Tips for Teaching Boys

This may come as a surprise to you, but I was trusted with the minds of boys this year. It’s true. I was. Our family belongs to a Commonwealth in our area, and I was given the task/opportunity to lead the 10-12 y/o boys class this year.  I’m not going to lie. I don’t think the moms knew exactly who they were getting when I was given this job. Trusting me with the minds of growing boys? I don’t know. It was a questionable call, in my opinion. 😉 BUT! I had so much fun!!  I think the boys did too because they were sad I’m not teaching next year. SUCCESS!! At least as far as I’m concerned it was a success. 🙂 Anyway. I am frequently on the receiving end of questions like, “What do you do for homeschool?” and “My son just isn’t motivated. What do you do with your son?” and “Do you just read all the time?” and “My son doesn’t really like to listen. How do you get yours to listen?”  Well, as our year at Commonwealth is over, I just want to give you some highlights of what we did that might help answer these questions. For the record, my boy (the one with ASD) was in the class as well, and he did amazing things.  And (CONFESSION) he doesn’t like to listen either. HA! 🙂

First, I want to say that I just love young boys. They are so energetic and strong-willed. I love the way their minds work. When I started leading this class, I had absolutely no intention to change that or to force them to do anything. Nobody likes being forced. Nobody likes being told they have to be a certain way. And honestly? The energy that young boys has is a very special thing. I wanted to use that to help the class be great. Believe me when I tell you that these boys would come into the room just bursting with this overwhelming urge to do. Each was very different from the others, but all had it…that need to be active. The first thing they would say at the beginning of each class was, “What are we going to do today?” So here’s a list of some of the things that I think are the most important to remember when you are homeschooling boys this age and some of the ways I implemented them.

Remember It’s Their Class, Not Yours

I came into the class knowing what material I would be covering throughout the two semesters. That was my job. But can you remember what it was like to just be to told that you were going to learn about something? I can. My general thoughts and feelings went something like this, “Blaaaaaaaahhhh.” What if the little minds that were entrusted to you wanted to learn something? What if their class was actually their class?  Every human being on this earth learns more when they have the desire to do so and some control over their learning or environment. So the first thing I did was give them the chance to write their own class motto. I called the class Freedom Fighters because we would be studying the Civil War the first semester and American Indians the second. So on the first day we talked about what it meant to be a Freedom Fighter. They all had their own ideas. They then wrote the motto based on their ideas. Creativity, thought, discussion, teamwork…all these things were done the very first day. The best part was that none of them balked at doing any of that work. Why? Because what they were creating was theirs. I don’t think even they knew why they all cooperated so well and were eager to create this. After it was written they were each so proud of their contribution. Here’s their motto:

FREEDOM FIGHTERS MOTTO

We are Freedom Fighters!

We are Loyal.

We are Brave.

We are True at all times.

We do our best to Give Help to those who need it.

We strive to live Heroic and Awesome lives.

We follow the Lord at all times, in all things, in all places.

Pretty cool, right? I was so proud of them for writing that. It set the tone for the whole year.

Give Them Autonomy and They Will Grow

bridgebuildingAutonomy is pretty much the most important part of guiding/teaching/leading boys at this age, in my humble (and decidedly correct) opinion. 🙂 Autonomy is the power to govern oneself, whether that be an individual, group, country, or whatnot. I decided that these boys needed to be able to have as much control over this class as possible. This does at least two very important things. The first thing it does is free them from an unending list of requirements set by others. The second thing it does is teach them how to use their freedom to become leaders (another reason for the class name). Each semester every boy had the chance to present their own activity/project/whatever to the other boys and lead them in it. It was awesome! (They also wanted treats and agreed they would all take turns bringing them. Boys and food, you know!) We played Civil War bingo where they grew familiar with words and language about the Civil War. We built bridges out of toothpicks and marshmallows after we had discussed the building and destruction of bridges during the war. We used legos to construct forts and other military equipment. We had marshmallow gun wars!! Half of our guns were gray (for the South) and half were blue (for the North). We built canoes from paper. We created clay pots. We played games that the Indian children would play. We made miniature bows and arrows. Seriously, people. When boys get the chance to lead the class they shine. It was great practice for them in giving and receiving instruction to their peers, planning, patience, and responsibility. We had some of the best times in class when they led. And everyone learned each time.

Sometimes the only thing they learned was patience with themselves because something was harder for them than it was for somebody else. Sometimes they learned a whole new concept they hadn’t even considered prior to that day. Sometimes they learned how to get along. Those marshmallow gun wars were huge for teaching the boys how to win and how to lose and how to handle a disagreement. Everyone was valued and respected. Were the boys perfect? No. There were times I or the other parent/co-leader had to remind them of certain manners and correct behaviors. They were pretty rare though. The learning in this class thrived because they had so much control over it. They were not the same boys at the end of the year that they were at the beginning. They had all grown more confident. That is entirely different than arrogance. Confidence is a sureness of oneself. They all had so much more by the end.

