Giving Gifted Students a Break from Classroom Routines

Gifted kids need mental stimulation that proves elusive in class

Boy raising hand in class
Boy raising hand in class. Getty Images/Dave Nagel/Stone

Sometimes the stress of going to school every day becomes too much for gifted students, leading them to need a break from classroom routines to get the mental stimulation they crave and deserve. While school can overwhelm all types of students, gifted children are particularly vulnerable because of their unique academic challenges.

The Academic Stress Gifted Children Face

Gifted kids learn quickly. They can pick up new concepts after one or two repetitions.

Average children need 10 to 12 repetitions. That means gifted kids are sitting through anywhere from eight to 11 unnecessary repetitions in class. Because bright children need at least five repetitions, gifted students in classes with nothing but intelligent children still must endure hearing repetitions in class.

But the fact that gifted children grasp concepts quickly is just part of the problem. Complicating matters for gifted students is that many enter a grade level already knowing a majority of the information that will be taught. Given this, gifted children often don’t need any repetitions at all.

A 5 year old, for example, might enter kindergarten already knowing how to read. Yet, that child will have to sit in class and learn about the “letter of the day.” He will have to engage in all activities designed to help children learn letters and sounds. This results in the child becoming bored in class.

Trying to sit still and pay attention under those circumstances can be quite stressful. Yet, many adults expect gifted children to be bored for not just one day, but five days a week. And not just one week, but for the 36 weeks of the school year.

Giving Gifted Children Breaks From School

The lack of intellectual stimulation and challenge can take its toll on gifted kids.

They can lose the motivation to learn. Parents often notice that the sparkle in their child’s eyes fades. These children with so much potential can become underachievers and once a pattern of underachievement sets in, it is hard to reverse. The lack of intellectual stimulation can also affect gifted kids emotionally. They can become frustrated, angry and even depressed. They can suffer from psychosomatic illnesses, especially stomachaches.

Getting their children ready for school in the morning can be a heartbreaking battle for parents who realize they are sending them off for another day of monotony. Under these circumstances, parents might consider giving their child a “mental health day.” That is a day on which the child is allowed to stay home from school. These days should not be handed out lightly. That is, parents should not allow their child to stay home every time the child is feeling stress at school. All children get stressed in school. However, most parents of gifted kids recognize the moments when the stress gets to be too much and their children are beginning to suffer physically and emotionally, not just academically.

What Should Happen on a Mental Health Day

Mental health days do not mark a time when children escape from the pressures of learning. On the contrary, they are days on which gifted kids are given an opportunity to learn more. They don’t have to sit in a room waiting for the other kids to catch up. They can unfurl their wings and fly. Parents who want to give their child a mental health day should be prepared to spend time with their child. It’s not a day for sitting idly in front of a television.

Instead, it is a day for visiting a museum or for going to the library. It is a day for working on projects near and dear to the child’s heart, projects that can’t be done in school. It is a day on which a child can explore a topic she is passionate about. If both parents work, parents should make plans in advance for a sitter who can take the child on trips or work with a child on projects. Afterward, the child can return to school renewed.

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