Many years ago, my pre-school-aged children and I were on the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland playing carnival games on a crisp day in October. My children were watching as I played Whack A Mole with intense enthusiasm. I was in a state of positive psychology flow. Suddenly, my five-year old son exclaimed in awe, “WOW! Mom, that’s your talent!" 

During my children’s earliest years, we spent much time identifying talents, acknowledging them, and nurturing them.

We also focused on strengths because the infrastructure of talent is strength. Strength is the steal support beam of talent. Practiced talent builds strength. The key to building sustainable strength is to identify your talent and meld it with your strength.

Your strength is what you can do almost perfectly every time. Almost every time you can jump rope 50 times without tripping or you can be patient in a long line. Your talent is your naturally occurring interests or aptitudes that create intrinsic engagement and flow.

For the past three months, I have been unusually busy testing this proposition by working with a teacher of gifted education to design and deliver our Talent Development Institute (TDI) to almost 250 elementary school children in a diverse, downtown urban school in our neighborhood. The 250 children are enrolled in 45-minute before-school academic enrichment clubs organized around their individual curiosities, interests and talents adopting positive psychology practices.

The TDI program is our model that combines the theory and practice of gifted education, affective neuroscience, and positive psychology using academic enrichment clusters or clubs to infuse academics into project-based and authentic learning. University students act as coaches working with students once a week in the first-through-fifth-grade. The TDI program—consistent with the principles of positive psychology—intends to use student's talents in the clubs to practice emotional regulation and emotional strength to increase friendly learning interactions, meaningful engagement, and a sense of confidence and accomplishment.

There are students of all ages in a Lego club building a model city together and there are students making a Yoga instructional video. Some students are planning a musical concert with songs articulated in sign language and other students are practicing leadership skills organizing a school toy drive. There are students managing their frustration and nurturing generosity when there are not enough Legos for all. There are introverted student asking questions for the school newspaper and extroverted students quietly signing the words to a song. There are high ratios of adults/students, not enough space, few resources, novice coaches, and an early morning start.

Yet, the hearts and minds of all students and coaches are all intrinsically motivated and engaged in learning. The research finds that students who are more engaged in school have higher levels of subject well-being, more positive attitudes toward school, and perform better on every academic measure.

When learning aligns with interests, students are more motivated, mindful and happier!



Molony, Terry (2010). Signature strengths in positive psychology. Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists’ Communique.


Charles, C.S., Snyder, R., Lopez, S. and Pedrotti, J.T. (2010). Positive psychology: The scientific and practical exploration of human strengths. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.


Siegel, R. (2009).  What it takes to be happy. Boston; Harvard Medical Video

Web Resources

Buck Institute for Education (BIE) Project Based Learning

Education & Motivation

Edutopia Project Based Learning

Gallup Education Center

AVAILABLE NOWPositive Psychology in the Elementary School Classroom and is the first in a series intended to help teachers build positive psychology classrooms consistent with affective neuroscience. 

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About the Author

Patty O'Grady, Ph.D.

Patty O’Grady, Ph.D., is a professor at the University of Tampa committed to transformational education. She is the author of Positive Psychology in the Elementary School Classroom.

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