When I work with gifted kids, I’m amazed by their lack of understanding about what interests them. They know how to surf the net exhaustively for Youtube videos that make them laugh, but not what skills and practices further their interests.

Developing interests and passions is critical to these students. Many people out there tell me that this is not just for gifted kids, that their average developing child needs to know how to do this too. While of course I agree that this is true, I also think that typical academic, fine arts, and sports programs are available in most communities are enough to engage and motivate most kids. Not true of gifted children who become jaded, disinterested, and shut down quickly when a program doesn’t meet their needs.

Most people think of gifted students as being prodigies who know exactly where their gifts lie. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, I often question if some children who are identified as gifted will ever find their passion because of their lack of stamina and persistence in looking for it. How can we help them find their passion so they become interested and productive adults?

1. Allow them time for exploring.
Give kids wide open spaces for exploring. Take them to museums, fields, libraries, restaurants, any place where rushing and demands are not needed. Let them know that this time is for observing. What moves you? What makes you laugh? What do you wonder about? Give them time on the internet for this too, but remind them take note of what they are thinking. This is a deliberate activity with a purpose.

2. Teach the tools of research and testing.
Just because kids are labelled gifted doesn’t mean they know everything. They must be directly taught just as other children. Teach them the way any basic research is accomplished. Let them know that they are on the hunt for their treasure. Make it fun. Learning about yourself and testing your interests and limits should be fun. Give them books to read and Ted Talks about other kids who searched and found their gifts. Take a look at these with them and talk about them with your child: https://www.ted.com/playlists/129/ted_under_20

3. Find programming that furthers a new interest.
There are many online courses for free or nominal charges that help kids further their new found interest. Don’t worry too much about what age the courses are geared toward. They may not get everything, but they may get more than you think. Here are some places to get you started on looking for the right course with your child: Coursera, MIT Open Courseware, JAM, and of course check out your local community center courses.

4. Show them ways of  identifying.
How will they know when they’ve found something worth pursuing? This is a tough question. The answer lies in how long they are willing to investigate and learn more about this topic. How does it feel when they are learning about it? Keeping a journal of one’s metacognition (or thinking about your thinking) can be really useful, but getting kids to write is often a frustration in and of itself. It seems so academic. Somehow we, as parents and teachers, need to help our children see the value of writing for themselves and not for a grade or assignment. I know this sounds very new age, but the book The Secret really changed how I identify my goals and successes. It was this book that helped me learn to write out exactly what I wanted in as detailed a way as possible so that I would recognize it when it came my way.

5. Let them experience meditating.
Studies have shown that mindful meditation can increase focus, joy, and productivity. Starting this practice early in life will help children become more thoughtful, balanced people. Try putting one of these apps on their most used device.

After explicitly teaching your child(ren) these strategies, watch for subtle signs. If you see them taking action, let them explore on their own. People need alone time to discover who they are. If you see them revert back to Youtube videos that are silly and pointless, gently remind them to put just a few minutes a day towards exploring who they are. They’ll get there now that you’ve given them the tools.