Homeschooling Boys

When I agreed to present a session on Homeschooling Boys at the Wisconsin Parents Association’s annual conference, I had no idea I’d be speaking to a room of almost 100 people. And yet there they were, bright-faced at 8:30 AM on a Saturday morning, ready to share their concerns, insights and comments.

Ostensibly, I was the expert, but I learned from the conference attendees as well. I learned that parents of boys are hungry for information about boys’ mental, emotional and physical growth and development. I learned that they’re passionate in their quests to support their sons’ learning, and frequently frustrated with institutional educational settings that not-so-subtly imply that there must be something wrong with their sons. Many — if not most — homeschooling parents of boys have sent their sons to schools, but ended up bringing them back home because school wasn’t working out. Either the school squashed their sons’ natural love of learning or deemed their sons deficient. Too often, boys who have a hard time sitting down, reading or writing are labeled as troublemakers, slow learners or hyperactive children. Rarely does the school take responsibility for creating an environment that fails to respect the basics of boy behavior and biology.

I also learned that parents of boys grapple with many of the same questions. Over and over again, I heard the same three concerns:

  1. Boys’ predilection to violence and guns. Seeing little boys shoot each other as they play War is unsettling, especially to parents who came of age post-Columbine. Our society is understandably jittery about violence and gun play, and for good reason. But boys have been fascinated with violence forever, and guns, ever since they were invented. Fortunately, a lot of good research suggests that violent play (including gun play) may actually be healthy for boys.
  2. Boys’ difficulty with writing. Most boys are reluctant writers. Part of that reluctance is biologic: Boys’ fine motor skills develop at a slower pace than girls’, so holding a pencil and forming letters on a page truly can feel like torture to a young boy. The parents I talked to, though, had some innovative ideas for encouraging boys to write. Ever thought of picking up postcards as souvenirs everywhere you go, and asking your boys to jot down their favorite memories of the day? Postcards are much less intimidating than big sheets of paper!
  3. Boy’s apparent lack of interest in reading. Boys in general are not avid readers. But right there, in the middle of my session, sat a young boy reading, Diary of a Wimpy Kid. If your son is reluctant to read, read to him. Check out non-fiction books on topics of his interest. And try comics. After my session, I attending one about learning through comics. In years past, comics were ridiculed as fluff, but for some kids, comics can inspire a whole tidal wave of learning. One homeschooled student even learned Japanese as a result of her love of manga.

Do you agree with my list? What are your top concerns about your sons?

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“I learned a lot about helping boys thrive over the past 20+ years — most of it the hard way! I’m eager to share what I’ve learned to make your path a little easier.”   – Jennifer

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19 Responses

  1. Thank you for putting this excellent question out there.

    I see my world becoming one of “a battle for my son’s souls.”

    We have 3 boys: and everywhere you turn are ads with tempting women, all over the place: TV, movies, magazines, the internet.

    We must work to teach respect for women, for virtue, and for sexuality. It is a gift, not a right, for the taking.

    I’ve talked to my 15 yr old about this. My 13 yr old is clear on my stance. I have an 8 yr old left to broach this subject.

    It is important. It is difficult when there are teen age girls in the neighborhood wearing the shortest shorts I’ve ever seen.

    How is he ever to concentrate on anything else when all this is around?

    I begin my the many examples in the bible of God’s respect for women. And that we live by God’s rules.

    Thank you!

  2. My kids don’t watch violent tv or play violent games (their daddy does after they go to bed)….once or twice I’ve found them on a free game website playing a game I’m not happy with and I just ask them to switch. They know what guns are, daddy hunts, but they don’t play gun games….I can’t help but think it has a bit to do with the fact that they are still afraid of movies like “Spiderman” at 8, 6 and 4. They just haven’t been exposed…..
    Don’t get me wrong – we watch TV here, my kids love cartoons, nature shows, destroyed in seconds, how it’s made, dirty jobs, magic school bus, cooking shows….but with no exposure to violence…..

  3. Jennifer,
    You nailed the top 3 concerns. Yes, they are concerns but from a mom with older boys (21 and 14), love them for their innate desires and don’t criticize when they try. If they want to try to read graphic books, get these types of books at the library. Encourage, encourage and encourage some more.

  4. I agree with your list. My 9 year old is hitting us up hard for an air-soft gun right now! Just when you’ve made peace with the Nerf guns and archery set…..oh well! It IS natural, and it IS normal, and they are having fun. I strongly believe we need to honor and take seriously each request. I am careful not to send my boys messages that could be construed as “I don’t approve of your desires or intersts”.

  5. Homeschooling is something I’ve wanted to do for the last few years. My oldest son is only 8 and as a certified elementary teacher (but working for a lawyer), I know how the classrooms can be and I can see everyday how his learning is hindered having to wait for everyone else to catch up. Luckily he developed a strong love for both reading and writing in the beginning. He plays video games now, but I wouldn’t allow him to have a Nintendo DS or anything like until he learned to read. He understood, focuses on part one and on his 7th birthday, he got a DS. By then he read so much that the DS just replaced his TV watching. Books line his shelves and he also LOVES comic books. Some may call it fluff – I call it inspiration. He is now creating his own comics, writing his own stories, and actually wrote and acted a two man play for me for mother’s day. I feel pretty lucky that these areas are strong for him and I wander how much stronger they could be if I could homeschool him.

