This is the first post in a series about independent summer enrichment and exploration for gifted youth.
Your child may want to know anything and everything about bugs, or Norse gods, or art history. She might even be already well on the way to becoming an amateur expert in a topic. Summer can be a great time to “go deep” — to research, explore, and mine the tunnels of a subject and find some serious treasure. We’ve got some tips and suggestions for hot topics and cool summer research projects that can be conducted close to home.
Why Go Deep?
Gifted youth are often fascinated by specific topics, careers, and disciplines, ones that they don’t get to explore in a regular curriculum. Summer can be a key time for kids to grow leaps and bounds.
If allowed to explore these interests via self-selected content, kids not only develop higher-level thinking skills, they also get their emotional and psychological needs met. Pursuing an interest minimizes boredom and frustration, ignites a passion for discovery, and reminds students of the exciting world we live in. Habits of mind students cultivate with these independent projects include curiosity, perseverance, reflectiveness, risk-taking, and accountability.
Note: Different parents have different standards of what is appropriate for their children. Before your child gets started exploring online, you may want to vet any recommended sites via Common Sense Media or another trusted source to see if the materials, activities, or sites are appropriate for your child.
Cool Projects, Hot Topics
- Project Noah. If you have a budding scientist and nature lover, the Project Noah tool allows your child to document and explore the worlds of living organisms. With a smartphone serving as a “butterfly net,” your child can upload plant and wildlife photos in their local area — helping build a natural world map while aiding scientific research.
- DIY Challenges. Billed as an online community where kids can learn new skills, discover new interests, and “meet fearless geeks just like them,” DIY.org offers multiple challenges in a range of interest areas, encourages peer feedback, and allows students to earn patches.
- Book Challenge. Challenge your child to break personal records with reading and reviewing books in a subject-area interest. Have your child set a Book Challenge, and record their daily/weekly progress. After a visit to your local library to find books in the interest area (and to visit with the librarian), you can steer your child toward online spaces to track and/or review the books they read (Scholastic has a review website, or you might want to create a Goodreads account together if your child is age 13 or older.)
- Service Commitment. Does your child have a strong interest in helping others? This story of how fourth grade students developed a service learning project to help puppies in need in their local community might be an inspiration to your child. Generate ideas with your child about needs in the community, go learn more from the people involved, and brainstorm meaningful ways to make a short-term impact. Asking thoughtful questions and listening carefully is a key first step. Reading books and articles on related subjects might also motivate your child further to see that complex causes spark problems. This could even develop into a longer and rewarding commitment that helps them understand the needs of others in society, find their interests for the future, enrich their college application, and increase empathy and awareness for others.
- Fact or Fiction? Does your child wonder whether something is fact or fiction? If you hear constant questions about the truth, probability, or the likelihood of something being true, it’s probably important for that student to try finding the answers. Since the news is rife with conversation today about the veracity and verifiability of information, you can encourage your child to pick a topic, research it, and use some of the tips included in this article — “Evaluating Sources in a Post-Truth World” — to ensure each source used is legitimate and authoritative. The Newseum student learning materials advise that students come at any source with these six consumer questions: Who made this? How was this made? Why was this made? When was this made? What is this missing? Where do I go from here?
- Career Exploration. If your child has stated a career interest already, here are some great tips for starting the investigation into a future job.
- Get Mentored Online. Sites such as Jam.com’s Online Courses for Kids have some offerings that allow deep, project-based exploration, such as How to Invent Your Own Machines, Become a Pro Chef, Become an Animator, or Become a Music Star.
General TIPs for Independent Research
Are you a homeschooler or summer supervising parent who enjoys nurturing research skills? If so, here are some more specific tips:
- Let a Cool Place Spark the Hot Topic. Begin at a library, a nature preserve, or a museum, and “follow the lead” of your child’s interest. When their eyes get bigger and the questions and comments flow, you know you’re on to something.
- Start Your Engines! If students want to independently explore a topic, they need to develop a compelling question that gets to the heart of their interests. The question can certainly evolve along with the project. Developing 3-5 more mini-questions will also assist in directing the future research. A “how” or “why” question as the global guiding question is a great place to start, e.g., “How does the FBI work?”, “How do different views of power impact global conflict?” or “Why did this painter use three different mediums — acrylic, oil, or watercolor — for these murals?”
- Circle the Research Wagons. Creating a research plan, with a goal to find a large variety of multiple sources, especially ones that are authoritative and legitimate, is not only important, but can help students see the wealth of resources available to them. Make an appointment with the local librarian to discuss the research questions and get started.
- Set Up a Contract and a Schedule. It’s helpful to make a plan, and a set of weekly goals and outcomes never hurts. These self-study contract templates can work well.
- Get Meta. Build in time for reflection, self-critique, and critique by others. When students get meaningful feedback on various stages of their project, it can not only clarify the focus and direction, be motivating to return to the project and renew their passion for it.
- Find an Audience. Knowing one’s end point and audience adds a level of interest and impact for some learners. You may wish to have your child build to a grand finale — a presentation, showcase, or even a roundtable sharing where your child can communicate their findings and their excitement about their learning. If you live in a close neighborhood or are part of a homeschooling group, undergoing independent study together, having your child share their results with other students and parents involved in the group can be a great way to motivate your learner and give them the recognition they deserve for their efforts! If your child needs more specific guidance when creating a presentation on what they have learned, Big6 Skills offers a helpful set of guidelines.