Sunday, 23 January 2011

Why do (most) boys hate writing?

One of the most common complaints I hear from parents about boys -- whether they're home educated or at schools -- is that they don't want to write anything.

Why do (most) boys hate to write so much?

The short answer is that boys develop later in that area of the brain. In fact, research has shown than girls' brains develop in the region of language and fine motor skills about six years earlier than boys!  On the flip side, boys develop their spatial memory areas about four years earlier than girls.

Unfortunately, our expectations as educators are geared more toward writing than spatial memory, and so the boys get labeled or pushed too hard too early.

 Is it any wonder they can develop a hang-up about writing?

Logic states, therefore, that boys should be allowed to develop more slowly in this area, and in the meantime, be provided with opportunities and strategies that can help them achieve as writers at their level!

Here are a few ideas based on experience with my own boys, aged 3 and 8:

  • Use the computer.  Because boys develop earlier in their spatial skills than their literacy skills, they might find it easier to write using a keyboard than trying to form letters with a pencil.  Further, writing on a word processor is less permanent and easier to correct, so boys needn't be too worried about mistakes (and who hasn't had to deal with a tantrum when something didn't work out just so??!!).  An ICT educator recently told me that the schools in her district were going to explore this link in a bid to improve boys' literacy, so it's an idea that seems to be gathering some momentum.
  • Handwriting practice.  "Killer" has rejected most handwriting programmes, some with violence and/or chucking books into the rubbish bin.  Getty-Dubay italic book A was thrown across the room.  Draw, Write, Now has the right idea -- drawing pictures and writing a two sentence caption underneath.  Unfortunately, that was still too many words as far as Killer was concerned, so I got many well-drawn pictures and no writing.  Our success story has been Write from the Start by Teodorescu -- a handwriting programme that's more about connecting dots, drawing circles around triangles, and practising curves.  Killer and Timmy both get their respective books out in their spare time.  You might ask if a handwriting programme is necessary at all, and I would probably say it isn't; however, the Teodorescu book allows us to tick that box without ticking each other off.
  • Let him dictate. We're eclectic homeschoolers who err on the side of Charlotte Mason method, so I check on the children's comprehension of our reading materials by getting them to "narrate", or tell back, what I've just read.  This is primarily oral narration from the age of 7-11, or until a child is fluent enough in writing that his/her skills in handwriting won't disadvantage the thoughts making it to the page.  Phoenix, for example, is capable of writing her own narration.  Killer, on the other hand, will dictate his narration to me, which allows me to save some of his work on paper without coming to blows about the way in which that work gets processed.
  • Copywork. This is another hallmark of the Charlotte Mason method.  Some might argue it's an unnecessary battle, but I like how it helps a child learn well-written sentences, good vocabulary, and complicated spelling, in a natural way.  Any Charlotte Mason book or website will tell you more about it, but here's an example.  My advice when it comes to boys? Keep it short.  Keep it large.  Offer a reward such as some computer time when he completes this along with three or four other topics, or break up the writing skills with a game, some dancing, some outdoor play.  
  • Use movable alphabets.  These are individual letters cut out of thick card, usually with the vowels in blue and the consonants in red.  They're excellent for training young children to read, but also useful for the reluctant boy to practise spelling and writing without having to use fine motor skills which he may find difficult still.  Here is an article about using movable alphabets, and also a very good Montessori book about teaching reading and writing which includes more detail and exercises for the younger child.
  • Diagram, or draw first.  If you think about it, this is common sense.  In their shoes, you would want to draw something with a great deal of detail and action and excitement, everything happening at once, rather than write a word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence explanation.  Think map rather than a list of directions and you may see what I mean. 
  • Read Michael Gurian's book "The Mind of Boys" for more excellent tips and the science behind them.

The bottom line is that we're wrong when we think boys aren't that good at writing.  They certainly *can* be good at writing, but maybe not when we want them to be.   It's a matter of being patient with them.  Remember, Charlotte Mason, the Victorian educator and theorist, didn't have her children write their narrations till they were at least 11.  

Perhaps we shouldn't either.


  1. I love this post!! I have a 10yo who is not really interested in writing. I have been working more consistently at getting him to do some handwriting and copywork practice. I've been thinking it's time to up the copywork rather than just the letter tracing he's been doing. And to get him doing narrations to me. This is actually already on my list of things to do this week. :)

  2. Let us know how it goes. You may have to stick with the more challenging work for a little while before it's a smooth process. Remember Charlotte Mason and all her advice about "training in habits".

  3. Very interesting. Our eldest son is now 17. He went to a small Christian school for primary, and wasn't a successful student at all. At. All!
    When he 'came home' at age 11, he began to blossom. He read incessantly. He discussed anything that could be discussed - history, politics etc especially.
    He thrived in all our subjects - science and maths as well as the history/literature ones. But, there was one 'but'! Although he clearly understood what was being asked of him in essay-type questions, he simply could not get an essay done. When he was 12-13, I hit on an idea. I 'took away' pen and paper, and told him to do all his work on the laptop. He could take notes, correct them, edit them... *everything* could be done without him having held a pen in his hand!
    He was transformed.
    No kidding. Over the next couple of years, his writing reached the level I would expect from what I could see in the rest of his work. He won two Reformation Society prizes for essays, and now he's actually at the stage where he enjoys essay writing. Loves it actually! Strangely, he has reverted to pen and paper, only going to the laptop for his final draft. He's come full circle!
    Sorry - didn't mean to go on with this comment - on and on!!
    Will be following you, now that I found you... x

  4. My 10 year old boy prefers to write on the computer. We do a few sentences around spelling words each day, by hand, but tend to do anything longer on the computer.
    It also seems to help if he has some input into the topic. I did start a private blog for him but he hasn't enjoyed writing this as much as I thought he would.

  5. My 9yo (boy) hates writing. I've stopped making him write. He types words on the computer, when he's on Youtube or playing games. I'm sure he'll get there eventually :).

  6. What an eye opener! I am doing frantic research on why boys hate writing so much and I'm so happy I came across this post. I've already tried some ideas with my son and today was a better writing day for as long as I can remember! I tried to understand a little better what was putting him off writing. My conclusion after using your blog as a guide for some questions I asked him - he can tell me a story just fine and he can do some handwriting practice (on dotted lines just fine), combining the two is a disaster! So he dictated a story to me and then typed it up from my writing without issue. And as for handwriting practice we're going to make simple worksheets - gives you a whole new perspective when you realize his current fine motor skills just do not lend themselves to the work expected.


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