Helping Children Discover Their Interests

31 08 2009

b y S a l l y M . R e i s

Sally Reis, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Connecticut where she serves as a Principal Investigator at the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented. She is a former teacher and is a member of the NAGC Board of Directors.

For over 10 years, I worked in a school district as the coordinator of a K-12 enrichment program, and during this time the most frequently asked questions by parents of children with high potential related to how they could help their child develop his or her abilities. After 20 years of conducting research about talented young people, I am more firmly convinced than ever that the answer lies in actively seeking to identify your child’s natural interests and then spending time with your child to develop those interests. From the current success of Tiger Woods in golf to the research completed by educator Benjamin Bloom on talent development in young people, we have learned that when a child has both an interest and a talent in the interest area, that talent can be developed with the help of involved and committed parents and diligent teachers.

Some Background Research

Many different research studies demonstrate that learning is enhanced when a child is able to work in an area of his or her own selection and when interests become a major part of learning. Cognitive psychologist Jean Piaget argued that all intellectual functioning depends on the essential role played by “affective” processes such as interest. He used the term “energetic” to describe the relationship between intellectual functioning and affective processes. Other researchers believe that interests interact with personality and that it is within interest areas that the individualized and creative components of one’s personality emerge. Cognitive theorist H. Gruber postulates the “self construction of the extraordinary,” indicating that the main force in learning is a person’s own activities and interests. Gruber points out that the way a person shapes a creative life may involve the pursuit of interests rather than achievement in school or precocity in intellectual tasks.

As a parent, it is a good idea to think about your own interests and the ways you model your pursuit of these interests. Perhaps major interests you held in childhood have developed into the work you now do. If so, talk to your child about the importance of enjoying your work and pursuing your interests so he or she begins to understand the critical link between interests and future careers. These questions may help you consider current interests:

Do you have hobbies or interests that your child has watched you pursue?

Do you spend time reading books about a certain topic or interest area?

What type of creative work do you do in your spare time?

Help your child understand that you also have interests and pursue some of these together. Actively pursing interests together will provide the best possible role modeling and help your child learn that interests both enrich life and guide future career decisions.

How to Spark and Nurture Interests

If your child does not seem to have interests at the present time, there are numerous ways to spark interests. The best way is to show an interest in your child’s school experiences and in what he or she has been doing, reading, and watching on television. Ask questions and work to maintain communication about what your child is doing in school and at home. Trips to museums, art galleries, libraries, zoos, and musical and theatrical performances can all help to develop interests. Library books about a variety of topics can help you ignite potential interests in your child. Magazines cover numerous topics and offer enrichment opportunities to spark children’s interests. The same goals can be accomplished by high-quality video tapes, films, and television shows such as those available on the Discovery, Learning, and History Channels.

Once your child discovers areas of interest, you can help develop and nurture those interests. In the case of a child interested in history, you can encourage him or her to read historical fiction as well as nonfiction books including biographies, autobiographies, and other historical works. As a family, you can visit historically significant sites, the state historical society, or historical libraries. Local historical societies often have ideas for projects, such the University of  Connecticut have learned that the single best predictor of college majors and career choices made by talented youngsters has been their intensive involvement in self-selected projects based on their interests. We found that very young children with high levels of interest in computers, mathematics, or science often retain their interests even when they are encouraged by parents and teachers to do other things in order to be “well-rounded.”

Educational psychologist Joseph Renzulli defines giftedness as the interaction between above-average (but not necessarily superior) ability, task commitment, and creativity. Renzulli asserts that we develop giftedness in young people by enabling them to bring ability, commitment, and creativity to bear upon an area of intense interest.

Identifying Your Child’s Interests

How do we find and develop intense interests in young people?

Some general areas of interest usually found in children include performing arts, creative writing and journalism, mathematics, business management, athletics, history, social action, fine arts and crafts, science, and technology.

