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Boy, Oh Boy

Advice on Homeschooling an All Boy Family

By Pam Powers

Looking around at the kids at park day recently I realized that all the children in our group were boys, with the exception of one girl (who has two brothers). In our homeschool co-op boys outnumber girls, especially as we get into the upper high school grades. Homeschoolers I meet through friends tend to have more boys than girls as well. What is it about boys that make homeschooling so appealing?

For one thing, there's that "busy" factor. Boys like to move and they like to be tactile. In a classroom that translates to "disruptive". At home it can be a huge blessing – you can do projects and create different ways of learning that will help the lessons sink in without all the writing required by a conventional school. As the mother of two very different boys, I have found all kinds of ways to keep the lessons moving along without sacrificing education or interest. For the sake of example, I'll refer to my boys as Mr. Dream (my older son) and Mr. Fidget (the younger one). Both are obedient, but both have created challenges of their own with regard to homeschooling. The key to my personal success is consequences – boys who do a poor job the first time have the opportunity to try again (and again and again). Sometimes that means that they have to miss out on the next thing that's fun, so we find that they will put a little more effort in the first time. Here's my home-grown recipe for success:

Elementary Years

Manipulatives are your best friend: magnets, stacking blocks, marbles, and you-name-it. I kept a small box filled with drawers of manipulatives that I'd rotate each day. When chores and breakfast were finished, I'd put a box of manipulatives on the table. This lured my busy boys to the table, where I'd let them play and investigate for about 15 minutes. Then we segue into devotions and schooling – we've never had a time when the response has been "awwww…." because I never called them to school. They ended up coming on their own. If they dawdled, they lost time with the manipulatives, so they learned to check in at the kitchen table early. After a few weeks of this, it became routine for the boys to come to the table automatically on time. This type of thing works just as well for big boys as for little boys. The key is to keep them simple so that you don't have a frustrated older kid trying to make a fabulous K'nex item when it's time to put things away and pray.

Take Breaks. We would do lessons for two different subjects, then take a recess break, then do two more lessons, then lunch. Afternoons were spent doing active outdoor things, science experiments and play dates. We're lucky to have a community pool, a giant regional park across the street, and a huge coastline of sand and waves. I am willing to drive! For recess, we'd go out into our common area (we live in a townhome complex) and hop, skip, run, walk, scooter and play badminton. We'd take walks where the kids would spin to the next crack or jump to the big line in the sidewalk – easy fun things that cost nothing and require no additional items other than the arms and legs God gave them. A pull-up bar in the bedroom door frame was a great way for Mr. Dream to work on his upper body.

We rotated our lessons so that every day was different. We did math/spelling/reading every day, then rotated in science and history. I mixed up the math and spelling too – it wasn't always from a book. Once we took Hershey's kisses to the library and made arrays in the grass, then I scattered them for a chocolate hunt!

When sitting at the table, I'd frequently let Mr. Fidget hold something quiet, like a pink eraser or a bit of Silly Putty. He could finger it and keep himself busy while sitting still. If he began to bang it on the table or throw it, the consequence was to sit with his hands folded during the rest of the lesson. He only had to experience that twice before he caught on.

Mr. Dream was a little harder. He'd obediently look right at me, but then I'd find that his mind was a million miles away. If he'd been in a classroom, he'd be the kid staring out the window all day. A whiteboard was the best way to get him to focus – he enjoyed writing with different colored markers, so he did quite a bit of work "on the board", which helped him pay attention. I found that including him in the reading, having him look up places on the globe (or internet) or looking up pages in the book for us were other ways to keep him on track. We used to have a shelf in the kitchen where I'd put out items related to our study, and he liked to help arrange that, too.

In the early elementary years the read-aloud history program Story of the World kept it together for us. There are other programs that are similar, but that's the one we used. We'd read history aloud, snuggled on the couch together, and it was absolutely one of the best parts of our day. On Fridays we would try out a project from the book that accompanied the curriculum – one time we made the Nile river delta in a cookie sheet using fast-growing grass seed. That was really fun!

One thing my boys have loved more than anything else is our "days". Each semester we've planned an entire day centered on something we're studying, usually historical. We generally incorporate one or two other families so that we can interact and get info from other teaching moms. Some of the "days" we've had have included Colonial Day (where the kids took turns being Minute Men racing out to Liberty Tree in their leather jacket and tri-corn hat grasping their weapon and powder keg), African Day (where I borrowed artifacts through our local natural history museum's loan program and the kids made four kinds of peanut menu items), Greek Day (researched a god, dressed the part and delivered an oral report) and our favorite: Renaissance Day which included 10 other families and featured archery, the parade of banners and a major sword fight amongst the knights.

Yes, schooling requires drilling math facts and spelling words – there's no getting around it. Having something fun to look forward to really helps keep boys (and girls!) on track so that they're dutiful and obedient. And on those days where those boys just can't do it – can't sit still, can't write, can't do anything except squirm – then we get out the bikes, work out the kinks and snuggle back down on the couch for some read-aloud time.

Middle School

This is the year it gets more challenging. I have my kids on track for college, so that logically means we move away from most read-aloud opportunities into more of a textbook approach. We did utilize Guerber's histories, which is sort of upgraded Story of the World, but most of my children's work was independent.

By middle school most of the fidgets are gone, but the dreams are alive and well. Keeping Mr. Dream on task proved to be more and more difficult with things like techno music, computers and friends to think about. This is where networking with other homeschooling parents is SO important! Most of us have been there/done that in some way or another and I listened intently to the wisdom of those who had passed before me.

