As a mom of 4 boys, I can’t tell you the number of times I hear wonderful comments like “You are busy” and “You’ve got your hands full!” Well-meaning, I’m sure, but somewhat irritating. I like to add to the conversation with a cheery “AND I homeschool!” – complete with grin. There’s something that satisfies me as I watch their amazed reaction. Of course, that is usually followed up with comments along the lines of wondering if/when I get a break or why in the world I wouldn’t consider school just to take some me time.
Boys are busy. It’s a fact of life. At least for mine. At my house, boys tend to be loud, energy packed, rambunctious, a little less considerate of furniture than I’m happy about (poor couch!), and drawn to electronics in a somewhat concerning way. I can spend all day trying to teach them about the colour of the sky – only to find out the only thing they heard was that the Wii is off until school is over.
Lately I’ve heard from so many parents that they struggle with their sons to get their schoolwork done. It becomes a battle of wills, and usually – nobody wins. If this is you, I want you to know that you are not alone. I can’t even begin to tell you the amount of times my boys and I have butted heads over schoolwork. Seriously – writing a sentence or completing a few math problems shouldn’t be this complicated!
Here are a few ideas I’ve used to help make our school days with boys more effective.
- Start with exercise.
I’ve realized that movement in the morning gets us in a better frame of mind. In fact, there’s been several news articles lately that talk about the benefits of pre-lesson exercise in schools; students focus better and are able to complete their tasks. So, we do something exercise related. Simon Says, cranking some dance tunes, doing stretches, playing a Wii exercise game, following an exercise video – each of these has been part of these morning activities. Some of my more adventurous morning starters have included a sock ball fight (think all those misc socks left from the dryer, balled up and thrown at each other!) and balloon volleyball over a string tied between a railing and the TV stand and covered with a blanket for a net. It’s healthy and it’s helpful.
- Make it visual.
I’ve found that if my boys can SEE exactly what is expected out of them in a day, they are less prone to conflicting confrontations and are able to accomplish their tasks quickly. They know what is expected out of them and it makes it easy for them to complete it all. Some ways to make it visual are to:
- post a day’s schedule with all the subjects and chores listed
- use clip-on pockets with pictures/words
- make a chart with picture cards
- have a checklist for the day on paper and have them cross or check it off when completed
For my boys one year, I used clipboards with white board paper stuck on them divided into squares with permanent marker. Each morning, I filled the squares with picture cards that I created and printed from a website www.mrsriley.com. On the back of each card, I printed a checkmark then laminated each card. I just used sticky tack to hold the cards in place. When they finished their activity – be it math, spelling, or a chore – they simply flip over the card and see the checkmark. Once all the cards were flipped over, they are finished all my expectations for the day and are free to move onto whatever they’d like. This method worked very well when they were in the early school years.
Now that 3 of them are older, we’ve moved onto daily checklists where I have a list for the day with pages that they need to complete in their workbooks, activities and chores to do, etc. Then they just do their independent work and can check off when complete. Again – keeps us all on task and helps to make sure we’ve completed our lesson plans for the day.
- Let them choose.
My boys seem much better able to complete a task if they feel that they have some sense of control on the order of their tasks for the day. By choosing what they want to finish first or last, they are actively making choices to accomplish their list. As long as everything gets done – they can decide if they want to do chores first, in the middle, or last. They can opt for science then spelling or the other way around. It’s up to them. Within reason.
- Break it up.
Sitting at a table for a long extended period of time makes even ME irritable. I don’t want to be there all day. There’s a ton of other things I’d rather be doing. So, how can I expect my boys to? Give them lots of breaks – especially if there’s tension mounting. Give 10 minute breaks (or whatever works best). I find that after a 10 minute break we have had enough time to diffuse tension, refocus on what we need to finish, and can sit still again for a bit. Sometimes our breaks are just for free time – go play Lego, go pretend to defeat some bad guys, go grab a snack. Sometimes our breaks are challenges like “Run down to the basement, touch the wall, run all the way up to your bedroom, touch your bed, do it again, then report back to me!” That usually ends up with lots of laughter and a renewed sense of productivity.
- Make it active.
My boys seem to have springs in their legs. How they manage to keep up THAT level of energy from the moment they wake up til the moment they sleep (and sometimes even then!), I will never fully understand. (I often muse about the financial gains of figuring out how to bottle said energy into some sort of marketable method….). They seem to NEED to move. So, I’m learning to make things active by doing things like:
- Spelling out loud on a trampoline.
- Sitting on a bouncy exercise ball while working.
- Jump on word/letter flashcards.
- Standing up at the table to do their math books.
- Try a Hands-On Approach
If they can do it – they learn it. Boys seem to have the need to involve their bodies in some way to best understand what they are learning. Use what you can while you are teaching. Math manipulatives. Crafts. Science demonstrations. Models. Rube Goldberg machines. Costumes and re-enactments. Let things get messy. Be creative here. Here’s a question I like to think: “What would the MythBusters do?” Short of blowing things up with C4, of course.
- Use their natural interests.
What does your boy love? Lego? Computers? Video Games? Sports? Hot Wheels? Mud puddles? Use that love for your advantage. I don’t mean take the thing they love and make them hate it because it’s now a “school” item. I mean see what you can use their interests for to work with your lesson plans. For example, if you have a kid who would spend all day with his Lego box, think of all the things you can use it for:
- math (as counters, patterns, addition and subtraction problems, designing 3d shapes),
- history (make pyramids, boats, weaponry, etc),
- art (creative designing and building, colour recognition),
- language (put letter stickers on the sides and make words, building letters),
- science (sink or float).
Take a look online for some great ideas on how to make this interest part of your school day!
- Get outside.
Someone once told me to consider having boys like having a dog. You have to walk your dog every day for its health. Same deal with boys. They NEED that time outside to be free, explore, get messy, run, scream, move, etc. Try to make it a part of your every day. I know for myself this is a struggle. I don’t REALLY want to go out when it’s wet or cold or insanely hot, but the boys love experiencing all that different weather. It’s important to push my disinterest aside and make it happen.
- Just Breathe.
Even with every tool in your toolbox, you need to remember that not every day is going to be perfect. Taking a day off to just be together, spending a whole day outside, skipping “school”, are valid days! Just breathe. Relax. Enjoy your boys.
Remember to spend some quiet time for yourself – whether that be getting up a little early to start the day with peace or sending the kids down to start breakfast on they own or taking time to read a good book in the middle of the day or checking your Facebook page while the kids play. Just to recharge the batteries – because let’s face it. Boys are like the Energizer Bunny.
As a Boy Mom, I have a lot to learn, a long way to go, and know that even the best laid plans of success can blow up in my face at any point – possibly literally given my boys’ interests in explosions. The key is to find ways to make your homeschooling days easier, more enjoyable, and in their best interest. Hopefully these few tips can help!
Note: Don’t get me wrong! Girls have their ability to fall into these traits too! I know because I was one. Just ask my mom. I was the kid jumping on the neighbour’s deep freezer, riding my bike down the driveway and trying to jump off ramps, digging in the dirt, and destroying the house. But my parenting experience is currently limited to my life with boys – so I apologize in advance for any bias I appear to have. Rest assured – I mean nothing disrespectful by referring to teaching boys. All ideas and suggestions are applicable to any homeschooled child. 🙂
This post originally appeared in the Homeschool Horizons Magazine in 2011. It does contain affiliate links.