In 1977 Renzulli developed the Interest-a-Lyzer, an instrument designed to help young people identify their interests. This brief questionnaire also enables parents and teachers to learn more about their children’s interests and opens up communication between the child and his or her parents and teachers. My Way, An Expression Style Inventory, is a brief questionnaire designed by Karen Kettle to help parents and teachers learn more about how a child likes to pursue his or her interests based on the following ways of expressing interests: written, oral, artistic, computer, audio/visual, commercial, service, dramatization, manipulative, and musical. A 7-year-old who develops an interest in dinosaurs may not want to write a book about dinosaurs, but may be interested in constructing a diorama or a model of his or her favorite dinosaurs. Using My Way, students indicate their level of interest by channeling their interests into certain types of products such as designing a computer software project, acting in a play, writing stories, or filming and editing a video. For example, a 10-year-old boy with a learning disability, who is very bright but has not been doing well in school, recently completed My Way. His profile indicated that his preferred method of learning involved doing audio-visual, computer, and artistic work. The products he most frequently completed in school consistently involved written and oral work. That his preferred method of learning and the projects he completed in school did not mesh may be one important reason he was not doing well in school. The questions on the Interest-A-Lyzer and My Way are almost all open-ended or require simple check marks to complete. A few sample questions from the Interest-A-Lyzer follow. Try these out on the whole family and compare responses.

“Imagine that you have become a famous author of a well-known book.

What is the general subject of your book?

What will it be about?

What would be a good title for your book?”

“Imagine that you can spend a week shadowing any person in your community to investigate a career you might like to have in the future. List the occupations of the persons you would select.”

“Imagine that a time machine has been invented that will allow famous people from the past to travel through time. If you could invite some of these people to visit your class, who would you invite?”

One 8-year-old-girl’s response to the last question included Harriet Tubman, George Washington, John F. Kennedy, and Lee Harvey Oswald. It seemed clear that she had history as a primary area of interest, and when asked about Lee Harvey Oswald, she explained, “I don’t believe what people say happened in Dallas really happened, and I’d like to ask Oswald a few questions.”

Teachers also have developed simple questionnaires to help you identify your child’s interests. Many school districts use these parent inventories of children’s interests for planning enrichment experiences that will help develop interests. Sample questions follow. Think how you would answer these about your child.

• Describe any collections or hobbies your child has.

• What are your child’s pastimes at home or after school (trips, lessons, clubs, groups, etc.)?

• Has your child discussed any career interests with you? If so what?

• Have you noticed any talents or unusual interests, skills, or accomplishments at home?

• What types of books or television shows does your child choose to read or watch?

If you want to support your child’s interest you can work collaboratively on projects or research topics with your youngster. In addition to reading nonfiction books and visiting interesting places, children can also use “mentors-in-print” or how-to books to develop their interests in

an advanced and authentic way. Methodological books can help children learn how to do work in an area as junior professionals. If a student has an interest in history, some excellent how-to books in history include How to Trace your Family Tree (American Genealogical Research Institute Staff, 1973), How to Tape Instant Oral Biographies (Zimmerman, 1992), My

Backyard History Book (Weitzman, 1975), and Pursuing the Past (Provenzo, Provenzo & Zorn, 1984.)

Another excellent resource for students in upper elementary grades or middle school who are interested in history is History Day, a competition sponsored by each state historical society. In this annual event, students pursue topics of historical interest to them in a number of ways: individual or small-group projects, performances, or audio-visual projects, or by writing research papers. Students who are interested in history or social science research can also use The Artifact Box Network (P.O. Box 9402, Bolton, CT 06043; phone: 860-643-1514).

Teachers work with students to create a box of local artifacts that is exchanged with another class from another part of the country or world. The clues put in the box result in research about the local site as the class tries to identify the location of the artifacts from the classroom with whom they have exchanged boxes. Within each content area, many different ways exist to promote and develop interests. Science, language arts, mathematics and social studies consultants from each state department of education can usually help parents locate various clubs, organizations, or societies that can help children develop interests within these content areas.

The World Wide Web has numerous ways to help students pursue their interests. My own 8-year-old daughter recently developed an interest in hummingbirds and was able to locate a website on hummingbirds that included dozens of resources, recent photographs, and many interesting facts which she used to prepare an alphabet book on hummingbirds. You can help ignite and nurture your child’s interests. In so doing, you unlock your youngster’s high potential and pave the way for enjoyment and success. What more can a parent do?!


