Gifted Kids and the Rejection of External Motivation

Gifted kids are funny.

When they’re motivated, personally invested in something, the sky is no longer the limit. These kids take off.

They blow past our expectations and leave us in the dust, trying to figure out where they’ve gone.

When they’re not motivated, these kids are rocks. Boulders, actually. Immovable.

Early in my teaching career, I had a couple kids like this. (Possibly more that I didn’t recognize) The story would go something like this:

  • Student refuses to work, goofs off or distracts other students.
  • I call parent for a conference. Parent confides the child is gifted and bored.
  • I insist the work needs to be completed for the student to pass the class.
  • Parents and I set up accountability for student.
  • Student rejects attempts at help.
  • Student fails course.

Now, I’m not saying I’m a terrible teacher or that I failed to reach students. For the most part, we got along swimmingly. Every once in a while, though, a student came along who was so disenchanted by the educational system, so convinced that it was irrelevant, that he did everything possible to declare his independence.

By the time they got to me, at age 15, it was almost too late.

What can we do in the early years to help kids stay engaged and motivated so they don’t reject the system and end up failing out of school?


1. Give them meaningful work

There is nothing motivating about a worksheet that reiterates content that is below one’s ability level or interest. Sure, they may play along for a bit, but after a while, the shine wears off. The boredom sets in, and these kids want something that challenges them, excites them, makes them use their amazing creative brains and think outside the box instead of… filling in boxes with pre-prescribed words and ideas.

They thrive when they see their contributions as actually mattering, making a difference in the real world, doing research or service projects that actually matter, rather than simply memorizing what others have done.

2. Avoid overemphasis on external motivators

Gifted kids tend to see through behavioral charts, grading systems, contests, and other external motivators rather quickly. They tend to reject the otherwise potentially valuable skill if they see it tied to a meaningless carrot. Similarly, if they are feeling manipulated into behavior modification, they will often give up or act out.

3. Give them space to explore their own passions

If possible, put your kids in an environment where they can explore their own passions. Project-based learning and unschooling are the two methods that tend to best fit creative gifted kids because they’re allowed to practice their skills within the context of something they’re passionate about rather than following a prescribed one size fits all curriculum.

4. Spend time with others who are pursuing their passions

There’s something contagious about people who are following their dreams and passionate about their craft, even if it’s not particularly your cup of tea. Simply being around people who are excited learners and students of their crafts can be motivating, even if the focus is different.

Find environments where creatives hang out, and spend time there too, whether it’s a Maker Faire, a gaming convention, a university club, an online forum or a flea market. People who create are everywhere – making music, designing board games, collaborating on amazing projects — simply because they want to. Spending time with these people makes you want to create too, because that’s what we’re wired to do.


This post has been part of a Blog Hop by Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page.

Read more here:

Consent Starts at Home

This evening, my 4 year olds were building with blocks. They had created a nice sequence. It was then that J, who is 7, walked over and wanted to get involved. He particularly wanted to knock it down.

His sisters protested. They were still building. They didn’t want his interference. At this point, it looked like he might knock it down anyway, so we intervened.


“They said no. That means NO.”

Plain and simple. J realized we were serious, and he changed course. We ended up playing a game together instead. And my girls, not yet five, got the message that their “no” matters. That they have the right to speak up for themselves and to protect their environment.

I often wonder how much of what’s going on in the high school scene, college scene, and beyond is a symptom of how we allow “no” to be ignored early on.

“Boys will be boys”, or “It’s not that big of a deal”, or “He was just playing.”

No means No.

Stop means stop.

If a 3 year old asks you to stop chasing them, stop tickling them, stop. And don’t use those words yourself unless you mean them.

If there’s an interaction, even in the preschool years, where one child is clearly uncomfortable, we need to give that child permission to advocate for himself and not tell him he’s wrong for feeling uncomfortable.

Preschool emotions are legitimate, just as high school and college emotions are legitimate. The earlier we teach our kids to respect their own and each others’ boundaries, the better.



Using Reading Eggs to Supplement Reading Practice

Disclaimer: I received these products for free in exchange for my review. I was not obligated to write a positive review. All opinions are mine.

We’re relaxed homeschoolers. We don’t follow a daily schedule or have checklists that need to be done every day. Instead, we read aloud, explore together, and chase our interests.

