Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Boys: Embrace the Differences

Sometimes with the pressure to be politically correct, we are afraid to admit that boys really are different than girls. Nobody wants to stereotype girls and boys. I don't want to either. It's important that we understand the differences so we can break the stereotypes. We all want our daughters to be good at math and science and we hope our sons will do well in language arts. It benefits everybody.

When my daughter was born, I gave her plenty of opportunities to choose the activities she liked. I didn't care if she chose trucks or dolls. She chose dolls and crafts no matter how much I told her she could have any car or truck she wanted.

Then her first brother came along. I tried to provide him with the same opportunities to choose dolls or trucks. He chose the trucks. I tried to get him to participate in crafts, but he wouldn't sit still long enough to finish one.

Since my son was so physically active, I wanted to make sure he didn't cross between active and violent. I swore I would not let him have a toy weapon. Guess what? Yep, every stick became a sword or a gun and my toy weapon rule went right out the window. At one point, I got out the Barbies for my son and his friend. I wanted to discourage stereotypes. Big mistake on my end. Somehow, "Ken" made war on every Barbie and by the end of the play date, every Barbie was missing a head, leg or arm. That day, Barbies were off limits for my boys and G.I. Joe magically appeared and became a well loved play toy. Funny how G.I. Joe never lost his leg or head like Barbie.

Then son number two came a long and he was totally obsessed with guns and knives. He would climb on every cupboard and every drawer looking for a kitchen knife. I couldn't turn my back for a minute. I found myself agreeing to let him enroll in a gun safety course at the age of 12 and letting his dad take him shooting at the shooting range. No matter how much older he got, my son never outgrew his fascination with weapons. I learned that teaching him weapon safety and appropriate uses for weapons did more for keeping him safe then hoping his obsession would go away.

So what did I really learn about the differences between boys and girls as a parent. First, boys learn differently. They do better when they can move. Expecting them to sit still and listen was too much to ask from my boys. Accepting they had a different learning style and adjusting their activities helped my boys tremendously. Embracing their personalities instead of trying to change them helped my boys feel loved and valued. This doesn't mean boys should be pushed toward sports instead of reading. In fact, both of my boys would cringe at the thought of playing football and my daughter is the most athletic of my children. It just means boys can't be forced to learn the same as girls.

Numerous studies have shown that boys do better in all male language arts classes. When Benjamin Wright, principal of Thurgood Marshall Elementary School in Seattle, Washington, made the change from coed classrooms to single sex classrooms in 2000, the results were staggering. The number of boys sent to his office for discipline problems dropped dramatically. Not only did disciplinary problems drop, but the boys reading level increased over 40% and their writing levels increased 30%. It is important to note that in the studies, both boys and girls were given the equal educational opportunities and the girls scores increased as well. The teachers were able to add activities in the boys classes that helped them learn by the style that worked best for them.

No matter what I tried as a parent, all three of my kids are completely different. My oldest daughter is the driven to succeed one, my middle son is the shy one, not always motivated, but loves to be alone and read. And the youngest, is the one who can't sit still, loves to have fun and always has a flock of friends around him. No matter what I did, there was no way my sons would sit and listen to Anne of Green Gables with the girls, but they would listen to the roar of a lion in Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? As the boys got older they would still listen to a book as long as they were allowed to play cars at my feet or thumb through their car magazine. As for reading on their own, the boys would do it as long as they could play outside afterward. I learned it is crucial to adapt your parenting or teaching style so that you embrace the differences in boys and girls

Monday, May 30, 2011

Summer Reading Ideas for Boys

The most successful reading program I ever did for my boys was attach reading to weekly field trips. This is how it works. Each of my children chose somewhere they wanted to go on a field trip during the summer. Then they had to read a book on a topic that tied to the field trip. Most of the time, I let them choose the book they wanted, but sometimes I chose the book. I have compiled a list of some of the things we have done and some of the books they read or I chose for them. One of the things I made very clear is that if my boys didn't read the book, they didn't go on the field trip. I had to hire a babysitter ONCE and only once for one of my boys since he didn't read, but his brother did. He was so bummed about missing the field trip, he never missed another book. Don't give in on this or your kids will push it every time. If they know what to expect and what the consequences are of missing their weekly reading, you will not have to fight with them.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Raold Dahl)- I made this book mandatory since I knew the boys would love it. Our field trip was to the Sweets Candy Factory. Check your community to see if you have a candy factory that allows tours. At the end of the tour, I gave them each $2.00 to spend on candy.

