More Challenge, Please!

More Challenge, Please!

More Challenge, Please!

If your child is not adequately challenged at school, summer is an ideal time to figure out how to make the next academic year better than the last. Then keep at it!

Scott is working on the best technique to scrunch up paper in order to send it directly into the garbage can in the back corner of the classroom. He’s investigating the number and nature of folds, and whether a big compact wad is more flight-efficient than a small one. So far, he’s thrown several such missiles. Problem is, he can only do this when his teacher’s back is turned because he’s supposed to be working on a series of algebra problems (that he already knows the answers to and could do in his head last year). And, his experiment is bothering his classmates, four of whom have narrowly missed being hit—today.

Scott is often teased because he typically acts out in some way when things get tedious—which seems to be often. He’s bright, capable, and bored. He’s just one of countless children who are not suitably challenged.

Now What?

Parents can talk candidly with their children, ask them what they’re feeling and why, and listen carefully to their responses. They can discuss any behavioral concerns, and encourage their children to take some responsibility for finding solutions to underlying or overarching problems. Children’s confidence increases when they feel their ideas matter, and their views are valued by others. Parents can demonstrate support for children by advocating for and alongside them.

When advocating for more challenging programs at school, the driving principle is to find or create an optimal match between the individual child and the schooling situation. (See Being Smart About Gifted Learning, 3rd Edition for more on an Optimal Match approach.)

Here are ten steps for parents to keep in mind. (They’re all important, and they’re in no specific order.)

  • Prioritize. Think carefully about focus and relevance. What are the child’s specific strengths and needs?
  • Stay calm. Be practical and realistic about what can be coordinated or altered.
  • Be explicit. When offering ideas to people at your child’s school be respectful and concise. Keep requests reasonable.
  • Communicate. A school community is a complex and interdependent workplace, so strive to nurture collaboration, a climate of trust, and mutual respect. Productive working relationships are characterized by open communication channels and free-flowing dialogue.
  • Maintain resolve. Remember that problem-solving can be labor-intensive. Keep working and generating momentum.
  • Be proactive. Teachers can use a range of instructional methods (to enrich children’s understanding of concepts) and various assessment methods (so students can demonstrate their levels of readiness and learning in different ways). Advocate for increased professional development for teachers so they can learn more about differentiating instruction, and how to encourage and support children’s high-level development and creative endeavors.
  • Gather information. Find out about different kinds of learning opportunities. For example, tap into community resources to build rich, multi-dimensional, and collaborative learning environments. Many sectors of society, including business, industry, media, seniors, and professionals, provide ways to extend program options.
  • Cultivate interests, strengths, and creativity. Parents can help children maximize their learning experiences by encouraging them to pursue interests and areas of strength, and to infuse creativity into activities, using these as springboards for other learning ventures. (For more on creative possibilities, check out Ignite Your Ideas: Creativity for Kids.)
  • Establish sensible timelines. Set fair tasks and workable parameters at home so children can learn about responsibility and time management. Be flexible and patient as kids work their way through activities.
  • Connect with others for support. Seek out people and organizations who can provide insight into the kinds of support you may require. Consider joining parent associations and advisory groups.

Successful change is complex and depends on the interaction of many variables, including learning environments, teacher commitment, administrative support, parent-teacher collaboration, and a child’s ability to cope with whatever comes along.

About Self-Advocacy

Parents can help children understand what advocacy is all about. Students like Scott, and others whose learning needs are not being adequately met—and who are frustrated, bored, teased, or disenfranchised from daily learning processes—should have their perspectives, social-emotional concerns, and learning preferences respected.

Parents can be effective advocates, but children have voices, too. Teach kids to speak up for themselves in ways that are informed and sensible, polite yet firm. Children require confidence to do this. And there are specific skills involved, such as learning to be courteous and sensitive to others; recognizing how their own behaviors can contribute to problems or to their advancement at school; paying attention to the realities of time and space constraints; and understanding that there are curriculum requirements that must be met. Becoming a good advocate means being respectfully assertive, fair-minded, and appropriately targeted in one’s approach. Parents can talk with children about various aspects of advocacy, helping them to become more confident, and make the most of learning from day to day.


Four “take-away strategies” to help children maximize their learning—and their enjoyment of learning—include forging strong parent-teacher liaisons, acquiring resources, finding suitable programming options, and becoming actively involved in advocacy (and encouraging children’s self-advocacy as well). These are excellent ways to generate greater challenge and fulfillment for kids like Scott and others whose learning needs require address.

Author’s Note:

Portions of this article have been excerpted from What Should I Do If My Child Isn’t Sufficiently Challenged at School? by Joanne Foster, Ed.D., and accessible from SENG’s resource library at

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