"Of all the animals, the boy is the most unmanagable." - Plato
Yesterday, I began with "Educating Boys, Pt 1".
Boys need 10 things:
- space to move and play
- clear expectations
- physical challenges
- strong role models
- the chance to be silly
- love, love, love
Today we pick up with -
5. Challenges/Goals - Boys work best when there is some goal in mind. For example, The Young Adult was really struggling in math. Yes, we grade his work. When I was in (public) school, there was a certain amount of shame involved in getting handed a paper with a failing grade on it. I knew my teacher knew how poorly I had done, and so did the chick sitting next to me who couldn't keep her nose in her own business. Shame - healthy shame (and it does exist) - can be a powerful motivator. So can recognition. But when your mom grades all your papers, and you are the only one in your class, a failing grade (or a string of them) or a perfect grade just seems like another number. The Young Adult seemed to understand the math concepts, but when it came to doing his homework, he was not doing well at all. ArtGuy finally hit on an idea - offer The Young Adult $1 for every 100% he received.
The Young Adult became almost obsessed with doing his math homework well. In other words, he took his time with the homework and paid attention - something we were certain he was not doing before! He would sit by my side while I graded his tests. 100's are still few and far between, but the goal is there.
The same is true of challenges. Now, "challenges" is a different word than "frustration", and sometimes there is a fine line between the two. Boys need challenges. Why do you think they are so attracted to stories of knights, battles, wars, adventure? There is always a difficult or "almost impossible" challenge to them. I listen to my sons and their friends while they play, and their play often involved challenges. "Bet you can't do more than I can", "beat that", "dare you", and so on. Many boys are attracted to video games because of the challenges involved - beat the level, beat the boss, beat the game, find the secret room, discover the extra life, etc...
A boy loves a good challenge. And they never grow out of it. ("Oh, I can fix that leaking pipe, honey. I know nothing about plumbing, but I can figure it out. It'll be fun!" Sound familiar to any of you ladies out there?)
6. Praise -
Boys need recognition. They get all kinds of bad recognition, but they need to be caught "being good" as well. This is true for all of us, I know. But boys seem to hear so many more negative things (you are too loud, knock that off, be quiet, be gentle, be nice, be neat). And they need praise for the things which make them a boy! Not the burping and farting (although an appreciative "nice one" from mom can go a long way), but the little man things they do. Opening doors, remembering to say please and thank you, fixing the remote, figuring out how to put the vacuum cleaner they just took apart back together, sorting rocks into piles, or when the 2 yr old hands mommy the booger instead of eating it - praise him!
7. Physical Challenges -
Boys need activity. Even quiet ones need to be active. Sometimes it is hard to look at a little boy's body and imagine him a man with arm muscles and chest hair and all. But it will happen. They need to be encouraged to grow those muscles and work those bodies to develop into strong lads. We keep light weights and a jump rope on hand. My boys pick up the jump rope several random times a day and see how far they get (goals). Then, they like to report to their brothers - "I did 57 today. Beat that!" (remember challenges?)
Physical activity also helps the brain. When a student becomes restless, often a little physical activity can settle them back into a learning mode again. ScienceDaily reported in 2009 about research linking physical activity and learning:
"The research, led by Charles Hillman, a professor of kinesiology and community health and the director of the Neurocognitive Kinesiology Laboratory at Illinois, suggests that physical activity may increase students’ cognitive control – or ability to pay attention – and also result in better performance on academic achievement tests." (see article here)
When my boys get fidgety in school, I ask them to go run around the block, or do 25 jumping jacks, or 15 minutes of Wii Fit.
Also - a note about sports. Sports are full of challenges and physical demands. If at all possible, involve boys in sports. They can be non-traditional. Romeo is my only athletic child. He loves soccer and riding bikes and wrestling. But Cookie Boy and The Young Adult failed mserably at soccer and baseball. They hated it. They just are not into those type of sporting events (remember, there is a thin line between challenges and frustration!). Cookie Boy has found Speed Stacking. Not a traditional sport by a long-shot, but one he feels comfortable doing. This spring, he even competed against 500 kids in a regional contest. And anyone who knows Cookie Boy will tell you that it was surprising for him to do that. But he found what motivated him and challenged him.
Likewise, you have probably seen my posts of The Young Adult. He is a Scottish Highland dancer. ArtGuy and I never saw that coming! The Young Adult is a typical boy in many ways, and is tall and handsome for his age. He loves the rich history behind Highland dancing, and what many of the dances represent. He also has benefited greatly from the physical demands of the sport.
8. Strong Role Models -
Boys need examples of good men (and women, yes, but in order for a boy to grow into a good man, he must know what a good man is!).
Good, interesting biographies are a great way for boys to get to know some real men. Stories of the saints are also excellent. Good documentaries are also a help. We talk to the boys when we can about these things. For example, we were all watching "Design Star" on HGTV this past Sunday (which stinks this year, by the way. But that is another issue!). The design task was to design a room in two separate firehouses for New York firefighters. A person on screen made a comment about the bravery of the New York fire department. The Young Adult said, "What is the big deal? Why should firefighters get cool stuff just becuase they are from New York?"
We used that opportunity to discuss what firefighters actually do, and how they risk their lives. We talked with them about what the New York fire department did on 9/11, and how that bravery was not a one-time thing. It became a teaching moment on good brave heroes - and the boys completely changed their attitude.
There are enough flashy role models for our boys out there. They promote money, ease, and the rich life, and often end up doing very stupid things. Our boys see the cool stuff - the awesome cars, the clothes, the "hot" women, the apparent happiness, and they buy into it. That is what they want!
But real role models last a lot longer. Their lessons are bigger than money. They usually involve sacrifice of some kind, and often end up touching the lives of many people in many ways. Feed boys on the real role models whenever you can!
9. The Chance to be Silly -
Boys are silly by nature. They can make sound effects from the cradle. They love dumb jokes. Our neighbor, 8 year old Speedy, loves to tell the "What's under there?" (underwear - hah hah - you said underwear!). He tells it over and over. I let him. I fall for it almost every time. Why? Boys are boys, and they revel in sheer silliness (SpongeBob Squarepants, anyone!).
10. Love, love, love -
I am sure this one is self-explanatory. But it is true. They need love, and they need to know it. It is easy to cuddle Romeo, who at 8 is still very much a little boy. But The Young Adult is several inches taller than me, wears the same size shoes as his dad, and is beginning to take on man features - when I touch his face, it is the thick, tough face of a man. Gone is the soft, little-boy flesh. Even still, I pat his cheek, grab him for a hug (and he is not allowed to give me any "beaver-lodge" hug, either!), tell him he is great. Give high-fives, pat his back, ruffle his hair, lightly punch his arm. And from time to time, actually say those words - "I love you". It is like sunlight for the soul!
"Besides, the best have to get through the hobbledehoy age, and that's the very time they need most patience and kindness. People laugh at them, and hustle them out of sight, and expect them to turn, all at once, from pretty children into fine young men. They don't complain much - plucky little souls - but they feel it. I've a special interest in such young bears, and like to show them that I see the warm, honest, well-meaning boys' hearts, in spite of the clumsy arms and legs and topsy-turvy heads."
- Louisa May Alcott, Little Women, Ch. 47