Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Fireworks in the back seat

While I was waiting for gas to fill up my hungry mini-van, I heard another form of gas explode in multiple toots in the back seat. I turned around to see Owen's astonished and gleeful look on his face as he said, "Mom, I've got fireworks in my butt!"

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Positive strokes for positive folks

A counselor friend of mine mentioned that children need ten positive comments to every command. Not just every negative comment, but every command. Like those things parents say a hundred times a day: "Get your clothes on," "Brush your teeth," and "Eat your broccoli." I can't say I live up to the 10 to 1 ratio, but knowing this has made me much more conscious of looking for opportunities to praise my boys more frequently throughout the day. I'm saying things like: "Good job sharing your toys." "That was so nice of you to help your brother get his shoes on." "I really appreciate you clearing your dishes off the table." "You two are playing so nicely together." "You did a great job using your inside voice and not touching things in the store."

Since I've been doing that, I've seen my kids behave better, particularly my independent-minded 4-year-old. I'm even enjoying a side-benefit I didn't expect.

Yesterday I had to brake quickly to avoid running a red light. I had just set my water bottle down, so it was perched somewhat precariously in the cup holder. The items in the passenger seat went flying to the floor, but my water bottle wavered and stayed upright. Owen said, "Good job in not spilling your water." Then at the next light, when I stepped on the brakes much more slowly and smoothly, he said, "Good job stopping, Mom."

Sunday, July 8, 2007

I'm surprised we haven't been to the ER yet

At a lovely potluck with lovely friends in the mountains, Owen tried to paralyze himself. (Or at least that's my version. Jack thought of it as good preparation for a hockey defenseman.) Owen laid face-down on a hammock with his fingers laced through the rope and had his friends push him as fast as they could. Then when he was pushed so high that the hammock swung completely around, he let go and landed flat on his back on packed dirt.

Then he got up and shouted, "Cool, let's do that again!"

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Raising (and educating) Cain

I first started researching homeschooling because I had read a few studies that said boys aren't typically ready for formal education at ages 5 and 6 when we're typically ready to trot them off to the nearest yellow bus. I have also read several articles about the rise of ADHD diagnosis, predominantly in boys and in the first few years of school. Let me hasten to say that I do believe there are many legitimate ADHD diagnoses. However, there are many boys labeled ADHD that are simply active boys who aren't ready to sit still for a few hours every day in school.

As Owen quickly approaches 5, I've been searching for answers. When should I send my active boy to school? Could he be labeled ADHD? What type of environment is best for him? What qualities should I look for in a good school? And what about the teacher? So I've read several education books to find an alarming trend: Kids don't like school! This may not surprise you, but it did me. Educator after educator wrote about kids losing their natural love for learning in the schoolroom. My motivation to seek out an alternative became even stronger. Not only was I thinking about my boys developmental needs, now I was seeing a strong connection between that and their future academic success. The more I read about education and the development of boys, the more I am convinced that homeschooling, at least in these early years, is the right option for my family.

I'm currently reading Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys and just in the second chapter I've found some excellent quotes that summarize well some of the research I've read that has led me to this decision:

From kindergarten through sixth grade, a boy spends more than a thousand hours a year in school, and his experiences and the attitudes of the teachers and other adults he encounters there are profoundly shaping. The average boy faces a special struggle to meet the developmental and academic expectations of an elementary school curriculum that emphasizes reading, writing, and verbal ability--cognitive skills that normally develop more slowly in boys than in girls. Some boys are ahead of the others on that developmental curve, and some girls lag behind, but when we compare the average boy with the average girl, the average boy is developmentally disadvantaged in the early school environment.

We are not suggesting that boys are good and schools are bad, or that teachers don't care about boys. Quite to the contrary, much of what we know about boys' difficulties in school is confirmed by the many caring, creative teachers we know who struggle with the challenge of working with boys in the school setting. We know, too, that there are boys whose talents or temperments make them exceptions, but if we're going to talk about the ways in which boys' life experiences complicate their emotional development or compromise it, we have to talk about the hidden hurt that the early school years inflict on so many boys.

Studies that track children's development through the school years suggest that, by the third grade, a child has established a pattern of learning that shapes the course of his or her entire school career. We see this clearly with boys: the first two years in school are a critical moment of entry into that world of learning, but boys' relative immaturity and the lack of fit they so often experience in school set them up to fail. Many boys who are turned off to school at a young age never refind the motivation to become successful learners.

The average boy's gifts are wrapped in high activity, impulsivity, and physicality--boy power--and the value of these gifts depends on the teacher, the boy, and the moment. These qualities serve boys beautifully on the playground, where there is room and respect for bold strokes of action and impulse. In the classroom, however, alongside girls--who are typically more organized, cooperative, and accomplished school learners--those "boy qualities" quickly turn from assets to liabilities. Even among those who aren't considered problem boys, many teachers identifiy the ordinary boy pattern of activity, attitudes, and behaviors as something that must be overcome for a boy to succeed in school.

When school is not a good fit for a boy, when his normal expressions of energy and action routinely meet with negative responses from teachers and classmates, he stews in feeling of failure--feelings of sadness, shame, and anger, which can be very hard to detect beneath that brash exterior. Unable to "talk out" the emotional pressure, boys typically act out though verbal or physical aggression that walls them off emotionally from others, straining or severing emotional connections to the people and circumstances they find painful.

The most important thing to remember, the guiding principle, is to try to keep your son's self-esteem intact while he is in school. That is the real risk to his success and to his mental health. Once he's out of school, the world will be different. He'll find a niche where the fact that he's can't spell well, or didn't read until he was eight, won't matter. But if he starts to hate himself because he isn't good at schoolwork, he'll fall into a hole that he'll be digging himself out of for the rest of his life.

When normal boy activity levels and developmental patterns are accommodated in the design of schools, curricula, classrooms, and instructional styles, an entire stratum of "boy problems" drops from sight. When a boy's experience of belonging at school is greater than his sense of differentness, then the burden of shame, inadequacy, and anger drops away, and he is free to learn.