As you and your child embark on a journey to uncover and develop your child’s special interests, here are a few questions you can discuss together to help you begin to learn more about your child’s unique interests. To add a creative element to the conversation, pretend you are a reporter interviewing your child for a newspaper article.

1. When you take your child to the bookstore or library, what books would he or she buy or check out (mystery, biography, poetry . . .)?

2. What is your child’s favorite subject (math, science, social studies, language arts . . .)? Describe any specific interests your child has within a subject. For example, if your child enjoys language arts, he or she may get especially excited about creative writing.

3. Describe any lessons your child currently takes or has requested to take.

4. Which clubs, teams, or groups (inside or outside school) does you child belong to or has requested to join?

5. Describe any hobbies or collections your child has or has indicated an interest in starting.

6. Describe any trips your child has especially enjoyed or has requested to take (historical house, aquarium, nature hike, art museum . . . ).

7. What is your child’s favorite game?

8. What is your child’s favorite movie?

9. What is your child’s favorite TV show?

10. Has your child expressed any career interests? If so, what are they?

Twenty Preliminary Igniters for Creative Thinkers

31 08 2009

1.  Surround Yourself with Creativity

Surround yourself with creative people and reminders of creativity.   Decorate your workplace with peripherals of excellence and catalysts for creativity.  These could be pictures, quotes, or past projects.  This can be called the Ray Bradbury approach or the Sistine Chapel approach.  Find or create the work environment that ignites your creativity.  Just as important are the people that surround you.  People become more creative when they surround themselves with stimulating and creative people. This is true in the lives of Michelangelo as well as Einstein.

2.  Watch for Brain Traps

These are the emotional triggers that turn off the creativity in your mind. They could be the snap judgments, statements of fear, confusion, frustration or the prison guard of Brain traps-“I can’t”.  Try putting up a sign in your class that says, “No brain chains allowed”.

3.  Target Your Goal

There will be a time that creativity must be focused.  Ideas without goals are like climbing stairs without progress. Do you have a well-defined goal?  Keep the main thing the main thing.

4. Lean into Your Challenges

Learn to take intelligent risks in your thinking.  Bob Metcalfe (Founder of 3Com and Inventor of Ethernet) said, “Innovation requires gambling and risk taking.  We tell each other to make at least 10 mistakes a day.  If they are not making ten mistakes a day, they are not trying hard enough.”   Michelangelo’s motto in life was, “I took it as a challenge” when his father opposed his low career as a sculptor, when he carved the colossal David from a ruined piece of rock, and when he painted the Sistine Chapel.

5. Crave Inquisitiveness

Naquib Mahfouz (Nobel Prize winner) said, “You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.”

Isaac Newton

by Calvin Miller

Sir Isaac Newton sure was smart,

Beneath the apple tree.

When one fell off and hit his head,

He said, “Wow, gravity!

For Newton was a genius

And not a common slouch.

A genius cries, “Gravity!”

Most others just say “ouch!”

6. Challenge Assumptions

Often we are hindered in our creativity because of assumptions we make.  Ask what you are assuming and challenge it.  “The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

7.   Generate Alternatives

Emile Chartier said, “Nothing is more dangerous than one idea when it’s the only one you have”.   A Monomaniac is a person who has an inordinate or obsessive zeal for or interest in a single thing, idea, subject, or the like.  Expand your reading and interests.  Look for the second right answer. “If the only tool is a hammer you’ll see everything as a nail.” Abraham Maslow

8.  Lavish Symbolic Attention

If you want creativity, talk about it, talk it, and promote it. Find many ways to research and talk about it.

9.  Adjust Your Mental Blinds

Charles Kettering said, “You’ll never get a view from the bottom of a rut”.  Problems cannot be solved at the same level of consciousness that created them,” says Albert Einstein.

10.  Discern Similarities

Make connections and associations between topics and ideas.  Ask, “How is this like that?”

11.  Slice Up Your Elephant

Learn how to break down large dreams, problems and tasks.  When asked “Can you eat this elephant?” You can if you have the desire, time and when you slice it up into bite-size pieces.

