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My Kindergartner Doesn't Apply Himself

By Dr. Stacie Bunning, clinical psychologist


My kindergartner is very bright. His teacher thinks he should be tested for gifted status. The problem is he hates to work and does not apply himself. He is reading well beyond kindergarten level and loves to read multiple books with me in the evening. Yet in the classroom, he won't go to the reading corner and read a book by himself. He makes excuses and finds other things to do when it comes time to do the little amount of homework he has. His teacher says he doesn't go out of his way to learn new things, but he grasps new subjects instantly when taught, and he's aced all the tests and analyses they've administered. He's been asked to help the other kids who haven't quite grasped the alphabet or beginning reading skills, but he won't make the effort to do that either. How can I motivate him?


Schools usually have specific goals for each grade, many of which involve core academics (reading, writing, mathematics, science, social studies, etc.). Of course, kindergarten is no exception. With regard to academics, it sounds like your son is doing very well indeed! Since his teacher recommended that he be tested for gifted programming, talk with her about how to have him evaluated. Then school personnel can provide guidance regarding the most appropriate programming for your son in the coming years.

Keep in mind that, aside from academics, there are many other important goals for the kindergarten year. These goals involve nonacademic areas such as listening, paying attention, following directions, socializing and cooperating. It's not unusual for a kindergartner, who is still adjusting to being in school, to have difficulties in some or all of these areas, and such may be the case for your son. Since he is bright, he might be completing his work more quickly than other students, and he might be unclear about what to do when he's finished. Although having him help other students learn was a nice idea, it clearly doesn't interest him and neither does reading quietly in the classroom. Work with his teacher to find other ways to motivate him during downtime.

Finally, the problems you described with homework time are also not unusual in a child this age. After all, he's never had to do homework before. He may be very bright, but he's still young and will need your help with organization for several more years. A few simple rules and some structure can put an end to homework difficulties. Be positive, set a specific time, make sure he has a quiet, well-lit place and ensure that he has the materials he needs. Be available and offer limited guidance when he asks for help, but try not to stay engaged for long. Making excuses and finding other things to do at homework time should not be tolerated. If you impose a consequence when he makes excuses, his behavior will change after a time or two. After he's done with his homework, reinforce his positive behavior by reading books together, which you know he enjoys.

Dr. Stacie Bunning is a licensed clinical psychologist in the St. Louis area. She has worked with children, adolescents, and their families in a variety of clinical settings for 20 years. Bunning also teaches courses in child psychology, adolescent psychology, and human development at Maryville University in St. Louis.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from readers

"Yes, I too have this same issue with my son in k5, he was reading at the age of 4. Very bright,and we too were told to have him in a gifted program, but i can tell his attetion span seems to be a little short. And i found that he would do his homework at home very well and at school he would not have his number done,so this was a concern, so we found out that adjusting to the things in the room may be a distraction for him and now he is in a class of 24 and not in a class of 12. So we need to give him some more adjustment time to the new arena that he's in. We will have him tested latter no need to rush him, as long as he's there he'll get what he needs. Thank you Concerned parent s"
"The title scares me a little. A kindergartner should not have to apply himself. Homework in 5K? We are burning out our small children with too many prescribed activities. They're little. They need to explore their world, make up stories, enjoy their imaginations, not do worksheets. Not yet. A kindergarten classroom should be a place of wonder and imagination, a safe place to grow and begin to get confidence about learning. Take it easy with young minds. They can be turned off by school altogether if they feel they have done well and it isn't enough. I've been there. As a first grader, I was often asked to give up my outside playtime to tutor other children with reading. That's just not fair, unless he wants to tutor. It is not the child's responsibility to teach his peers. "