The Black Stallion (Walter Farley) - optional. I had a friend that owned a horse.The field trip was to see the horse. My friend let my children ride the horse around the corral and feed it. I told my boys they had to choose a book about a horse. One of my boys chose The Black Stallion but the other chose another book. It's okay. If I chose every book, they would hate it. Let them read any book about a horse.

Rascal (Sterling North) or The Incredible Journey (Sheila Burnford) - Field trip - a hike in the mountains. This was a flexible book choice. They could choose any book about an animal they might see in the mountains, a book about hiking or any book about a journey. These books are suggestions. One of my boys chose Rascal and loved it.

Star Wars the Clone Wars  (Jake T. Forbes) - Field Trip - Clark Planetarium. Most cities have planetariums. The boys decided they had to read a Star Wars book. I let them choose whichever one they could find that was at least 100 pages.

Orphan Train Rider (Andrea Warren) Field Trip - Heber Vally Railroad. In the Utah mountains, we have a train that takes you through the mountains on a day ride. You can just take a subway trip to get ice cream. My sons never read Orphan Train Rider, they chose their own book, but I think it's good to make suggestions to them and throwing in a true story is always a great thing.

Charlotte's Web (E.B. White) - Field Trip - Wheeler Farm. A farm in our area that is set up just for families and field trips. Check your area for any local farmer that might be willing to take you on a tour. I know, as far as the book goes, boys are often hesitant to choose any book with a girl on the cover, but this book is often the exception. My sons liked it, but didn't love it and only one of the boys chose this book. The other found another farm book that I can't think of now.

Raptor (Paul Zindel) - Field Trip - Dinosaur Museum at Thanksgiving Point. most cities will have some type of museum with dinosaurs. I let my boys choose any book on dinosaurs.

Holes (Louis Sachar) Field Trip - ATV Riding with Dad in the desert - I know most families won't have access to the desert or ATV riding, but you can also do a field trip about buried treasure if you have a museum with treasures.

The Mystery in New York City (Carol Marsh)- Field Trip - Downtown City Tour of City landmarks. You can read any city book for this and go on a city tour in any city. It might be fun to find a book on your own city
Other field trip ideas:

Art museums
Bike ride with a picnic afterwards
Nature hike
Bird Refuge
Trip to animal shelter (most shelters will take the kids on a tour)
Service project - Find a place that will let your kids read out loud - retirement home or kids shelter. That will be their reading for the week.

When choosing field trips, remember they don't have to be expensive. My trip to see my friends horse was free. One of my sons just likes going to the hobby shop. If I were to take the money I would spend on a field trip and let him spend it at the hobby shop, that would be enough to get him to read. I balance field trips out by doing something free or very inexpensive one week with something that costs money the next. Also, my boys always want to go to the amusement park or water park that is expensive. I save that field trip for the end of the summer as a back to school party and a reward if they read a book every week.

Be flexible in book choices. Keep you children's ages in mind. Don't have a page limit on every book. If the book is short, that is okay, especially if it is educational. I want my boys to read not to get frustrated. If I find that they are making an honest effort to read a book during the week and aren't getting through it because it is too long, I give them a few extra days and choose a shorter book for the next.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Don't Be Stressed About What Your Boys Read, Stress That They Read.

Several years ago, I was sitting down with my son for parent teacher conference. The teacher asked him how many times a week he read the newspaper. His reply was, "Never."

