Sunday, 18 July 2010

Going Boy-Friendly in September

Since re-reading Michael Gurian's book The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons From Falling Behind in School and Life, I've been thinking about my provision for my sons in a whole new light.   My 3-year-old is still supposedly in non-school mode -- a bit of Montessori practical life here, a bit of reading or writing there, and a lot of playing cars with his 5-year-old sister. My 7-year-old, however, has had a mixed bag over the past year of success and stress, and it's for him that I need to make some changes

Here's what definitely worked: having a daily checklist for him to tick off his accomplishments; getting a chance to work on the computer once he had finished his work for the day; map skills (by both Carson-Dellosa and School Specialty Publishing); the new handwriting program called Write from the Start; playing active games before we started school such as "The Giant Says" (ie, Simon Says but with a gobbling-up bit when you do it wrong); and making Lego stop-action animation films about Bible stories.

Here's what sort of worked: ShillerMath (when I worked alongside him and made him slow down); Draw Write Now  for art; writing stories on the computer; Thinking Skills workbook until it went into overdrive about alphabetizing, and our co-op on poetry, art, and drama.

What didn't really work at all: I Can Do All Things art curriculum (he begged me for this, having seen his big sister complete her copy -- I don't quite understand his problem with it), open-ended project work, foreign languages (even hiring a tutor).

Here are some thoughts in a nutshell based on Gurian's observations and on hard science about boys' brains:

  • Boys can be extremely distracted and stressed by a messy, disordered room, so I must de-clutter.  (No, I mean it -- really!  I must, I must, I must ... higher priority than painting the study ... remember!)
  • Boys apparently need more space to study than girls.  They tend to want to spread out when they work, which has something to do with their reliance on the visual/spatial senses.  That means the table I currently intend for both him and his sister to work on is w-a-y too small for two.
  • Boys tend to need brighter light to work in than girls, so I need to be careful about siting his table and perhaps provide him with a desk lamp.  
  • Boys like displaying and arranging their work, so a large cork board would seem a good investment.
  • Boys respond better to diagrams and lists written down rather than lots of talk. Sounds like it's time to get out the ol' easel and employ a bit of "chalk" and not much "talk"
  • Boys can be frustrated by switching too often between topics.  This puts me slightly in a quandary: the Charlotte Mason method I tend to follow is a big advocate of short, sharp lessons, so that a child maintains concentration over a period of time, and learns not to dawdle.  The other method I incorporate into my eclectic mix is Montessori, who argued that switching too often was actually more tiring than just leaving a child alone.  That's perhaps why the checklist-idea worked well for him last  year -- it scooted him along through a variety of subjects, but he chose the pace of it.
  • Boys seem to want to move while someone is reading aloud to them.  We do a lot of reading aloud, and it's very difficult to get him to retain anything, whether he's lying down and fidgeting and interrupting, or, as Gurian suggests, playing Lego.  I need to find a balance between his movement and his remembering what I'm reading.  Therefore, I may try something like a stress ball for him to squeeze, or play-dough (if he can stand to get his hands dirty -- depends on his mood that day), or even -- gasp -- letting him chew gum.

That's a lot of changes to consider, and I'm only 1/3 of the way through Gurian's book!

Well, if I can just get through the de-cluttering before September, I will have taken a major step toward removing stressors in "Killer's" environment, and hopefully, put him on a firmer foundation for next year's learning experience.

Are there any of these suggestions that you have implemented recently?


  1. Very well written post. Very interesting. I'll be checking out the book. THANKS FOR SHARING! You know, for some reason, I feel that I don't understand MY BOYS or boys in general. Any suggestions???

  2. I know what you mean. I had two brothers, and though they were chalk and cheese, there was still something between them that made killing a lizard with their b.b. guns more fun than shooting targets. I was devastated, and they assuaged my grief by drawing a "wanted" poster of a dead lizard. I still have this poster in my save box. I don't get it.

  3. You are giving me lots to think about... especially since i made the chice to HE when he leaves primary school.
    Brendan has to have a note book to doodle in when at school. it helps him organise the info that is being given to him and something to fiddle with. works really well. I also think that children work best when allowed to become totally absorbed in an activity. So i don't think lots of changes in lessons would work for us, so very interesting about what he says about this.

    Loving the idea of lego stopmotion video.... very up our alley!

  4. We've used a camcorder for Lego films, or you can use a regular camera to take a series of stills. My son definitely likes process over product, and he's using his imagination with it more than he has ever really used it before.

  5. I'd recommend using Scratch (google it) for creating animations. The kids seem to pick it up easily and can create their own animations/games, do stop frame animation or use aspects of other people's games/animations for their own (my kids love the idea of sharing online).

    We have a more autonomous learning style, but when I read aloud my children bounce around alot, fidget, build lego models, etc. One will do colouring in/doodling while I read, but the others wont, so mostly I just let them do what they like (though I prefer it if they stay in the same room lol!). The best option we've found is using audio CDs of books in the car - they are a captured audience then and it works a treat!

    One thing I have observed is that even when children don't appear to be focusing their attention on something, if they are in the same room they often absorb it anyway. For a few months we attended an informal once-a-week session with a German lady, during which my children would just play in the room listening to german conversation. The kids learnt loads of basic German vocabulary, and several years on still remember it, even though there was no formal teaching or coercion to learn.

  6. I love your blog! Great post about homeschooling boys. I definitely agree with the point about de-cluttering. My son (now grown) always worked best in an organized environment. Of course, he was one of those Born Organized types who was always better at organizing than I was! Montessori education worked very well for him as he loved the hands-on activities – and the orderliness of it all.


Whatcha thinkin'? Don't be shy if you've got something to say!