They’ve gotten bad press in the last two decades but I’ll add my voice to those who declare that boys are pretty wonderful. Living in a culture that increasingly penalizes boys for being, well, boys, homeschool moms have an opportunity to see their sons, with all their masculine quirks, not as nuisances who ought to be more feminine, but as men-in-the-making, different and valuable. They can and should celebrate that which is distinctly male, while also civilizing what is wild and potentially destructive in their sons. This is no easy task but it begins with the understanding that boys learn differently from girls and need different things.
And that is ok.
As I look back on my own homeschool journey, I see again and again that the times I struggled the most were those in which I tried to get my boys to behave more like my daughter when it came to formal learning. I wanted them to sit still for long periods of time, to enjoy quiet activities like handwriting and dictation, and to focus when I offered lengthy, detailed explanations of things. When they didn’t meet my expectations, I grew frustrated and disillusioned, as if this were somehow their fault.
The longer I homeschool the more I see that my boys need permission to move, to be heard and not just talked to, and to feel indispensable. When I am able to work on meeting these felt needs in our homeschool day, I see the tension largely dissolve between my boys and me, and I watch the path to learning open up.
Boys need to move, often, especially when they are young. We all know that most boys are bundles of energy, but we somehow imagine that when it’s time to “start school” for the day, they can and will transform themselves into little lambs. But young boys are not meant to sit still for long periods of time. This presents a real problem in the public school classroom, especially, because teachers must require children sit for long stretches in order to maintain order and discipline. In these settings boys are constantly penalized for squirreliness.
Homeschooling affords us the freedom to let our boys move—a lot–throughout the day. This not only improves their moods but also helps them to focus in short, intense bursts. Have your young son jump or jog in place while he recites his multiplication facts. Or better yet, let him spend time outside to burn off energy before attempting to quiz him. Think of seatwork in terms of 10-30 minute slots in the day and don’t be afraid to let your son take many, many breaks. Even knowing a break is coming will help small boys concentrate better during intense formal learning times.
Boys need to be heard, not just talked to. We’re used to hearing that girls should be encouraged to “speak their minds” and “tell what they know.” This is true, of course. But sometimes, in our effort to get our boys to listen to us, we forget that they want to know someone thinks their ideas are worth listening to.
When your son is sharing an idea with you, even if it is ridiculous or improbable, take a moment to look him in the eye and really listen, if you can. Nod and ask follow-up questions if necessary. And if it’s not a good time for a discussion (my boys will try to talk to me about anything and everything as we’re walking out the door, loading up the car, or when I am cooking) let your son know that, while right now is not a good time, later you will listen to his thoughts–before bed, or when homework is completed.
Boys need to feel indispensable, especially to Mom. This is no surprise, really. Men want to be needed by women. They want to feel that they have something to offer, that they are important. It only makes sense that little boys want to be “big” and helpful from an early age if we don’t squelch this trait in them. Encourage this quality in your son by having him do regular household chores early on, which will help them burn physical energy, and teach responsibility.
I’ll never forget my middle son’s attempt to help me carry in groceries from the car when he was three. There I was with an armful of canned goods and he demanded to “help” me carry in a gallon jug of milk. I let him. His little arms were not strong enough to hold it for very long, of course, and he ended up dropping the jug on the floor. He was very upset and I was tempted to say, “See, buddy? You should have let Mama do that.” But somehow I controlled my tongue that day and said, “Thank you so much for helping me. I’m glad you were there.” That response made all the difference for him.
Don’t be afraid, homeschool Mom, to embrace your son as he is. He is different from you and that’s not a bad thing. Help him to respect you, and to learn, by understanding his need to move, to be heard, and to feel indispensable.