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Is Your Middle-Schooler Bored?

Does school bore your middle-schooler? There are options to keep your student who may need more challenges engaged.

By GreatSchools Staff

What should you do if your middle-schooler is bored at school? The most common reason, experts say, that students complain they are bored, is that they are not being challenged at school.

But before you rush to sign your student up for advanced courses, it's a good idea to confer with his teacher first to see if there aren't other reasons for his boredom and ways that his teacher can help. It could mean he is overwhelmed at school, and that he is just tuning out because he doesn't know where to begin. Or perhaps he is feeling isolated, missing the individualized attention he got from his teacher in elementary school.

If the reason for his boredom is the most common one, that he is not being challenged, there are options available, possibly at the school he attends or in your local community, and definitely online. Summer programs geared to gifted students provide another option. Perhaps he has already taken all the math or foreign language classes available at his school. Or maybe he has a burning interest in philosophy or advanced music, and there aren't classes to match his interests at the middle school. Gifted and Talented (GATE) programs at your school, classes at the local high school, online programs, special summer programs and university programs can be solutions to keep your student who needs more challenges engaged.

Is Your Student Gifted?

Most schools do testing to determine if students should be identified as gifted. Check with the school your child attends. Ask your child's teacher, guidance counselor, and/or principal what options are available. Does your school offer a GATE Program where students take special challenging classes either during the year or during the summer? An International Baccalaureate Program? Can students take advanced classes at the local high school or community college?

The Virtual High School (VHS) offers courses online. They have identified several of their high school courses that are appropriate for gifted middle school students as well as several courses that are open to all students. The courses available are typically ones not available at your local school, such as "Ethical Dilemmas for Middle-Schoolers," and "Ancient History of the '50s and '60s: When Your Parents Were Young." Typically, a school will pay a fee and sign up to have access to their online curriculum. As part of the agreement, one teacher at the school will agree to teach an online course for VHS and receive their professional development program in online education. Courses are also available for homeschoolers.

The Center for Talented Youth (CTY) at Johns Hopkins University conducts a nationwide Talent Search for gifted youth. The program is ongoing throughout the school year. It identifies, assesses, and recognizes students with exceptional mathematical and/or verbal reasoning abilities. The Talent Search gives students the opportunity to take a test designed for older students which will reveal more about their academic abilities and will allow them to compare their results with those of other highly able students. They will also learn about educational options and opportunities for students with similar abilities, and they will receive recognition for their outstanding achievements.

Advanced Options Aren't Just for Gifted Students

While many schools offer special programs for students identified as gifted, there are other programs open to any student who can demonstrate that he can succeed at an advanced level.

In the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District in North Carolina, for example, and in many middle schools across the country, advanced middle school students can take higher level math and foreign language courses at their local high school.

This school district, like many, also offers an International Baccalaureate (IB) program at several of its middle schools beginning in grade 6. Students have the option to enroll starting in grade 6 but can enter the program in later grades as well. The IB curriculum is a rigorous international curriculum. Teachers must take required IB training and write specialized curriculum units that encourage critical thinking, interconnectedness among subjects and an appreciation for international education. The middle school curriculum is cross disciplinary with core classes in language and the arts; there are also community service and physical education components.

What type of student is this curriculum appropriate for? "We want students who have a strong commitment to learning, love to excel, can make connections across areas, are curious and critical thinkers, have skills and interest in foreign languages and technology, and understand community service and what it really means," says Robbie Kale, director of magnet programs for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District. "They have to love to read and write as there are many projects assigned." The IB curriculum is offered at schools throughout the world; one of the added bonuses of the program is that students can transfer anywhere in the world where an IB curriculum is offered and they should be able to fit right in.

Students who continue on and complete the IB diploma curriculum in their high school years may qualify for an IB diploma, which is highly valued in American universities and throughout the world.

The next place to look is beyond the middle-school walls. There may be options at your local high school or community college or through online programs and special summer programs.

