Teaching Boys: Ten Ways to Engage Young Sons

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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!
  10. 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.

By Michelle Caskey

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

About the author  ⁄ Homeschooling Today

8 Comments

  • Reply
    Joy
    May 22, 2012

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Stephanie
    May 22, 2012

    As a mom of 3 sweet boys, I can attest that these are very good ideas! Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    May 22, 2012

    This was sort of described in #4, but I would phrase it differently.

    Most of the movement-is-allowed activities tend to separate “school” learning from movement. COMBINE them. Make movement HOW they learn – such as the archaeological digs and other ideas suggested; but also get the boys in the kitchen making lunch and setting the table; they can be the errand boys (especially if a family business is involved).

    Our Montessori materials encourage lots of movement – and the further the child is from the storage of the materials to the place where he is working on them, the better; because he has to do lots of movement to carry ONE thing at a time. When we lay out our long chains (bead chains that represent the cubes of numbers) and we are practicing skip counting, they actually JUMP up AND down the numbers while skip counting.

    But we do want to provide a balance of totally free movement; sitting still and working restfully (my son calls it snuggle time even when he’s working – as long as he is next to me he will sit still and work); and learning/working/moving all at once.

    This way, it’s all part of life, not divided into segments of “now I am learning” and “now I am moving”. Both happen at once :)

  • Reply
    Jenny
    May 22, 2012

    Wow! Seems like Hot wheels can fulfill all of the above for my boys!

    Not so sure about how to pull off the worksheet thing though! We bought our curriculum (boxed) so that I did not have to make everything individualized.

    DH wanted it that way– let’s not forget to tell all the moms out there that our hubbies are the administrators of our homeschools and they get to choose the curriculum, even if it proves to not be the greatest fit all the time!
    We have to make it fit, like we have to fit our meals into a budget, we have to fit our creativity into what our husbands have chosen for our families.

    • Reply
      Kara Murphy
      May 22, 2012

      Hi, Jenny. That’s an interesting perspective. Do you mean that your husband wants your sons to fill out every workbook page in your curriculum, or that he wants you to follow a “standardized” scope and sequence for your learning? (I suspect the latter.) I ask that because when I taught in a classroom the school administrator dropped off a big stack of textbooks and workbooks, but I didn’t see those materials as restricting me, but as a catalyst for even greater learning. We had certain topics we had to cover in a year, but I was not limited to only the materials in the curriculum. Boxed curriculum can be a great jumping off point, especially if it begins with a strong Christian worldview.

      Look at the topics in the science and history texts and choose libraries books about those topics during your weekly library trip. Search the Internet for fun go-along activities. We rarely do many structured projects, but I find that if I provide props, the boys will playact the stories we read in “school” time. Workbooks needn’t be written in to be used effectively. Let your sons answer questions orally, glue pieces of yarn for matching exercises, cut up the true/false page and make a card game. Let your sons use markers or glitter pens to complete necessary pages. Skip the comprehension pages and ask them to act out what they learned. Of course, you are not going to make a child fill in a page that covers something he already knows, so skip the unnecessary pages and the busywork. Remember, classroom-based materials must provide enough activities to keep 20+ children busy to free the teacher to give each child the individual attention he needs to progress. About half of a workbook can be safely eliminated without “missing” something.

      I often counsel new homeschoolers who are overwhelmed and not confident in their ability to figure out what they should be learning to choose one textbook for history and one for science (for all children) and use them as a starting place. Read aloud from the text to all the children, do the suggested experiments or projects, read other books on the topic and let the children choose books to read, listen to audios, watch educational DVDs together. If your husband is more comfortable following someone else’s plan, that doesn’t limit you to setting your child at a table for hours each day. Enjoy the freedom from decision making this approach provides and look for ways to make learning an enjoyable and character-building time for your boys.

      And just before I pushed “reply” my middle boys asked me to remind you to make sure that your boys have plenty of work and playtime (especially out-of-doors) during the rest of the day! :)

    • Reply
      Christina
      May 23, 2012

      Jenny,
      Maybe I’m looking too much into what you have posted here, but I would have to say, No, don’t tell all the moms out there that their hubbies choose the curriculum, at least not exclusively.

      My hubby doesn’t choose our curriculum without my input. Together we discuss what works for our family and each child. He may give me a budget to stick with for what I spend, which we also come to agreement in, but he does not tell me what or how I homeschool our children. He recognizes that I am with them all day and that I am the one who is putting in the majority of the work. He fully supports me and encourages and even steps in at times if his schedule allows.

      As I said, maybe I read too much into what you said but it struck me as not correct for every homeschool family.

  • Reply
    May 23, 2012

    I liked this article. My favorite one is making things into “games.” We are a bit challenged when it comes to games since it is only my son and me at home. We have to be creative. If we can make anything into a game, he learns it more quickly and enjoys it more!

  • Reply
    Dana
    July 20, 2013

    I am so appreciative to Michelle for focusing on boys! I have four boys 6 and under and no girls. My boys have a ton of energy, and the only off button is labeled “sleep”, lol! Like Jenny, we use boxed curriculum with workbooks and, as long we work in short increments and take “wiggle breaks”, for the most part our boys enjoy school. We already add in some of the ideas given by the author (like hands on experiments, baking, and outside time every day is a must), but I will be trying out her other suggestions as well!

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