By: Diane Rowe
In Stephen King’s Different Seasons, the novella Apt Pupil contains a quote that resonates with me: “You see something for the first time, and right away you know you have found YOUR GREAT INTEREST. It’s like a key turning in a lock.” I think that everyone should have at least one great interest, and as parents it is our responsibility to give our children the opportunities to find the lock for their particular key.
Sometimes a great interest reveals itself at a very young age. My oldest daughter got on her first horse when she was four and has parlayed that love into a fulfilling part-time business in addition to a full time college load. My youngest daughter took a more circuitous route, exploring roller skating, dance, gymnastics, soccer, volleyball – moving from one activity to the next – without really settling on anything until she started playing an instrument. She is now in her final year of high school, and her marching band is the only band in North Carolina to have achieved semi-finals in Grand Nationals twice.
Why is this important in understanding a gifted child? It aligns with the three-ring conception of giftedness (my favorite definition), developed by Joseph Renzulli. In this definition, above average ability, creativity, and task commitment are equals in determining excellence. Of the three, I believe task commitment is key. Many people demonstrate a great capacity for sitting down to work and getting the job done, but when you add “your great interest” into the mix, that’s when opportunities for excellence appear. It’s the four year old who gets off the horse and asks, “can I do that again?”, or the eighth grader who, in her final middle school band concert, stands at the microphone and says that she’s going to dedicate the next four years of her life to her band.
So, what can we do to help a child discover his or her great interest? First, listen when your child expresses an interest in something. Do a little digging – Where did she hear about this? Would she like to see/do/try it? Next, if the interest seems to be there, do some research together: read a book, watch a video clip, see a show/sporting event, explore a bit. Then, if the interest continues, find an opportunity for some hands-on experience. Is there a way to take a short class or a trial lesson before making a longer commitment? When your child is ready to commit to a new activity, make sure that the end date is clearly defined: “You are a part of this team now, and your coach and teammates need your best effort throughout the season”. No quitting in the middle of something! If you have to coax and cajole someone small to get ready, or if you hear groans when you say “it’s time to go”, then that’s a really good indication that activity is not one that your child needs to pursue. But if your child has given the longer trial his or her best effort and is still enthusiastic, then you both will be able to determine if it’s a good idea to put further resources into the interest, or if it was simply a passing fancy.
Great interests are not always fixed; my equestrienne took a detour through dance before focusing on her four-footed friends, and my musician may be putting down the piccolo temporarily as she gets ready to move on to college. But each of my gifted girls has had the joy of being part of something greater than themselves. They have experienced delayed gratification, and have seen their skills increase through sustained effort over time. They have triumphed, failed, and triumphed again. They have done the work necessary to get the job done, but with a joy that has allowed their spirits to soar.
Diane’s great interest in musical theater began at the age of three when she got down off the stage after her first dance recital and said “I want to go back up there”. That interest turned into a career, with over 20 years teaching dance/theater and 10 years as a gifted education teacher.