Supply the Motivation

Minie BallsI realize that I haven’t addressed motivation. Maybe I should have started with it. Nevertheless, here it is toward the end. Sometimes in life we all need something to motivate us, some happy destination at the end of the long road. Sure, there are times when just the knowledge that you have grown is all you need. It isn’t always like that though. We go through phases. This phase for young boys is a whole heck of a lot easier if they know they are earning something at the end. These boys did have some requirements for the class. I had a book for them to read each month that we discussed at the end of the month. The list of books for the two semesters was:

Mr. Lincoln’s Drummer by G. Clifton Wisler

Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman by Dorothy Sterling

The Last Brother: A Civil War Tale by Trinka Hakes Noble

Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims by Clyde Robert Bulla

Naya Nuki: Shoshoni Girl Who Ran by Kenneth Thomasma 

Children of the Longhouse by Joseph Bruchac

Testing the BowOne book a month.  That is what I was asking of them.  Of course, they still had their own homeschool things to do as well that their families were doing.  So why would they read these books on top of that?  Here’s the thing. I told the boys up front that if they read all the books they would earn a legitimate Minié ball from the Civil War. If you want to know more about what that is, go here.  Anyway. I told them what it was and showed them my own Minié ball that I had purchased for myself while visiting Tennessee for my brother’s wedding last summer. Apparently people go searching the fields for those things to sell them for a few bucks. Anyway, I am pleased to report that every single boy read those books, and they were thrilled to receive their own Minié balls! The second semester I promised them bows of their own. Yes. I gave the boys legitimate bows that actually work that Mr. Fantastic and I created. They are pretty cool, if I do say so myself…and I do. 😉 Better than that, though, were the discussions we had about each book. They each had a perspective that was valuable and unique. Their questions were insightful. They asked hard questions, especially about humanity. I loved those discussions.  And you know what else? They had no problem sitting around discussing them. Why? Because they read them. Everyone has opinions about what they read and internalize.

Something to motivate these young guys, something they would actually want, is a powerful tool in their learning. Why? Because then they want it. They dedicate themselves to learning because they want what comes at the end. They each become driven and goal oriented. It’s a truly beautiful thing to behold. It all goes back to the “Why?” question. If they have a “why”, they will do great things for it. Everyone needs a “why” to do something, but especially to apply themselves to learning.

Don’t Talk! Not Really. Just Don’t Talk Too Much

TePee Kit
The kits we used to construct the tepees

Now here’s the deal. I did actually have to present material. I think it’s incredibly important, however, to really limit the amount of time you spend talking to them. I usually had a 10 minute “lecture”, and then we did some sort of learning activity. Keeping the lectures interactive as well as brief was another important goal of mine. If they had a lot of questions, it would go a little longer. But I always tried to do an activity that would somehow relate to what we discussed. We did things like make ink out of berries, make our own quills to write with, made our own drums (where they had to treat a fabric to make it sturdy for drum use), learned Civil War military talk and marches, made teepees out of real leather, created story rocks, etc. We did a lot of fun things that helped them internalize it all. We had an obstacle course that they ran and we timed (to be like soldiers). The goal was to beat your own time. SO FUN!!! We also did this awesome relay race that the American Indians (Mandan) did a lot. They divided into teams and ran. I had them run to a certain point and back to their team to tag the next runner. But here’s the deal. The Indians didn’t just quit after one round. They kept going until one team quit. They either decided they were too far behind to catch up or they grew too tired. I honestly thought the boys would only do it for a few minutes, tops. They ran their guts out for 15 minutes!! I kid you not! Those kids have heart. I finally called it because class was coming to an end. Clearly, the activities and whatnot don’t need to be elaborate. The just need to be fun. Nothing is more motivating than fun for young boys.

Be Flexible

feats of strengthHere’s the deal. I like to have control. I like to predict what is coming and what will follow. It comforts me. If you have accepted the challenge to influence young minds, you need to let the idea of control go…mostly. Things happen. Moods happen. Weather happens. Crisis happens. You have to be able to let go and adjust. Confession? Sometimes when I could tell that they were restless, I would stop what was happening and we would have Contests of Strength. Yes. We would. And I made it all up as we went along, taking suggestions from the boys, of course, too. Yes. We would spend around 15 minutes or so performing feats of strength and agility. Sometimes they requested it in place of something else. It was hard to let go of my plans, but it always worked better. Sometimes I would assure them we could do it after something else was done. You just have to roll with it and really feel the vibe of the day.

So those are the things I think are the most important points to remember when you have young boys under your instruction. I really don’t think it matters if you are homeschooling, leading Cub Scouts/Boy Scouts, mentoring a church group…whatever. I really believe implementing these principles/ideas will enhance the entire experience and make it more profitable for the kids. Is it a little exhausting? Yes. Boys typically require so much energy from their teachers/leaders/mentors. But they are so much fun!! More importantly, though, they are worth the expenditure. Raising young men to be men of strength, good character, and strong morals is worth the energy required.

Take It, and Be Thankful

 

P.S. I wanted to mention something. I know it’s hard to be creative sometimes (all the time for me!). There is a series of books that have helped me greatly with that. It’s the 21 Activities books. They have them for all sorts of subjects and time periods. The one I used with the boys this year was called Civil War for Kids: A History with 21 Activities. All of them that I have used have been great though. Just a suggestion. We also read Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco and Hiawatha and the Peacemaker by Robbie Robertson. I’m not saying you have to use all these books in these subjects, but I highly recommend them. They’re wonderful.

 

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