12.  Juggle Peripheral Thinking

Learn not only to tolerate but enjoy ambiguity and complexity.  Learn to live with the unresolved.  When you think, plan to cook ideas on the side burner and the back burner. Sometimes you mind is on a ‘searching’ mode and then, while you are consciously thinking of something else your subconscious mind is on the ‘finding’ ode.

13.  Develop Ancillary Use Thinking

Ask yourself “What else can this be used for?” George Washington Carver found 300 uses for the peanut.  He called this “chemergy”.  Let the raw materials from unusual items and places combine into something creative.

14.  Abandon Conventional thinking

One person made this observation about Einstein, “Part of his genius was his inability to understand the obvious”.  Practice iconoclastic thinking and learn to trust your crazy ideas.

15.  Plan Serendipitous Developments

Many of the great inventions and discoveries were accidents.  But many of these so-called accidents were after hard work and an open mind.  Be open to new directions.

16.  Listen Naively

Listen without expert ears.  Stop thinking or saying that you have heard an idea before.  Listen as if you are hearing an idea for the first time without prejudgment.  Talk to someone outside of the field who is not familiar with the project.

17.  Latch on to Breaking Trends

Catch the wave of futuristic thinking.  “The best ideas are not years ahead of their time but 15 minutes before their time.”  Woody Allen

18.  Make Innovation and Change a Continuous Event

Be prepared and create innovations which are large sweeping and dramatic changes as well as Kaizen (From the Japanese Kai meaning change and zen meaning good) which are continual incremental improvements.

19.  Revitalize Procedures

Learn the difference between effective and efficient   Effective is accomplishing a task decisively but with possible excess of time, material, and/or effort. Efficient is accomplishing a task with precision, economically with little or no excess of time, material and/or effort. Learn when it is the right time to use each of these.  What time wasting activities keep you from creativity?

20.    Cultivate the five powers of mental concentration


The mental act of deciding, establishing and adherence to an aim


Persevering in an effort for a considerable time regardless of seeing results


Hold firmly to a course or direction


Sticking to the focus of the goal


Sustaining one’s spirit following defeats

A Passion for Books

30 08 2009




No matter what his rank or position may be, the lover of books is the richest and the happiest of all.

John Alfred Langford


I have sought for happiness everywhere, but I have found it nowhere except in a little corner with a little book.

     Thomas A Kempis


It is from books that wise people derive consolation in the troubles of life.

   Victor Hugo


When you reread a classic you do not see more in the book than you did before: you see more in you than was there before.

                     Clifton Fadiman


The result of reading is not more books but more life.

      Holbrook Jackson


Just the knowledge that a good book is waiting one at the end of a long day makes that day happier.

          Kathleen Norris 



It is the books we read before middle life that do most to mold our character and influence our lives.

            Robert Pitman


My early and invincible love of reading,…..I would not exchange for the treasures of India.

         Edward Gibbon 


When you sell a man a book you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue- you sell him a whole new life.  Love and friendship and humor and ships at sea by night-there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book I mean.

               Christopher Morley


The person who does not read good books has no advantage over the person who can’t read them.

               Mark Twain


Every person who knows how to read has it in his power to magnify himself, to multiply the ways in which he exists, to make his life full, significant and interesting.

                       Aldous Huxley


 The love of reading enables a person to exchange the wearisome hours of life, which come to every one, for hours of delight.



The first time I read an excellent book, it is to me just as if I had gained a new friend.  When I read over a book I have perused before, it resembles the meeting with an old one.

       Oliver Goldsmith


I never remain passive in the process of reading: while I read I am engaged in a constant creative activity, which leads me to remember not so much the actual matter of the book as the thoughts evoked in my mind by it, directly or indirectly.

                                        Nicholas Berdyaev               


My best friend is a person who will give me a book I have not read.

        Abraham Lincoln


We use books like mirrors, gazing into them only to discover ourselves.

           Joseph Epstein


A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity, and once more in old age.

      Robertson Davies


It is chiefly through books that we enjoy conversation with superior minds….In the best books, great men talk to us, give us their most precious thoughts, and pour their souls into ours.

                    William Ellery Channing


A book is like a garden carried in the pocket.