In things like reading and math, so much of what we do is based on context, and while that’s good, sometimes we need extra practice. As a former English teacher, I’m rather picky about what materials we use. This year, Reading Eggs came out with some great workbooks which were just what I was looking for, especially for my twins, who are almost five and starting kindergarten this year.

Why We Chose Reading Eggs

As I started thinking about my girls’ kindergarten year this year, I knew I wanted them to feel like they were discovering language and reading themselves, not overwhelming them with repetitive worksheets. We’ve been talking about sounds and words since they could talk, and they’re figuring it out, slowly but surely.

Since I have twins, and they both have different strengths, I was looking for something that could individualize practice without making them feel singled out. The app and online portion of Reading Eggs does just that. It’s fun, moves at their speed, has different options for activities, and doesn’t feel like repetitive worksheets.

The pages in the books are similar. I appreciate how clearly Reading Eggs has broken down reading into individual skills, so it’s easy to find which one to practice.

How We Use Reading Eggs Workbooks

My girls have most of their sounds and some sight words figured out already, so we don’t need to work through the books sequentially. Instead, as I notice that one of them is working on a particular skill but needs extra practice, we turn to the book. It’s well-organized, easily accessible, and I don’t have to scroll through pages of PDFs looking for the content I want. Who has time for that?!? (I don’t)

Beginning phonics
Kindergarten phonics practice

Using Reading Eggs and Mathseeds Online

We’re a family that limits our technology time – to less than 1/2 hour per day. It’s a personal choice, not a judgment, but when we do let our kids get on the computer or tablet, we want to know that what they’re doing is safe and meaningful.

I was impressed with the Parent Portal for Reading Eggs and Mathseeds for a few reasons.

  • It let me easily have an overview of all 3 of my children, what they’ve been doing and what progress they had made.
  • When my son (7) intentionally got questions wrong on a placement test, I was able to manually go in and override his placement. This is amazing. Or if my daughter has passed a level but a couple weeks later seems to be struggling again, I can manually take her back to that place and let her redo it.
  • While they earn points, it’s not overly “gamified”. Last year, my son tried another online math program, and he basically skipped the content to play the games. This one, the content is meaningful enough and presented in a way that he wants to try it. I was particularly impressed with how thorough their presentation of symmetry was. Kids have to get 7/10 correct to move on, but they push towards 100% mastery, which I think is great.

Overall, I know there are lots of great resources out there. It’s hard to know which one is best for your family. Reading Eggs is a solid program with both online and paper materials which correlate well together and are easy for a parent to navigate…. and the skills the kids are practicing are logical, thoughtful, and not tedious.

As a special bonus, Reading Eggs and Math Seeds are offering a free trial (4 weeks!) on their online learning platform, which can be accessed both on the computer and via the app store, interchangeably.

Discount offer: click here for a four week FREE TRIAL, which offers access to everything in the Reading Eggs Suite

  • Reading Eggs Junior: 2 – 4 years
  • Reading Eggs: 4 – 7 years
  • Reading Eggspress: 7 – 13 years
  • Mathseeds: 3 – 9 years

If you’re interested in the workbooks, use Promo Code WK105KZU7TE for 10% off both the Reading Eggs and Mathseeds Essential Skills Workbooks.


About homeschooling and parenting

Something I wrote for the iHomeschool Network about our relationships with our kids and what takes precedence:

The main point is this, but click above to read what else I had to say! 🙂

“The emotions and beliefs about themselves that children experience while they are learning will stay with them for the rest of their lives. If they associate learning with a warm, supportive environment and a feeling of competency, those connections will stay with them. If they connect math, or writing, or (fill in the blank) with feelings of stress and opposition, that will stick with them as well.”

Get Out of Those Desks! Learning Can Happen Anywhere!

As a classroom teacher for 10 years, let me let you in on a little secret: classrooms are organized for the benefit of the teacher, not the students. When I taught a group of 35 10th graders, I needed to be able to move quickly through the space, have every student in my line of sight, and distribute papers and materials in a quick and organized fashion.

Because teaching high school English in 50 minute blocks required efficiency and organization, we sat in rows. I even created seating charts with the students’ faces on them to help substitutes know the kids weren’t playing tricks on them.

Homeschool, although still called school, should NOT seek to emulate a classroom designed for challenges that home environments simply do not share.

There is a Better Way

Schools have been recognizing that kids need to move, to use different muscle groups and to help them focus. They’ve been experimenting and innovating with flexible seating options, and while this is a great start, they still have the responsibility of keeping those kids confined to that room for the designated period of time.

