Communicating with School / Extracurricular Activities / Grades and Testing / Learning at Home / Ages 5-18

Is Your Child Ready to Be More Challenged in School?

No one wants their kid to struggle endlessly. But what happens when school is too easy?

As parents, it can feel like we’re constantly on the lookout for red flags: poor grades, low test scores, unhappy kids. What about when things are going well in school? What happens then? And how do you know when your child is ready to be challenged more?

The reality is, students who are doing well in school are not the biggest problem facing educators today. And they’re not the biggest problem we face as parents, either; after all, if our kids are happy and learning, we’re probably happy, too.

But what happens when things start going a little too well? Your kid doesn’t have to study to ace their tests and quizzes. They’re racing through classwork and end up reading independently (or staring out the window) for half the period. Homework assignments take no time at all—or worse, they’re no longer keeping your kid interested or engaged.

No one wants their kid to struggle endlessly in school. But there’s some amount of “productive struggle” involved in all learning; it’s how kids stay engaged and invested in building their knowledge and skills. When school—or a particular class or subject—becomes too easy for a child, they’re no longer growing as a learner. While that might not be as worrisome as their classmate who can’t read fluently by middle school, it’s still a problem that’s worth addressing.

Here are some signs your child might be ready for more challenging school work:

  • They fly through homework. This is especially true for students in middle and high school, when homework should take a decent chunk of time. (Their teachers should be able to give you a reasonable estimate for how long their assignments should take.) If the assignments are too easy, they’re probably not very interesting or engaging, either.
  • Assignments come home with almost no feedback from teachers. If your child is getting top grades on their written reports and projects, with minimal constructive teacher comments, they’re probably not being challenged. This is especially true for big projects or papers where you would expect your child to be pushed to do their best.
  • Their teacher flags uncharacteristic behavior issues in class. Is your kid suddenly acting out in class? Of course, there could be something else at play, and it’s important to have a conversation with your child about what’s going on. But one possibility is that they’re finishing their work too quickly.
  • They tell you they’re bored or they don’t want to go to school. Sure, sometimes kids say they’re bored. Sometimes they’d rather stay in bed all day. But if you’re battling these complaints frequently, especially if they’re accompanied by any of the other signs on this list, it’s worth paying attention.

If these things ring true for you, here are some possible steps you can take:

  • Talk to your kid. Maybe they can shed some light on what’s going on. Are there pieces of their learning that feel more engaging than others? What about particular classes or assignments where they do feel challenged?
  • Connect with their teacher. Their teacher might be able to offer stretch assignments or extra credit to push their learning further. Educators are often most focused on ensuring that struggling students are able to catch up—so a child who is doing well might be low on their priority list. That’s understandable, but it’s important to voice your concerns.
  • Look into accelerated learning opportunities. If they’re in middle or high school, could your child enroll in a more advanced or faster-paced course in the same subject? Some schools will allow students to skip lower level courses or advance to a higher grade’s coursework if they’re ready for it. They might need to take a test to qualify for certain courses or programs, so check in with their guidance counselor to learn more about what’s available and how to access it.
  • Push their learning outside school. Head to the library to find more challenging books to read, either together or independently. There might be opportunities to join after-school clubs or activities that will challenge them in areas where they excel, like a science or math team, a school newspaper or creative writing club, or a foreign language class. And high schoolers who have exhausted all the options at their own school should ask their guidance counselor about enrolling in local community college courses.
  • If the situation doesn’t change, some families will choose to change schools or seek out “gifted and talented” programs. These programs vary widely by district, but if this is of interest to your family, it’s worth learning more about the options where you live. (We’ve got some basics on gifted programming over here.)

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