Tips for Homeschooling Boys (from Experienced Moms!)
I'm going back through some of my archived posts and republishing them. This is a piece I wrote several years ago about homeschooling. These days, it seems taboo to bring up or even recognize the differences between boys and girls. Of course, every kid has his/her individual personality and bent, and I won’t argue that, but I believe there are some major differences between the sexes, generally speaking. There's some great advice in here from other moms of boys, so I hope it will encourage you!
Homeschooling boys...I mean men!
When a boy turns 13, seal him in a barrel and feed him through a knot hole.. when he turns 16, plug up the hole. - Mark Twain
And in case you haven't noticed, boys are different from girls. That fact was never in question for previous generations. They knew intuitively that each sex was a breed apart, and that boys were typically the more unpredictable of the two. -Dr. James Dobson
If you’re the parent of boys, I don’t have to tell you that raising boys can be a completely different prospect than raising girls! When they’re little, boys tend to be more aggressive, active, and just plain LOUD. I still remember when our two oldest children—who also happen to be boys—were 5 and 7 (they survived, and are now grown men with wives). My parents were visiting, and my mom said, with a note of dismay in her voice, “I just don’t remember you kids being this noisy.”
I was a little confused, as I had honestly become accustomed to the dull roar that accompanied their activities. We also went through a time period of visiting the ER on a regular basis for broken bones or stitches for those two. I remembered that the other day, when I realized that our youngest, who happens to be a girl, has never had to make a visit to the hospital for a probably preventable, risk-taking-motivated injury (Now, sprained ankles and knee issues from years of Irish Dance? Yes.).
So how does this play into homeschooling?
Well, I believe that homeschooling with boys should be approached differently in some ways than homeschooling girls—especially since the primary teaching parent tends to be the mother. This approach becomes even more crucial as our boys reach their teen years. Boys of this age start to separate—from their moms especially—to form their own identities, to become their own men, so to speak.
There’s always a grain of truth behind clichés and sayings, and the old adages “tied to his Mama’s apron strings” or “Mama’s boy” are not meant to be flattering descriptions. The mental image of a young man still dependent on his Mommy strikes us as wrong. And with good reason. God created our young boys to become men who will lead their families. But the process of getting to that point can be difficult, and will be made moreso if we Moms hold on too tightly.
It’s crucial to remember that these boys are really men-in-the-making.
My husband and I can’t pretend to know everything about raising boys, and we make no claims that we did it all right, yet our perfect God uses our imperfectness, and we have learned some lessons along this parenting path that I’ll share with you. I’ve also been blessed with some godly, mature friends and mentors who have their own grown sons, and I’ll share some of their thoughts as well.
Tips for Homeschooling Boys (from Experienced Moms!)
Let them separate.
Ouch. This one is hard. We’re a tight-knit family and have a lot of fun together, so I obviously don’t mean that you should kick them out if they begin to act obnoxious at 16! So what, then? It may be time for some outside accountability, more outside activities, and a purpose beyond themselves. My friend Mary Lyons, a mother of grown sons, worded it this way:
“Boys need something that is outside themselves, outside the family, and important. Sons at this age are burgeoning leaders and they need ways to express this (and hone and refine it), lest they turn to resisting their parents (mothers in particular).”
I’ve seen some teen boys frustrated (and probably frustrated my own at times, if I’m going to be honest here) by mothers who insisted on ‘holding the reins’ a little too tightly. It’s common for moms to try to rein them in even tighter when they sense that their boys are beginning to separate. This is a natural response, but I will tell you now, it’s not the right one. You run the risk of pushing your children away from you entirely with that controlling attitude.
My wise and wonderful friend Christine Barker Anderson shares,
“As our children do so much to help us in our home and, as they prove worthy, let them have the privileges that they have proven they are able to handle.”
We are raising our children to be successful adults, but it doesn’t happen magically when they turn 18 or 21. It’s a process, and beginning to let go, little by little, is a delicate, often painful thing. But you just have to, unless you are fine being faced with a grown-up-in-body-only “child” in a few years. Start letting go.
Seek out godly mentors.
Of course, the ideal is that Dad should be the number one mentor for our young men. But it’s also important for them to have other examples of what godliness looks like, whether it’s grandfathers or other family members and friends, coaches, teachers, etc.
When I was a younger homeschool mom, I often read articles about dads who were able to “come home” to work or who took the primary role in their son’s education. The problem was, this came across as a sort of admonition and a guilt-inducing, unattainable goal for families like mine, who either couldn’t or didn’t want to make that change. Knowing families with dads who travel a lot for work, single-parent families, and other situations, I know that this “ideal” is not always possible. I needed to embrace what our life was, and recognize that God could still work through it.
Since my husband was in the military during our kids' growing up years, he was often gone. Don’t get me wrong--he was always been supportive of homeschooling and helped where he could. But he ended up being deployed for several years out of our boys’ teen years, which was definitely not part of my plan!
I am so thankful that, during that time, God brought youth pastors, coaches, and other friends alongside to spend time with my sons (we lived far from extended family). My younger two children (girls) missed Dad too, but there is something almost indefinable about the male bond—boys need a strong male influence.
Even if Dad works a job with more normal hours, having outside accountability and mentors can be a help to the homeschooling mom.
Terry Webster says,
“I have three boys and I found that it helped to have another teacher besides Mom in their late teens. So I used online programs, plus community college for some classes. It’s good to have deadlines that are not mom-generated and good for them to have criticism from another source.”
I’ve found this to be true as well. While we can still require our boys to be respectful, having them answer to other sources besides Mom can help with the beginning of the separation that must take place.
Cut the fluff!
Diane Simmler says,
“I concentrated on math and writing, and let their interests lead most of the rest. Don't worry if you don't cover all of the nice extras. If you give them a good foundation for learning in their bent, they'll catch up with what really matters later!”
“Cut out the fluff and time wasters, and focus time and teaching attention on the core, basic skills really needed in that area of study. If it's not something that you or your spouse feel equipped to provide for him, or you doubt he'd respond well to it from you, then by all means, hire someone! Help him to succeed and make the grade.”
This is not the time for mom-heavy assignments. What do I mean? Make your son’s studies as independent as possible and don’t require him to wait on you to move ahead in his work. As noted above, an outside class or tutor or two might be a good thing at this stage. What about sons who drag their heels or won’t complete assignments? Tie schoolwork to activities and privileges or if Dad is available, see if he will go over your son’s weekly checklist with him.
I will add one caveat—there are some boys who don’t fit this mold, are more social, and enjoy some learning time with Mom. I have great memories of the literature discussions my boys and I had when they were in high school! This is more of a guideline, and will probably also be a gradual process. My sons’ learning was much more independent as seniors in high school than it was when they were freshmen. Of course, they also had outside jobs and activities and were quite busy by then!
Provide opportunities for leadership.
Several of my wise friends suggested letting young men lead when they can. Whether it’s opening doors for others or saying the prayer at mealtime, begin to look for ways for your growing men to express humble leadership.
Is there a service or volunteer opportunity at your church or in your community? Encourage them in these endeavors and help them begin to practice now being the kind of servant-leader they’ll need to be, should God bless them with their own family someday.
In the end, there is no “formula” for raising boys, only principles, as with all parenting. Rely on God’s help, claim the promises of Scripture, keep a sense of humor, have mercy, and don’t forget what it was like to be a teenager. I love this:
To bring up a child in the way he should go, travel that way yourself once in a while. -Josh Billings