Traditional schools can be torturous for young boys: sitting still for long periods, being quiet, doing lots of worksheets . . . The typical American classroom is not the ideal learning environment for our sons, especially in the early grades. With that in mind, we don’t need to replicate a “regular” school when homeschooling boys. We need to harness the incredible energy of our boys and channel it in a way that makes learning fun.
Try these top ten ways to engage your sons’ minds and help them want to learn.
Let them move. Play a variety of music and let them dance. Their dancing may look more like running and chasing, but it lets the wiggles out so they can concentrate again. Anything you can do to have regular wiggle breaks is good. Allow them to run laps or do jumping jacks between subjects. Laughing and giggling are also good releases. Tell jokes, make faces, and be silly.
Make it a game. Let them write on white boards instead of paper and teach them jingles with hand motions and dance moves. Anything you can do to make it fun will work.
Let them choose what to do next. Boys love being in charge and directing part of their day, so give them two subjects from which to choose. Be flexible. If you are planning to tackle a topic and your boys start chanting that they want to dance or if they are bursting with energy, be willing to shelve your own agenda momentarily. After their wiggle break, they will have an easier time focusing on what you say.
Give them hands-on activities. Boys love to build, cut, and create anything to get their hands dirty. Build block cities, create papier-mâché and clay exploding volcanoes, dig in the dirt to uncover archaeological artifacts, or learn about measurements by baking. Your boys will never want to stop learning when you present it in this manner.
Give them rewards. Give your boys something to look forward to, especially when they are tackling a task that isn’t a favorite, such as writing, sitting, listening, or being quiet. Have a visible candy basket on hand for motivation. Let them put stickers on the top of their pages when they do good work. It is always extra fun when you have a treat such as peanuts to toss into their open mouths when they give a correct answer.
Throw away the worksheets. Most boys take longer to master writing skills. Since written work doesn’t come as easily for boys, many will balk as soon as they see you pull out a worksheet. Let them do most of their answers orally when they are young. Let them dictate the answers to you while you write them down. Boys usually prefer filling in notebooks or doing longer assignments. Buy them nice, leather-bound journals to create something lasting, and their attitudes will change. Let them draw pictures and dictate their experiences to you to make journals. They can dictate stories, poems, or songs they have created. These items will become treasured keepsakes.
Create healthy competition. Ask questions, allowing your kids to go back and forth giving answers. Keep track of correct answers on a white board like a quiz show with lots of yelling and clapping when they give the right answers. Boys love to see who can get done first or who can do something the best. Tailor these competitions so the younger siblings have an opportunity to compete on their own level. Use a timer so your son can see how quickly he can complete a task competing against himself.
Allow experimentation. Don’t simply read the information from a book—allow your son to discover it for himself. Do an experiment first, and then read about it. Your sons will listen more closely when they have that visual picture in their minds. Show them how colors mix and change with water and food coloring, let them see what sinks and floats in the bathtub, and let them plant seeds and watch them grow. The messier these experiments are, the more they will enjoy and remember them.
Play music to make learning stick. Riding in the car is a great learning opportunity. Listen to books on tape, science facts put to silly music, or Bible verses put to song; the possibilities are endless. You will find that running errands is more pleasant when your son’s mind is engaged. Squabbles don’t normally take place unless kids are bored. Take advantage of car time!
Let them outside. Boys have a ton of energy, and they need to burn some of that every day. Fresh air and exercise will do wonders for them. Even in the winter, they need time outdoors for undirected play. Bundle them up and send them outside with a sled and a shovel. You will be amazed at what they discover to entertain themselves.
Our sons are intelligent, motivated, and bursting with energy, which is exactly how God made them. Reach them where they are, direct their energy, and you will be amazed at how quickly they learn. Before long, your sons will be asking why they aren’t doing school on Saturdays.
Michelle Caskey is a homeschooling mom and the author of several homeschooling publications including Learn & Grow: Hands-On Lessons for Active Preschoolers and Teach Me About God: Hands-On Bible Lessons for Active Preschoolers. For more information about these books visit her website at www.homeschool-your-boys.com.
—Originally published in the “God’s Word Does Not Return Void” issue (May/June 2009) of Homeschooling Today magazine.