I've been thinking again about differences between how young boys and young girls learn, and how these differences affect how we schedule our lives. There is still that questions of what is 'nature' versus 'nurture'. For example, our boys are extremely active. There is never a day that we do not go out for a walk, and on most days we have two walks one of which will be at least three miles long. If we don't have this level of activity, the boys seem to struggle to focus, there is a deterioration in standards of discipline and obedience, and things are just generally difficult. But is that because we have trained them to need this amount of time out of doors being active, or is it because they have a genuine biological need? And does that question really matter anyway?
Reading around the area, I've found some interesting evidence on how brain structure and activity differs between the sexes. This article is really useful. A PET scan is Positron Emission Tomography - it is used to determine which parts of the brain are most active during different tasks. So you could put a child in the scanner, and ask them to complete a verbal task and watch which parts of the brain light up. It is a relatively new technique and seems to be shedding a lot of genuine biological light into what parents and teachers have recognised for generations. Based on these, and other findings, leads some to recommend that schools educate boys and girls separately for educational (rather than social) reasons.
I have often been frustrated by the numbers of my friends' boys who are given a 'label' or diagnosis, when it seems that they simply have a normal, healthy, lively child who needs to have his energies focussed and channelled. Indeed, I read somewhere (cannot remember the source right now) that 25% of primary age boys in the UK are diagnosed with some degree of Special Educational Need, such as Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder. It frustrates me especially because I can see how my own boys might risk such labels if they were expected to sit in a classroom for a whole day, with no fresh air and minimal opportunities for running around or choosing which activity they would like to focus on.
Several Home Schoolers have written helpful articles and blogs on how to bring the very best out of boys, tapping into all their talents, using their energy and creativity to enhance other subjects, and generally bringing them up to be men of the future. At 'The Encouraging Home', Mary Glendenin summarises 'must haves for homeschooling boys'. I've reached many of the same conclusions and have a similar approach in many ways, and wish I had read this post earlier. I particularly like the way she is honest about how being physical, getting grubby, being continually on the move and embracing non-traditional educational opportunities does not necessarily come naturally to her. Parenting is in many respects an act of sacrifice. It is not about 'me', about 'my needs', 'my choices', 'my preferences'. It is about using all our God-given resources to honour our calling to raise our children well in the midst of a godless generation. And I admit, that there are days when I would much rather curl up on the sofa with a massive pile of books than put on my waterproofs and go out in the freezing cold, but it is what my children need!
Once again, as I consider these things I am grateful for the choices we have made to homeschool. It is not always easy. There are days which are physically exhausting. Some days they can seem very focussed and do the more 'traditional' educational activities such as drawing, writing, being read to, playing games etc, but there are other days when they seem like unfocussed bundles of restless energy. My middle son can be particularly trying and perplexing at times - he will refuse to do things (such as writing) when he is quite capable when in the right mood, and there are other times when he cries and seems very upset and frustrated and we cannot work out why. Some days, we can see real breakthroughs and little by little he is gaining confidence. But I shudder to think of how he would be in a mainstream school without the individual attention, patience, gentleness and love that he needs.
It is often on the days that I find hardest, the days when I am tempted to think, 'I wish somebody else could step in here', or 'surely anybody could do this better than I am', that I realise that in fact these are the days when it is most important of all that we have the consistency, discipline, but also love and patience that the children need. And I do not imagine that our children are so very different from boys across the world.
I'd be interested to hear your comments about educating young boys!
- I am a Christian mother of five, and our highest goal as a family is to serve God in every aspect of our lives. Jesus promised His disciples 'life in all its abundance' (John 10:10) - that has been our story, a rich life, not devoid of challenges, but certainly abundant. Previously writing at www.homeeducationnovice.blogspot.com, we have come to realise that education is just one area where our faith shapes our choices and direction in life. This blog seeks to share our adventure.