Online Programs

Online courses work best for self-disciplined, independent learners. Some have an interactive component where others involve just the student and the printed study materials. There are multiple online options available. Here's a sampling:

Duke University e-Studies (grades 8-12) is an interactive distance learning program. Students connect with instructors, course material and 10-15 classmates from around the world in virtual "classrooms." Courses run in the fall and spring (16-week sessions), as well as in the summer (8-week session). Students are admitted based on SAT or ACT test scores. Courses cost $750, which includes all text materials. There is an additional $20 application fee. Financial aid is available.

The Center for Distance and Independent Study at the University of Missouri-Columbia is mostly for high school students, but there are a few options - courses such as medieval life, applying the math challenge and creative writing - available for middle school students, too. This is a self-directed program where students can sign up at anytime for the course, and receive print materials (a study guide and text) and take up to nine months to complete the course. Each course for middle school students costs $130, plus varying fees for the print materials, depending on the course selected. Students write papers, do projects and take two proctored exams. (Generally they find someone in their community or school to act as an authorized proctor.)

The Education Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY) at Stanford University provides individualized, online instruction for gifted students of all ages, from kindergarten through university level. Students take courses and receive instructional support via telephone, email and a virtual classroom. To qualify for EPGY, students must provide evidence of their intellectual ability, generally a recognized standardized test such as the SAT. Courses range in cost from $495 to $740 and financial aid is available. Students may begin most courses on the first of any month.

Summer Programs

Academically oriented summer programs offer middle-schoolers who need more challenges the opportunity to stretch their minds while being in the company of like-minded students. Many local schools and communities offer GATE programs, and some colleges offer residential programs. Summer institutes engage students specifically interested in science or literature.

The Great Books Summer Program offers students in grades 6-12 the opportunity to read and discuss selections from classic and contemporary literature in one- or two-week residential programs with college professors and top faculty at Amherst College and Stanford University. College and graduate students serve as counselors. There is ample time for recreation, too, and students have access to the college pool and other facilities during their stay.

The Acadia Institute of Oceanography, located in Seal Harbor, Maine, offers students with a keen interest in science and studying the ocean a chance to study marine biology through a hands-on curriculum in a residential setting. The introductory program is geared to 10 to 12-year-olds. Students come from all over the country to attend this program. The staff of classroom teachers, practicing scientists and researchers work with students in small groups.

The National Association for Gifted Children has a directory of summer programs for the gifted on their Web site.

The Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG), in existence since 1984, offers 11 residential sessions in seven states (for grades 4 through 11) and four day programs (up to grade 6 only). Their mission is to provide the highest quality educational and social opportunities for academically gifted and talented students through programs designed to meet their abilities and needs. The program provides students the opportunity to engage with other students who have similar abilities and interests in small classes and also to have individualized learning programs. Residential programs are held at several universities across the country including Amherst College, University of California at Berkeley, Emory University and Vassar College.

The Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth offers summer residential and day programs on the east and west coasts for qualified students who have completed grades 5-6. Day site locations (which also include classes for students who have completed grades 2-4) are in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area, as well as in West Los Angeles and Pasadena, California. Eligibility for the program is based on what grade the student has completed, as well as his score on the CTY-administered SCAT test. CTY also offers two residential programs for qualified students who have completed grades 7 and above.

Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University offers three-week courses in both Chicago and Cleveland (Case Western Reserve University) during the summer. Fourth through 12th-grade classes are offered in Chicago while 7th through 12th-grade classes are offered in Cleveland. Residential and commuter options are available.

Duke TIPs (Duke University Talent Indentification Programs) are residential summer programs designed to meet the intellectual and social needs of gifted students in grades 7-12. Programs are held on college campuses across the country and in field locations around the world. Financial aid is available for most programs. Students learn highly challenging material at a rate suited to their advanced abilities. Students enroll in a single course for three weeks of in-depth study. Classes of approximately 16 students are taught by highly qualified instructor-teaching assistant teams. Outside the classroom, a carefully selected residential staff supervises students during meals, free time, and social and recreational activities. Program participants experience college classroom instruction and residence hall living. Campuses include Duke University, Duke Marine Lab, Appalachian State University, Davidson College, University of Kansas, and Texas A&M.