Since history was a big sticking point for Mr. Dream (who is only interested in the "now"), I had him create a web page as one of his projects. He was studying the life of Columbus at that time and had reached the place where Columbus travels to Italy. Mr. Dream created a web page advertising travel in the 15th century to Italy. I told him he needed to include items about accommodations, food, entertainment and transportation as well as include pictures.

His first attempt was a wash out and he "earned the opportunity" (my favorite expression) to try again. Two more tries later and he had a pretty good page. It even included some of his brand of dry humor such as "not responsible for aggressive Spanish ships". He included the items mentioned and later admitted that it had actually been fun to do since he got to use the computer for the whole thing. What he also learned was how to use Microsoft Publisher!

Some of the unschooling things we did in elementary years worked for middle school and some didn't. Doing math on the grass of the library didn't work for middle school, but an independent program the boys could use on their own computers worked great (Teaching Textbooks). Playing Rummy Roots still worked fine, but they did grumble when I taught them to say "go fish" in Latin and made them say it when we played the game. Quizzing each other on their spelling words worked out great and gave me the opportunity to rest on my laurels and do more laundry.

Keeping up with our weekly playgroup was very important during middle school years. Big boys like to play just as much as little boys, so we found parks to meet at that had long sidewalks for skateboarding, basketball nets for HORSE and big grassy areas for playing tag. Big boys also bring along things like potato guns, dry ice bombs and other groovy things they've made in their homeschool science classes. Little boys think they're wonderful!

High School

We are entering high school this year, so I'm definitely a newbie. The pattern we've laid down over the past few years will serve us well. One thing we've always enjoyed is homeschool co-op classes. We have been blessed with excellent programs near us with lots to choose from. This year Mr. Dream will be taking Physical Science (with labs) and Spanish I at our co-op which is run by a local Christian university. He'll be taught by people who know what they're doing in a very small group environment – there are only four kids in his Spanish class! That's perfect for my dreamy boy. There will be a lot of accountability (especially since the Spanish teacher is the mother of one of his close friends).

We are using a traditional curriculum with a few of our own ideas to spice things up a little. Since Mr. Dream really has a hard time getting on board with history, we're going with geography this year for 9th grade. Along with the traditional study of rivers and mountain ranges, I'm utilizing a book called The Material World which shows an "average" family from each country sitting outside their house with all their worldly possessions gathered around them. It is very affecting and will be a great way to introduce the culture of the world to my son. I want to open his eyes; no, I want HIM to open his eyes. I want him to grasp the big picture of the world and start to understand his place in it. He'll be starting his Eagle project this coming year, which will be another way for him to step outside his comfort zone and starting doing for others. I am really looking forward to his growth, which has been coming in tiny little spurts as of late. I'm ready for him to leap!

Giving this particular boy a boxed set of curriculum and turning him loose would work. He'd dutifully and obediently finish everything, but his heart wouldn't be in it and it would be phoned in. Finding ways to make the work he's doing personal to HIM is going to be the big key to get this boy successful. I am encouraging him to interact more with the scoutmasters in his troop, the leadership at our church and to depend on himself more to make his plans and schedule. It's a learning process for all of us, but the lessons we instill now will help him grow and mature. I've noticed he's been spending more time talking with his Dad lately, which is wonderful – it is appropriate for him to be moving away from Mama and more toward the men in his life.

Another thing which is making high school more valuable to Mr. Dream is our decision to enroll him in Apple Computer's one-on-one training at a local store. One hour a week Mr. Dream gets individual attention and tutoring from one of the knowledgeable staff. My son has a particular interest in learning the graphic and music programs, so he has been focused in that direction. A nice sideline is that our church uses these programs in the production arts ministry and Mr. Dream has begun to volunteer with them on a limited basis. I assign vocational credit for these classes, so we all win. Finding this avenue for my son's interest and talent has been an enormous boost for him. At a cost of $99/year, it's very affordable, too.

The most important piece of wisdom I can impart to any homeschooler is make sure your children buy into what you're doing. If you're a big fan of boxed curriculum because it's easy to choose, yet you have a very unique kid marching to his own drummer, you've got a recipe for failure. Better to spend the time investigating different programs to find the right fit for your child. I frequently find two or three things that I like, then give the kids a choice. They feel as if they're participating (which they are) and are far more likely to strive for success as a result. We've had a few things that just didn't work no matter what. LLATL in 3rd grade for Mr. Fidget seemed ideal, yet he hated it. All the bouncing around from reading to spelling back to writing to reading again on the same page threw him off and frustrated him. He wanted a workbook page for each subject! Surprise, surprise. I listened to him, investigated a bit more, and found curriculum that satisfied me as well as him. Oddly enough, the fidgets began to decrease as his "buying power" increased. He and I both found that he had a real need for control, and I was able to let him have it, within reason. Schooling really changed for us after that time and it keeps getting better and better.

Are all boys the same? No way. I have two in my own home that are night and day. Creating a different unique curriculum for each one is not something I'm prepared to do, so grouping them together in tactile activities has really worked for us. I hope some of these ideas work for you, too. If you have a child who is busy, who is inquisitive, who wants to talk all day long… welcome to the club! Channel it for good and raise the Godly man he's meant to be. Resources Related to This Article's Support Editorials for encouragement and advice!