Research has shown that students taking tests do better when they fidget, and even more recently, that the ADHD brain tells the body to move because it learns better when moving.

Desks or Tables only when Beneficial

Now, there are times that sitting at a desk or table can be helpful. Formal writing assignments, messy projects, certain art materials or games work better on a raised surface. Any kind of work with a toddler around …. needs to be out of said toddler’s reach.

Desks are convenient because they provide a clearly defined space, but they are not necessary. And we choose not to use them because we want our learning to be as natural as everything else we do, rather than compartmentalized into a specific space that separates it from the rest of life.

We learn in the car. In bed.

On a swing car in the gap between the kitchen and living room.

On the kitchen floor.

At the science center, the nature center, and wherever else our adventures may lead.

On the back deck, even with jackets on.

Our favorite spot is probably this couch.

We learn wherever we are, because learning is a natural, organic outgrowth of waking up in the morning, and we choose to celebrate that beautiful, often messy, truth.

A Lifestyle of Discovery: 3rd Grade Unschooling “Curriculum”

First, a definition:

Unschooling is, for our purposes, an educational philosophy of providing rich, engaging resources and support but allowing the child to set the pace and have significant control over what he wants to learn and how he chooses to pursue this learning.

All analogies fall apart eventually, but it’s like providing a rich buffet including some “make your own” stations instead of cafeteria-style menus with pre-prescribed options and portion sizes.

If you want to read more, Fearless Homeschool has a great write-up here.


This year, I will have a 3rd grader and two preschool/kindergarteners in the house.

We live in New York State, which requires that we submit a curriculum plan (IHIP) before the start of the year.

The problem is: boxed, do-the-next-page curricula don’t work for us. Based on our kids, their learning styles, and our family rhythms we have chosen an eclectic, unschool-y approach. So far, it’s working pretty well.

My kids wake up ready to learn. They’re reading or exploring before breakfast. They’re asking questions in the car and at bedtime. We don’t have school hours as much as we have an ebb and flow of active and focused time.

It’s what works now. If (when) things change, we will adjust.

What we love:


I love our library.

LOVE our library.

They’re amazing, and they make this homeschooling journey possible and affordable.

Instead of using a prescribed list, I’m constantly on the hunt for good literature. My son, J, has a very low tolerance for anything suspenseful, sad, or mean. He loves humorous, gentle stories.

We use Give Your Child the World and Read Aloud Revival for inspiration, and I’m constantly on the lookout for good, engaging, gentle stories.

Some of our most recent favorites have included

The Littles

Gooney Bird Greene (Kindle Edition currently free with Amazon Prime)

Curious McCarthy

Zoey & Sassafrass


For the last couple of years, we’ve been using Life of Fred as a math resource. My son loves the books and devours them, but this summer we changed things up and tried Beast Academy.

With Life of Fred, J never wanted to stop and do the “Your Turn to Play” practice questions. With Beast Academy, he seems to enjoy the workbooks and want to complete the puzzles, so when he finishes his current book, he will “earn” the next series.


We practice lots of skills using games. The kids go through phases about what they want to play, and we have learned not to push it. When they’re ready, they’re ready.

We love single player logic games like Kanoodle and Laser Maze.

We love the Gamewright card games like Sleeping Queens and Too Many Monkeys.

We love geography games like The Scrambled States of America and math games like Prime Climb.

We love language games like Scrabble, Apples to Apples (Kids), and Boggle.

Everything Else

Beyond that, we usually pick one skill to develop (typing, cursive, etc), while periodically remembering to practice the others. One of my hopes this year is to introduce piano and music reading. We tried last year, and he wasn’t ready, so we will try again.

We participate in German school, Sunday school, sports, play dates and field trips.

We have a small homeschool coop where we practice public speaking and collaboration/teamwork in a supportive environment.

We follow rabbit trails and dive deep into areas of interest (like chemistry).

We take care of the house, run errands, and practice kindness in our environment.

Because we don’t have a strict schedule, nice days are filled with beaches, parks, and watercolors on the back deck.

I keep a daily journal of what we’ve accomplished, and it continues to convince me that we’re on the right path. My kids love learning. They don’t dread “doing school”, any more than I regret going to a Thanksgiving dinner. Learning is an amazing feast, and our kids deserve a rich variety of high-quality fare.

Want to read about other experienced homeschoolers’ curriculum choices for this coming year? Check it out here!

IHN Linkup Image