The EPGY Summer Institute at Stanford University offers a Summer Institutes Middle School Program (MSP) for ages 11-13 consists of three two-week sessions for students in 6th and 7th grade. The program provides academic enrichment, a taste of college life at Stanford University, and the opportunity to meet others with similar interests and abilities. Students study several related topics within a single subject area.

Comments from readers

"The article is ok, but the 2/9/09 post is right! Getting kids excited outside of school does nothing to cure the problems within our schools! What are we going to do about this decrepit institution, People?! My generation (boomish) was bored when we went to these schools. Our parents were told it was our/their fault: boomers were children of television and were just too used to being entertained. "Educators" admitted that TV was more effective than teachers were at engaging people and introducing them to new worlds and concepts. But school was school, and our parents were told that the kids just had to learn to sit still and listen to the endless blather of bureau crats. ENOUGH!! I honestly believe the term "teacher" should be replaced with "coach." Why not use TV, ipads, and apps to introduce children to each subject and then use the "coaches" to help them exercise the concepts to the point of mastery. Kids could take charge of their learning and lose the inhibition that comes from the current system which idolizes the supposedly "gifted" kids who are just too unimaginitive to daydream. "
"The articles are great. However, are you able to identify resources and programs geared for 'all students' not just 'gifted students?' I wish someone would create a program that could motivate and excite students who are not excelling. Sadly, these children are often given rote and boring material which further deceases their desire to learn."
"I'm running a summer mathematics program that is not meant to be remedial or advanced: it is an 'out of the box' program that gets kids excited about the possibilities of learning 'math on the streets' using the vibrant urban culture of NYC as a context. My website is if you want to know more."
"do you have a list of programs this summer that have scholorships in the michigan area for a middle-schooler"
"This is a wonderful list of alternatives - some more realistically accessed than others - and a wonderfully well-intentioned article. That said I'd need to also say this - I'd need to see and look carefully at the research of experts that says the most common reason for middle schoolers to be bored is that they are not sufficiently challenged. One - the state of research in the science of education is still in its infancy though many of us don't realize that and most of us aren't comfortable with thinkng that. When it comes to our children and their education, we'd like the experts to really be expert. And - what does it mean to be 'challenged' in school? We use that word often but almost never define it. From my many years of teaching middle school, I'd say middle schoolers are challenged by the very process that is school. It is very challenging for young people to sit still through 35-40 minute long classes and to do that through 7 or 8 class periods a day. If you want an experience that will open your eyes and numb your body - go back to middle school for a day and be a student sitting in those chairs again... And you'll see how little has changed in the curriculum or the manner of teaching despite all the talk about 'multisensory teaching' and 'auditory, visual and kinesthetic classes'. But you'll also see how much middle schoolers have changed - they are Far More knowledgeable that they were at least in my day. And far more restless, uncertain and unhappy with the traditional process that is school - sitting in rows taking closed-book tests (we still have them memorizing the state capitols that can be looked up on google in a nanosecond) and we often have 25-35 of them in a room. I'm not sure that bored says it all - they know something's wrong. They seem to know that if school were really about learning, it wouldn't be like it is - it wouldn't be straight rows of chairs with healthy young people forced to sit still in them for the length of a school day, taking notes from the board and the textbook and then writing that same information down again this time with the notes and book closed. They like good grades but they know that's not really learning. Because learning isn't boring - it's empowering. Your very well-intentioned list says much the same as I just did - most of the suggestions it offers to alleviate boredom seem to lie outside of the boring place that is often school. I'm no expert just an experienced Middle School teacher and I'd say the most common reason for middle schoolers to be bored at school is that in these past few decades they and the world have changed and a lot and school hasn't changed much at all. The summer schools you list are wonderful alternatives - for the summer. Many families can't afford such programs and if they can it leaves their bored middle schoolers