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Helping Boys do Their Best in School and Life

By , and — Gender Differences Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Mar 2, 2011

As the school day comes to a close and children scamper off towards home, the evening ritual commences once again. Stacey braces herself to deliver the nightly directive to her young son, “Time to get started on your homework.”

While Stacey’s daughter settles in readily and completes her homework with minimal fuss and delay, her son Brennan is a different story. After a few minutes at the kitchen table, he is in the next room somersaulting off the couch. Once Stacey gets him back to the task at hand, it is not long before he worms and wiggles his way under the table. What should take fifteen minutes ends up taking an hour and Stacey and Brennan’s relationship has taken yet another beating.

After months of homework battles, Stacey finally acknowledged that things couldn’t keep going this way. After all, Brennan was only in first grade and there were many years of schooling and homework ahead. She decided to look for answers by tuning into the core nature of her child. What did his body seem to need? Which things seemed to hold his attention and which things seemed to shut him down? Were there multiple ways to accomplish the same task? Was it possible that her son’s behavior was driven more by his neurology and less by intentional non-compliance?

As Stacey began wrestling with these questions, she began to read about the ways in which boys and girls learn differently. Brain-based books on boys and girlsmade so much sense to her that she started to see her son in a new light. The more she read, the more she learned about the structural and chemical differences between the brains of boys and girls – and how those differences were being played out on a daily basis with her own son and daughter! 

Instead of worrying that Brennan had an attentional or learning problem, Stacey took to heart many of the recent findings regarding gender differences and began to devise a new parenting plan. For instance, researchers have found that boys’ and girls’ brains have different “rest states.” That is, when a male’s brain get bored, some of his functioning shuts down and interferes with his ability to listen and learn. When the female brain gets bored, however, more of her brain stays active. Physical activity and movement helps boys’ brains to remain alert and active. In addition, higher testosterone levels compel many boys into competition. Integrating movement and improvement-based competition can be a great way to facilitate learning for boys. Once Stacey did this, Brennan finished his work faster, increased his retention, and liked school (and homework) more.

See below for specific examples:

  • To practice math facts, Stacey and Brennan now go to the backyard with a football. One partner calls out a math fact and throws the ball. The other must call out the answer as he or she catches the ball. If basketball is the favored sport, mom and son can try to earn chances to shoot a basket and score a point if they first answer a homework question correctly.
  • When there is a worksheet to be done, Brennan now plays “beat the clock” with an egg timer. Stacey challenges Brennan to beat his own best time. Sometimes she’ll even say, “I bet you can’t get five done in one minute!” and Brennan’s determination to prove he can helps him focus with newfound intensity.
  • During spelling word practice, Stacey gives Brennan a word as he holds a pull-up or lifts his weight off of his feet by bracing himself between two countertops. Brennan has to spell his word forwards and backwards before he lets his feet touch the floor.
  • In a moment of true spontaneity, Stacey and Brennan invented a tickling game. Stacey would ask Brennan a homework question and if he didn’t get it right after a few seconds, Stacey would get to tickle him. Never had Brennan’s eyes shone quite so brightly as he searched his brain for the answer with the wiggly fingers descending towards him. Mother and son laughed harder than they ever had….and they were doing homework!

With Brennan more motivated about homework and now up to grade level in reading, Stacey knew she had to share these homework strategies with other parents. Stacey worked with her school’s principal to bring a speaker to the PTO meeting and to start a book study with other interested parents.

If you are interested in learning more about effective brain-based strategies to teach boys and girls, we encourage you to investigate the practical strategies that emerge from brain and gender-based thinking regarding boys. When parents and teachers learn to nurture boys’ and girls’ unique and natural abilities, grades and test scores go up, and discipline problems go down. Whether it happens at Stacey’s kitchen table or in a K-12 classroom, the positive effect on a young person’s life is both heartwarming and hopeful.

 
This article is excerpted and adapted from Strategies for Teaching Boys and Girls, by Michael Gurian, Kathy Stevens, and Kelley King. Contact the authors at www.gurianinstitute.com, and learn how to bring resources and training to your schools and communities. See success data on www.gurianinstitute.com. Click the Success page.
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