"To make schools more effective for young boys, we need to offer activities young boys can do successfully. Play — which has been disappearing from the preschool and kindergarten curriculum — needs to be put back because it helps with social and emotional development. Teachers should encourage boys to tell stories and engage in interesting conversations, because these activities build important verbal skills, essential for future reading. Whenever pre-reading skills are taught, they need to be developmentally appropriate, so that boys are not discouraged from trying in the future."
Jane Katch, M.S.T.
Kindergarten Teacher, Touchstone Community School, Grafton, Massachusetts. Author, Under Deadman's Skin: Discovering the Meaning of Children's Violent Play.
Our RAISING CAIN experts recommend the following solutions to help boys succeed in school. They may help teachers as well as parents work with their boys.
Don't eliminate recess as a punishment. Experts report that eliminating active play reduces children's attention in school and their potential for learning."You should no more drop recess than you should reading. Eliminating recess only heightens boys' active and aggressive impulses," says Joseph Tobin. "The very boys who tend to be punished are the ones who most need physical release from their tension. If we take away their only opportunity to deal with that stress, they may become more tense and then find it even more difficult to sit still and focus on their schoolwork," adds Jane Katch. She uses a 'time-in' instead of a 'time-out' approach in her classroom. "If a child can not control his behavior, he has to be near me until he can regain control so that I can be there to support him if he needs help. If we're outdoors, I'll have the child play in the sandbox near the teachers. But he does not have to sit still, thinking about how unfair I'm being to him, building up more anger and frustration. If we're indoors, he may have to play or work near me." Michael Thompson advises, "With an older boy, instead of having him sit still make him do some community service work — cleaning up, make him helpful, but keep him active."
Set clear limits for boys. Discipline" in class is very important. It is vital that a teacher be clear about what she or he wants, and quick to address boys who break the rules. Boys respect clarity and strength. At the same time, it is important not to humiliate or shame a boy. Boys are very sensitive to shame and are likely to go to war with a teacher who humiliates them publicly," recommends Thompson.
Create rules for safe play in the classroom."With young boys in particular, it's essential to set clear rules prohibiting real aggression — activities where someone could be hurt either emotionally or physically," notes Katch. Her constructive rules include:
No hitting, kicking and pushing.
No touching when you pretend to fight.
You have to stop when the person you are playing with says to stop.
You can't pretend to shoot anybody who doesn't like it.
If one child is disturbed by another's play you might suggest, "You can only kill the bad guys but not the good guys."
Talk with and listen to your boys instead of lecturing. "Too often we lecture boys, trying to get in all of our advice before we lose their attention. It is much better to ask short, yes or no questions of a boy, and keep it up until he knows you are taking him seriously. If you use a boy as a consultant and problem-solver, you are likely to keep him engaged in conversation," says Thompson.
Compliment your boys on what they do well. "A simple, 'That's great!' or 'Good job' and a pat on the back will go a long way with a boy. All boys want to be respected; they want to make adults smile, though they may pretend it isn't important to them," recommends Thompson.
Develop ways to help your boy with school in ways that are sensitive to his needs. "If you have a boy who needs physical activity to deal with stress, make it a top priority to make sure he gets that physical release. For some boys, organized sports that require large amounts of waiting for turns and listening to directions may not be as useful as more spontaneous and free play, such as outdoor play or swimming. If the school system seems to be punitive and makes your boy increasingly upset, talk first with the teacher and then, if necessary with the administration. Try to work with them to set up a plan that will set clear limits for your boy without humiliating him and without taking away the physical activity that he needs," advises Katch.