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.