                     Chinese Proverb


Books are the compass and telescopes and sextants and charts which other people have prepared to help us navigate the dangerous seas of human life.

                  Jesse Lee Bennett


Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.  As by the one, health is preserved, strengthened, and invigorated: by the other, virtue (which is the health of the mind) is kept alive, cherished, and confirmed.

                     Joseph Addison


Books are the quietest and most constant friends: they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and most patient of teachers.

                                Charles W. Eliot


Some books are meant to be tasted, others to be swallowed , and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.

                       Francis Bacon


Only three things are necessary to make life happy: the blessing of God, books , and a friend.



30 08 2009

Introducing the new Bio-Optic Organized Knowledge device, trade named BOOK

BOOK is a revolutionary breakthrough in technology: no wires, no electric circuits,

….no batteries, nothing to be connected or switched on!!!

It’s so easy to use, even a child can operate it. Compact and portable, it can be used anywhere — even sitting in an armchair by the fire — yet it is powerful enough to hold as much information as a CD-ROM disc.

Here’s how it works:

BOOK is constructed of sequentially numbered sheets of paper (recyclable), each capable of holding thousands of bits of information. The pages are locked together with a custom-fit device called a binder which keeps the sheets in their correct sequence. Opaque Paper Technology (OPT) allows manufacturers to use both sides of the sheet, doubling the information density and cutting costs. Experts are divided on the prospects for further increases in information density; for now, BOOKS with more information simply use more pages.

Each sheet is scanned optically, registering information directly into your brain. A flick of the finger takes you to the next sheet. BOOK may be taken up at any time and used merely by opening it.

BOOK never crashes or requires rebooting, though like other display devices it can become unusable if dropped overboard. The “browse” feature allows you to move instantly to any sheet, and move forward or backward as you wish. Many come with an “index” feature, which
pin-points the exact location of any selected information for instant retrieval. An optional “BOOKmark” accessory allows you to open BOOK to the exact place you left it in a previous session — even if the BOOK has been closed. BOOKmarks fit universal design standards; thus, a single BOOKmark can be used in BOOKs by various manufacturers. Conversely, numerous BOOK markers can be used in a single BOOK if the user wants to store numerous views at once. The number is limited only by the number of pages in the BOOK.

You can also make personal notes next to BOOK text entries with an optional programming tool, the Portable Erasable Nib Cryptic Intercommunication Language Stylus (PENCILS).

Portable, durable, and affordable, BOOK is being hailed as a precursor of a new entertainment wave. Also, BOOK’s appeal seems so certain that thousands of content creators have committed to the platform and investors are reportedly flocking. Look for a flood of new titles soon!!!

Traits of Creative People

30 08 2009

from Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention

by Mihaly Csikszentmaihalyi

The Ten Dimensions of Complexity

Are there traits that distinguish creative people? If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from others, it would be complexity…… It involves the ability to move from one extreme to the other as the occasion requires.  But creative persons definitely know both extremes and experience both with equal intensity and without inner conflict. It might be easier to illustrate this conclusion in terms of ten pairs of apparently antithetical traits that are often both present in such individuals and integrated with each other in a dialectical tension.

1.  Creative individuals have a great deal of physical energy, but they are also often quiet and at rest.

2.  Creative individual tend to be smart, yet naive at the same time.  Why a low intelligence interferes with creative accomplishment is quite obvious.  But being intellectually brilliant can also be detrimental to creativity.  Some people with high IQs get complacent, and , secure in their mental superiority, they lose the curiosity essential to achieving anything new.  Learning facts, playing by the existing rules of domains, may come so easily to a high-IQ person that be or she never has any incentive to question, doubt, and improve on existing knowledge.  This is probably why Goethe, among other, said that naivete is the most important attribute of genius.

3.  The third paradoxical trait refers to the related combination of playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility.

4.  Creative individuals alternate between imagination and fantasy at one end, and a rooted sense of reality at the other.

5.  Creative people seem to harbor opposite tendencies on the continuum between extroversion and introversion.

6.  Creative individuals are also remarkably humble and proud at the same time. Another way of expressing this duality is to see it as a contrast between ambition and selfishness, or competition and cooperation.