to still be bored through the nine months of the school year. On-line programs are more affordable and sometimes free but they can only begin at 3 if you've been in boring school all day. It's a wonderfully well-intentioned article but I'm not sure it really answers the question it raises - if your child is bored in school, what do we do about that in school? Not in the summer or after school but in school? There's no list that I've seen that addresses that. There are only a very few schools that offer alternatives within the school itself. The real question for most parents is - What Do you do when your child is bored in school each day? How do you get them to keep up with the boredom for if they fall out with the routine, they'll start to fail. How do you get them to go back to school each day when it's so boring? And hardest - how do you explain to your child why it's still learning when it's so boring and doesn't feel like they're learning much at all? Most parents shut down around those questions because they don't know the answers to them. Perhaps an article addressing itself to those kind of questions might be helpful to parents - particularly those whose kids go to schools without alternative programs or those for whom the alternative of stimulating summer programs isn't one. "
"Thank you. Your article was thrilling for me as a middle school teacher studying the particular challenges and options that have to do with accelerated learning for public school children. I am concerned about those who are poor or disadvantaged in one or more ways and may not have parental investment to support accelerated options for their education. Assuredly the more information you get the better your chances of helping your children the way you hope you can help."
" this is an excellent least we parents learn where to go. i have one note though.i have a high functioning autistic son whose going high school.he loves geography and the way, he's mainstreamed in school.i don't know what's a good course for him.i don't know where to lead him.all i know is i'm doing my best in providing him good education right now.I'm LOST please help me. famer"
"This site has been very helpful for me. It is sonice to be able to receive all that information that can help me to raise my children."
"This site has been the most infomational and helpful site I have visited. Parent of gifted child Michigan"
"Excellent overview of different options. Your newsletter is very helpful and full of information. I do not usually subscribe to newsletters but have been very surpirsed by the wealth of useful information published by Great Schools. Keep it up >From Parent with children attending Department of Defense School in Belgium "
"I just read your email; my son is 12 years old and we recently moved from San Jose to Stockton California. The schools here are horrible, the teachers even tell us to have him go directly to high school next year, as the middle schools in this area have nothing to offer him. In San Jose he was in high school plays, choir, drama, and they thought he was great! Is there ANYWHERE in Stockton that we can put him that will challenge him and keep him interested in school? He was tested in 5th grade to be at a post 12th grade level. He wanted a job managing Krispy Kreme since he was 6 years old! I am serious! Please help us so he does not just waste his mind. Thank you"
"This is great information! Thank you & send more that is similar!!!"
"Awesome list. I wish I had had this two years ago! Carnegie Mellon and U of P also have summer residential programs for gifted students (high school) interested in the gaming industry."
"Thank you for this great information. My daughters school have a great library, but many of the classes never can use or have access to use what is there or to take out books on a regular basis. I will get with the board meetings at CMS here in Charlotte and ask why not? It'sa like not having the library at all, if the school does not make it available for every student in the school. They also have no recess time and sitting to much time in class per class. Almost every student there will tell them they do not wish to do the repetitive same exercises every morning after just eating breakfast and sweaty or smelling for the rest of their school day. What happen to recess in the middle of the day for children to enjoy also wil be asked why not? Many children would like to participate with other children of their same interest and sports during that time. We have many mass of problems with in this school system and no one is listening to great suggestion. Many of the students will become much more connected of cultural differences if they had time to blend on their own in such a peaceful setting. My own daughter has friends in her school from other international background and they hardly every get to speak to each other during school. This is very sad for her as do the others. The principal isn't listening to any of her parents as PTA takes place or personal meetings of concerns as I watch being a volunteer in my daughters school and both of her parents active in PTA. "