Written by Kristen Reid

Keeping gifted kids engaged is easy, right? After all, they’re so smart.  Smart kids are motivated.  Self-sufficient. Confident.  While that might be true of most high achievers, it’s just not the case for many gifted and talented (GT) students.

Gifted kids aren’t perfect, and they’re not all the same.   However, what they often share is a difficulty with staying engaged.  So how do you help your child reach their potential?

How Do You Keep Gifted Students Engaged?

To motivate gifted children you need to tap into their desire for knowledge.  You just need to find what works for them. 

This will most likely involve a bit of trial and error, especially if you and your child have already been struggling with motivation problems.

Many gifted kids have a specific area of interest, such as dinosaurs or airplanes, that they have a bottomless curiosity for.  These kids will jump at the chance to spend any free time immersed in learning more about it.

Independent studies work well for students with such fascinations. 

Not only will they be engaged during the time spent in their independent study, but you (or their teachers) can also use the promise of more time investigating what they are really interested in to bribe them to finish their regular schoolwork.

Gifted kids often need to know why what they are learning is important before they are willing to invest in it. 

Have regular check-ins with your child, and at each one go over how what they are learning in school is used in the real world as well as in various career paths your child might one day choose.

Incorporate choice.  Gifted kids tend to respond very well to the freedom and respect that offering choices gives them. Let your child choose which subject they’d like to put more effort into first, set a work habits goal such as turning in all their work on time, or choose their own rewards.

- Kristen Reid, Teacher of Gifted and Talented Students

Incorporate choice.  Gifted kids tend to respond very well to the freedom and respect that offering choices gives them. 

Let your child choose which subject they’d like to put more effort into first, set a work habits goal such as turning in all their work on time, or choose their own rewards.

Great, you say.  Those things might work for motivating the average gifted kid (if such an animal exists), but I’ve got a truly hopeless case on my hands. 

This kid could solve one of the Millenium Prize problems in an afternoon if they wanted to, but all they want to do is play video games or find the perfect outfit for every possible social situation. 

They don’t see why more is expected of them than of other kids.  For these kids, it’s a good idea to help them take a long look at what they want their adult life to look like. 

Once they set some goals, you can guide them towards what things they’ll need to be working towards in the short term to accomplish their long-term vision.

GT Enrichment in School

Teachers are overloaded now more than ever, and most are under-educated about how to serve their gifted kids.

A gifted kid mama sharing her experience at This Undeserved Life points out that:

“…gifted kids are one of the most underserved populations in schools, often dismissed as having no real needs or being ‘smart enough’ to adapt themselves that they can be sent to a corner with a book and a high five.

Gifted parents are tired of having to fight the stereotypes and feelings of elitism that get applied to their kids’ unique needs…”

If your child is struggling to have their needs met in school, you can propose some of these proven strategies that their teacher might offer.

Less Grade-Level Work

Most teachers/administrators have to be convinced that your gifted child does in fact know the grade-level content before they are willing to offer this option.

Luckily, there are a couple of easy ways for teachers to ensure their students haven’t skipped needed information before allowing them to move on:

♦     Most Difficult First. Rather than completing 20 questions for homework, let your gifted students try completing the 5 most difficult questions first. 

If they are able to do those correctly, they can be excused from completing the other 15 problems while receiving full credit. 

If this strategy is used for class work, teachers can allow their excused students to independently complete an extension activity.

♦     Pre-Test. After introducing a concept, teachers can administer the end-of-chapter test. If a student scores 90% or higher they may move on or receive different work to do. 

It is increasingly popular for teachers to offer this not only for their gifted students, but for anyone who volunteers. 

This version allows students who have not been identified as gifted to try testing out as well, and enables gifted students not to take a pre-test if they are interested in spending more time on that material.

Faster-Paced Lessons

The standard teaching model of “I do, we do, you do” is so prevalent because it works, but a gifted child might not need all those steps.

Encourage your child’s teacher to try letting their gifted students complete tasks independently after skipping either the “I do” or the “we do”.

Deeper and More Advanced Content

Suggest your child’s teacher look at the same standard the class is working on for a grade level or two above to provide material that may challenge your gifted child.