7.  Creative individuals to a certain extent escape this gender role stereotyping.

…….Creative and talented girls are more dominant and tough than other girls, and creative boys are more sensitive and less aggressive than their male peers.

8.  Creative people are thought to be rebellious and independent, Yet it is impossible to be creative without having first internalized a domain of culture.  A person must believe in the importance of such a domain in order to learn its rules: hence, he or she must be to a certain extent a traditionalist. It is difficult to see how a person can be creative without being both traditional and conservative and at the some time rebellious and iconoclastic. The willingness take risks, to break with the safety of tradition, is also necessary. The economist George Stigler is very emphatic in this regard: I’d say one of the most common failure of able people is a lack of nerve, They’ll play safe games…

9.  Most creative persons are very passionate about their work, yet they can be extremely objective about it as well.  The energy generated by this conflict between attachment and detachment has been mentioned by many as being an important part of their work.

10.  Finally, the openness and sensitivity of creativity individuals often exposes them to suffering and pain yet also a great deal of enjoyment.  (58-76)

Creating an Environment Where Creativity Flourishes

29 08 2009

by Wayne Morris

This entire article is in a previous post

Creativity in the classroom – what does it look like?

When students are being creative in the classroom they are likely to:

· question and challenge. Creative pupils are curious, question and challenge, and don’t necessarily follow the rules.

· make connections and see relationships. Creative pupils think laterally and make associations between things that are not usually connected.

· envision want might be. They imagine, see possibilities, ask ‘what if?’, picture alternatives, and look at things from different view points.

· explore ideas and options. Creative pupils play with ideas, try alternatives  and fresh approaches, keep open minds and modify their ideas to achieve creative results

· reflect critically on ideas, actions and outcomes. They review progress, invite and use  feedback, criticize constructively and make perceptive observations.

 “The most powerful way to develop creativity in your students is to be a role model. Children develop creativity not when you tell them to, but when you show them.”

Source: Robert J Sternberg, How to develop student creativity


Carolyn Edwards and Kay Springate in their article “The lion comes out of the stone:

Helping young children achieve their creative potential” [Dimensions of Early Childhood] give the following suggestions on encouraging student creativity:

 · Give students extended, unhurried time to explore and do their best work. Don’t interfere when students are productively engaged and motivated to complete tasks in which they are fully engaged.

 · Create an inviting and exciting classroom environment. Provide students with space to leave unfinished work for later completion and quiet space for contemplation.

 · Provide an abundant supply of interesting and useful materials and resources.

 · Create a classroom climate where students feel mistakes are acceptable and risk taking is encouraged. Appropriate noise, mess and autonomy are accepted.

More Motivational Quotes by Students

29 08 2009

hat&wand1You can enjoy life so much more if you honestly have a true passion.

 Olivia Ware (4th grade student)


When you have a passion, you may have trouble ding it, but the good thing is that you feel energized by it.  It is true because, although it can be difficult, it feels good, I think that passion is nice because of the energizing part. 

 Steve Maier (5th grade student)


I believe that if I push myself and go beyond the limit, I will succeed and go farther in life.

    Dylan Miller-Forbes (5th grade student)


Thinking lets me write better stories, but I don’t have to think after my pencil begins its work.  The pencil just moves.

    Connor Boland (5th grade student)


You get bored with things that come easily, but like things that you work for.

       Krystal Bruce (5th grade student)


Passion may have obstacles.  If it truly is a passion. The obstacles are overwhelmed by the passion.

                                                                Aaron Williard (5th grade student)

 In order to succeed in something, you have to have a passion for that thing.  Also, in life, if you want to succeed, you must have a passion for life.

                                                   Dylan Miller-Forbes (5th grade student)

 It is possible to satiate one’s stomach, but impossible to satiate one=s mind.

                                                             Felix Fritsch (5th grade student)

 If you have altered someone’s life you have an impact on the world.

                                                          Felix Fritsch (5th grade student)

One must be able to try new things and raise the bar to have a passion.

                                                         Aaron Williard (5th grade student)

If you really want to live, you should do your best.

                                                                        Krystal Bruce (5th grade student)

If you aim at something you know you can easily get, why aim for it?

                                                                          Krystal Bruce (5th grade student)