supporting students with multiple interests here: “Tips for Students: Choosing ALL Your Passions: The Life of a Multipotentialite.” 

Design an independent study course. Frequently, when students enter middle school or high school, one option that opens up for them is an independent study course. This means that a student spends one of their class periods studying a syllabus of their choice with the guidance of a mentor or teacher. Not many schools offer classes in anthropology, but a student could ask to study this on your own with the help of their social studies teacher. If you want to help your child follow this route, depending on their written output you might consider helping them to write a formal proposal that explains your goals for the class, outlines the assignments they will complete and a rough calendar of due dates, lists the texts they will use, and details how this will work logistically (where and when they will do their work, who will mentor them, etc.). 

If your child’s school doesn’t get on board with an independent study, don’t throw out all of that hard work! You can still talk to your child about working on an independent project if the proposal gets denied or if they are not in middle or high school yet. This could be something that they work on in class when they’ve completed other work. Your student could still ask their teachers to help them locate resources and give feedback on the project to help it grow. 

See our “Short Guide for Building an Independent Study Course” for additional tips. 

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! 

Join a club. Many middle and high schools across the country have different extracurricular clubs that students can join. Some of the popular categories of clubs include: 

  • Academic clubs such as include debate, mathletes, or language clubs. Some of these academic clubs allow students to show their talents in competitions, and others have a focus on expanding students’ knowledge in the subject. 
  • Hobby clubs such as glee, chess, and D&D club. Some schools even have clubs for esports or video games now! These clubs bring students together based on a shared interest using planned events or lunch table discussions. 
  • Community involvement clubs such as identity/culture-based clubs, volunteer/service clubs, or religious clubs that the school has. Many of these clubs encourage students to connect with resources and communities outside of their school. 

If your student’s school doesn’t have a club that interests them, would they want to start their own? Many students have also started their own successful clubs in the absence of engaging extracurriculars at their schools! 

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 while still enrolled and earning their high school diploma. If this is an option that your student is interested in, let them know to speak with the school counselor or adviser to discuss if this is an option in your area! 

Finally, keep in mind that school is just one piece of the talent development puzzle. You never know where the talent development journey will take your family! If you need more inspiration for talent development, check out the other resources in the Davidson Institute Talent Development Guide. 

 

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