Teachers may also find moving to a higher level of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy for assignments allows gifted children to show what they know in a way that doesn’t feel as mundane.

Provide Opportunities to Work With Other Gifted Students

While teachers are often tempted to have gifted students help out their struggling peers, many gifted students aren’t interested in doing so (or not in doing it all the time). 

Your child should not be treated like the rainbow fish. 

Research has repeatedly shown that while gifted students do benefit from learning how to positively interact with peers of various intellectual levels, they benefit even more from working closely with other gifted students.

Incorporate Choice in School

The choices don’t necessarily have to be more offering more advanced content, as long as they let the gifted child have some agency in their education. 

Choice boards and menus are easy ways for teachers to offer choices, and are usually designed to be reused on multiple assignments within the same subject.

Gifted kids extension activity
Gifted kids reading activity

GT Extension Projects

Independent projects, short extension activities paired with each unit and educational games are all good choices for early finishers. 

Project-based learning is a great option to both occupy and enrich gifted students’ learning.  As a bonus, it puts a great deal of ownership on the student to design and create so it doesn’t create a ton of extra prep work for the teacher.

Gifted and talented project extension ideas

How Can I Keep My Child Engaged Online?

What if my GT kid isn’t doing in-person school right now?   Luckily, how to make distance learning engaging isn’t really that different from how to make any learning engaging, especially if your child’s main motivations in school are not social. 

Many gifted students actually gravitated towards online schooling before it was widespread, since it is somewhat easier to deliver any individualized learning materials they may need in an online setting.

All of the strategies for GT enrichment in school suggested above can be implemented just as easily when teaching gifted students virtually.

Find the GT Resource That Fits Your Family

While you can advocate for your kiddo in school and hope for the best, it’s always a good idea to have your own resources in place to help keep your child challenged too. 

GT resources may seem hard to find when you and your child are struggling through the daily grind, but they’re definitely out there.

GT Organizations

As a starting place, here are some organizations to be aware of:

Each of these websites offer a variety of resources, as well as readings to help you understand and foster your child’s giftedness.

With gifted programming in many brick and mortar schools often in decline, online courses have popped up with increasing frequency.

GT Distance Learning Programs

Check out the list of Distance Learning Programs compiled by Hoagies to get a feel for what’s out there.

Virtual Tours and Field Trips

Parent Resources

Parent resources are useful for equipping you to better support your gifted child.

  • Parent resources are available through NAGC.
  • Join the Facebook group of a local gifted and talented organization. They can connect you with other parents of gifted kids, and keep you in the loop about local events that might interest you and your child.
  • You’ll probably find they also post articles relevant to gifted families and lists of resources, like this collection of 100 Online Resources for Gifted Kids.
  • Parents of twice-exceptional students can find some information at Uniquely Gifted.
Extension activities for gifted students are an excellent way to give your child the academic enrichment they need.

Extension Activities

  • Teachers Pay Teachers has over a thousand resources ear-marked for gifted students. You can narrow your search by subject, intended grade level and price.
  • Pinterest is a great place to pick others’ brains. Search specifically for the subject and grade level you are shooting for then add the words “extension activities for gifted students”.
  • Instructables can help you find some guidance on how to accomplish project-based learning objectives or independent study projects at home.

Bloom’s Taxonomy can help get you thinking of what kinds of tasks are going to provide deeper, more challenging learning for your child.

Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning
  • Most gifted kids love relevancy. When you find out how what they are learning about is used in the real world and let them try to apply it in that arena.

For example, when learning about percentages, set up a pretend store that’s throwing a sale and have your child be the cashier.

Set Your Gifted Kid Up for Success

Sometimes, there is no better option available than to help your child learn how to complete what is asked of them. 

Chances are you also discovered first hand that no matter how smart you are, adult life is full of menial tasks that you just have to power through.  Sometimes, you just have to do the work. 

There is value in that lesson, as well as in developing the patience and perseverance it teaches.  It’s just not a lesson that your gifted kid should have to re-learn every single day.

Your child has something exceptional inside them.  Their giftedness is as much a part of who they are as their height or their eye color.  You just need to help them use that inner desire.