    My 4 year old will be a different story. He loves books, but has grown up with the video games his brother plays. He’ll be tougher to convince – it’ll be a small experiment for me. I also worry about the violence (gun play is not allowed in my house) but I’m trying to lighten up some and observe how they handle it before I snuf it out.

    By the way – I love your background and header 🙂

  6. Great Stuff! Boys and Girls are often on totally different tracks when it comes to learning. Kids learn what they are ready to learn when they are ready- Our job is to guide them being ready.

    Physically Activity helps the learning process- My boys would often be doing flips & Spins and hanging upside while I read to them and taught them. They would often take lots of mini breaks to run around or wrestle.

    **We just got home from a weekend of Sword Fighting Games with the boys. it is awesome!

  7. Yes, you got it. The teachers don’t seem to embrace the idea that all kids are different and some come to writing and reading later than others. I am not trying to make excuses though…some kids just need a little more time.

  8. I have always been of the school of thought that boys will be boys, even as a child when I travelled I noticed the similarity in play between my cousin back home and the boys in the rural mountains of Spain where no one had TV’s. This became reinforced when I observed my friends son ( who had a strict no violent toy policy) take a stick and use it as a toy gun including “phew phew” sound effect, but only after looking to make sure mom was not in sight! I believe that there have now been extensive studies that prove that active battle play ( which our society has labeled violent) among boys is actually healthy and that in turn a thwarting of such behavior is harmful.

  9. I haven’t read the book yet but my husband keeps telling me to get on it, especially if I’m planning to homeschool… its the book called Wild at Heart. About boys and men and I think mostly marriage about how men are naturally these wild creatures but its not at all in a bad way. It talks about how violence such as fighting can be a good thing for a male. A clear example it gives that I skimmed over was boys needing to feel dominance (and its a sure struggle for me as my little man’s mom lol) so when a father roughes up his little boy that he is giving him a challenge and a good father will hold the battle on and of course pin his little buckaroo on the carpet but he also lets that little boy of his tackle and tame big ol’ Daddy. 🙂 Boys then feel like big strong warriors and it is a real self esteem boost for him. On the days when I want my kid to sit down and do paperwork, he is much more interested in doing so once he and his Dad have played and he’s gotten to beat his Daddy at the end of it. Its a real curious thing these men in our life…

  10. I haven’t read “Wild at Heart” yet, but from your description, it sounds interesting. There definitely is something to a) the need for physical play and b) the struggle for dominance in males. As a moms — who have never felt such urges — it can be hard to understand the persistence and importance of those drives, but in my experience, the more you can respect your sons’ innate needs and desires, the healthier your sons, your family and your relationship will be. Good luck!

  11. I agree with the big three you mentioned and am just learning about another one, which is tied to EQ.

    My son is a pre-teen, and there is an intense biological drive that I have noticed in he and his friends. Hierarchy and the drive for power and popularity. Heirarchy amongst the group of boys he has hung out with for years is affecting his state of mind a great deal, which in turn is affecting his ability to learn well. His need to belong, to be accepted, to feel included, to feel secure, and to feel important are all tied to hierarchy.

    Here’s what my son needs in order to “fit in”, “be liked”, “be cool”, etc…:

    you should not cry, or show much emotion

    you should play sports and be physically strong

    you should have kissed a girl by about 10 or 11

    you should exude confidence and ease in social situations

    (there are more that I’m not privy to….yet)

    My son is currently not at the top of the hierarchy and the emotional lessons he (and his parents!) is learning are intense. I thought he would be more insulated from this dynamic in our small, liberal, artistic town. boy, was I wrong!!

  12. @Andrea — You bring up some excellent points. The drive for hierarchy is one I’ve definitely noticed as well, in boys and men of all ages. (The expression changes, but the drive is still there)

    You also brought up a point I haven’t fully thought about yet — the kissing! My 2nd son is now 11…

  13. Hey, Jennifer, I loved your article. Boys are so different – but fun to homeschool. We just need to realize we’ve been institutionalized by being brought up in public school ourselves – and stop trying to teach our boys the same way that we were taught.

    Check out my website: if you’d like to see some of the research and ideas that I’ve come up with.

    Michelle Caskey

  14. Jennifer, I found this post Googling “homeschooling boys” and read the whole thing before realizing that YOU wrote it! We plan to homeschool our son, who is now 3, and I was wondering how homeschooling is different for boys, who, it seems, can’t sit down for more than a few minutes. Thanks for the post!

    1. How funny, Linda! I’m so glad you found it. Homeschooling boys is kind of my “thing.” Feel free to email me with any questions. I love to talking about boys and learning.

    2. Thanks so much! You already answered one of my concerns — that my son is obsessed with guns and lasers. 🙂 Would love to contact you with questions. We plan to start officially homeschooling in the Fall, when he would normally be enrolled in preschool.

      Thanks also for the info on Home Education Magazine…I’ll also be sure to mention that in the resources sidebar for the Kiwi article (which is for the September issue).

      Also, would love to include you…I’m doing a sidebar on “What homeschooling moms wish non-homeschooling parents knew.” Would you like to comment? If so, how can I e-mail you?

  15. By the way…I’m also working on an article on homeschooling for Kiwi! I’m finding so much interesting stuff out there as I do my research and interview people.

    1. It’s fascinating, isn’t it? What I love the most is the flexibility to find what works for your son and your family. Have you found Home Education Magazine yet? It’s a fantastic resource.

      Let me know when your article comes out. I’d love to read it.

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