Awakening Genius in the Classroom

Awakening Genius in the Classroom

Every Child is a Genius. Dr. Armstrong Tells You Why.

"Every student is a genius," declares author Thomas Armstrong, and an educator's most important job is to discover and nurture the "genius qualities" that all students were born with but that may no longer be obvious. Urging readers to look beyond traditional understandings of what constitutes genius, Armstrong describes 12 such qualities: curiosity, playfulness, imagination, creativity, wonder, wisdom, inventiveness, vitality, sensitivity, flexibility, humor, and joy. He cites research in various fields that supports this broader understanding of genius and explains how influences in the home, the popular media, and the school itself "shut down" the genius in students.

Combining thoughtful insights and practical information, Armstrong offers guiding principles to help educators awaken genius in the classroom--beginning with awakening the genius in themselves. Readers will find dozens of suggested activities and helpful resources to provide "genius experiences" and create a "genial climate" in the classroom. In addition, suggestions for further study at the end of each section provide starting points for personal and professional reflection and growth.

As it celebrates the potential brainpower waiting to be unlocked in classrooms everywhere, Awakening Genius in the Classroom inspires educators to look at their students from a different perspective and to reinvigorate their teaching with a new sense of excitement and possibility. The result, Armstrong concludes, could extend far beyond the classroom and transform not only our schools, but the entire world.

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About the Book

Every child is a genius. That doesn’t mean that every child can paint like Picasso, compose like Mozart, or score 150 on an I.Q. test. But every child is a genius according to the original meanings of the word “genius,” which are: “to give birth” (related to the word genesis) and “to be zestful or joyous,” (related to the word genial). Essentially, the real meaning of genius is to “give birth to the joy” that is within each child. Every child is born with that capacity. Each child comes into life with wonder, curiosity, awe, spontaneity, vitality, flexibility, and many other characteristics of a joyous being. An infant has twice as many brain connections as an adult. The young child masters a complex symbol system (their own native language) without any formal instructions. Young children have vivid imaginations, creative minds, and sensitive personalities. These youthful traits are highly valued from an evolutionary perspective: the more species evolve, the more they carry youthful traits into adulthood (a process called “neoteny” or “holding youth”). It is imperative that we, as educators and parents, help preserve these genius characteristics of children as they mature into adulthood, so those capacities can be made available to the broader culture at a time of incredible change.

Unfortunately, there are strong forces working at home, in the schools, and within the broader culture, to stifle these genius qualities in children. Many children grow up in homes which put an active damper on the qualities of genius. Factors in the home like poverty, depression and anxiety, pressure on kids to grow up too soon, and rigid ideologies based on hate and fear, actively subdue the qualities of genius in childhood such as playfulness, creativity, and wonder. Schools also put a damper on childhood genius through testing (creativity can’t thrive in an atmosphere of judgment), labeling of kids as learning disabled or ADD, boring teachers, and regimented curriculum. Finally, the broader culture, especially mass media, represses the genius in our children through its constant onslaught of violence, mediocrity, and repugnant role models.

The good news is that there is much that a teacher or parent can do to help children reawaken their natural genius. First, and most importantly, adults need to reawaken their own natural genius—find within themselves the source waters of their own creativity, vitality, playfulness, and wonder. For when children are surrounded by curious and creative adults, they have their own inner genius sparked into action. Second, adults need to provide simple activities to activate the genius of children. Something as simple as a story, a toy (Einstein said that a simple magnetic compass awakened his love of learning at the age of four), a visit to a special place, or a question, can unlock the gates to a child’s love of learning. Third, create a “genial” atmosphere at home or school, where kids can learn in a climate free from criticism, comparison, and pressure to succeed. Treat each child as a unique gift from God capable of doing wonderful things in the world . Finally, understand that each child will be a genius in a totally different way from another child. Forget the standard I.Q. meaning of genius, and use models like the theory of multiple intelligences to help kids succeed on their own terms. By following these simple guidelines for awakening each child’s natural genius, you will be contributing immeasurably to the welfare of your children and to the world they will inherit someday.  For more information, see my book Awakening Genius in the Classroom.


  • Armstrong, Thomas. ”Transpersonal Experience in Childhood,” The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology,” 1984.
  • Armstrong, Thomas. The Radiant Child. Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 1985.
  • Armstrong, Thomas. Awakening Your Child’s Natural Genius, New York: Putnam, 1991.
  • Armstrong, Thomas. “50 Ways to Bring Out Your Child’s Best“, Family Circle, February 2, 1993.
  • Armstrong, Thomas. “Little Geniuses,” Parenting, September, 1989.
  • Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: HarperCollins, 1990.
  • Elkind, David. The Hurried Child. New York: Addison-Wesley, 1981.
  • Holt, John. Learning All the Time. New York: Addison-Wesley, 1989.
  • Montagu, Ashley. Growing Young, New York: McGraw-IEII, 1983.
  • Montessori, Maria. The Secret of Childhood. New York: Ballantine, 1972.
  • Pearce, Joseph Chilton. Magical Child. New York: Bantam,, 1980.
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Genre: Education
Tags: childhood, children, classroom, early childhood, education, elementary school, genius, high school, human growth, human potential, late childhood, learning, progressive education, school reform, secondary school
Publisher: ASCD
Publication Year: 1998
Length: 81 pages
ISBN: 9780871203021
List Price: $10.95
eBook Price: $9.99
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