My jaw dropped. I knew that wasn't true. He read the paper nearly every day. I finally interrupted and said, "Let's rephrase the questions. How many times a week do you read the comics."

"Almost everyday," came my son's reply. 
My son read the comics almost everyday in the newspaper and somehow he had been led to believe that wasn't reading the newspaper. That was a sad commentary for me. For I had already come to accept that anything my son read was helping him develop better reading and learning skills. Somehow that message had been lost. Why is it that we look differently on the comics, a comic book or even a sports magazine than we look on a book of classic literature. Sure, I want my sons to read high quality books and sometimes they do. But, I would much rather have them read something than nothing at all.

Scholastic's 2010 Kid and Family Reading Report, points out that boys read 23% less outside of school than girls do. It is no secret that boys now lag behind girls in education. While I applaud the opportunities that have opened up for my daughter, I am saddened that my boys will have to fight harder to keep up. However, I was encouraged by some other statistics in Scholastic's report. Nine out of 10 kids say they are more likely to finish a book they choose themselves and half of all children say they read for fun. Also, the report mentions the one thing I always felt strongly about. Mothers are the ones that influence their children the most while teachers and librarians also have some influence. 

With all of the studies that point to boys lagging behind in reading and education, I want to applaud the idea of reading. Don't be stressed about what your boys read, stress what that they read. If you son reads the comics, so what? At least he's reading. I am willing to do whatever I need to do to foster that. In fact, Scholastic's report mentioned that a third of children over the age of 9 reported they would read more books if they had a digital device. It may be time for me to look at getting digital devices for my sons. I know I love mine so why wouldn't they?

On a final note, I can't stress how important it is for boys to have a positive male role model. My sons see their father reading. They see the books on their dad's nightstand. My 17 year old even borrows his dad's books. It gives them something to talk about. I love it when I recommend a book and my son reads it and likes it. I might get a full sentence out of him the day I ask about it instead of a grunt.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

How To Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell -- Book Review and Recommendation

For my first book review I have chosen How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
5 out of 5 stars

 How to Eat Fried Worms
Of all of the excellent books for boys out there, I chose How To Eat Fried Worms as the first to recommend for two reasons. First, because it is the first book as a child that I remember made girls cringe and boys laugh. Second, because both of my boys loved it and consider it an American classic.

When Billy boasts to his three friends, Alan, Tom and Joe, that he could eat just about anything, Alan challenges him to a bet for fifty dollars that he couldn't eat fifteen worms in fifteen days. After agreeing to the terms that Billy can eat the worms with any condiment he chooses and may cook them as well, the deal is sealed with a handshake. At first, Billy gets sick just thinking of eating the first worm, but gets it down. As the contest continues, the worms become easier to eat for Billy, much to the consternation of Alan and Joe.

Billy's two friends, Alan and Joe become increasingly desperate to win their war first resorting psychological warfare, then out right cheating and even stooping so low as to use Billy's own parents against him. When none of their schemes work, Alan and Joe come up with a plan that nearly finishes Billy for good.

The title and worm eating may turn some heads, don't let it turn yours. The tale is funny and the book is well written. There are a few words that are written to express children's slang that may throw off the reader, but can be overcome by reading out loud. I highly recommend this book for fun and humor. So often, books are chosen on moral or literary value which can cause boys to get bored of books. This engrossing or gross book will amuse the reader the entire way through.

Friday, May 27, 2011

You're Suppposed to Read the Book Not Eat The Worm!!

Growing up in my family was all girls. Three sisters didn't help give me a clue to what boys were about. Though I loved to play cars and get dirty, I had no idea boys were really that much different. That was until I got to 4th grade and met Mike. I don't even remember his last name, but I remember how gross he was.

The sweet 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Boyd, had carefully selected a book that she thought all of the class would enjoy. How To Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell. Every day she read one chapter to us. The boys and the girls listened attentively and either laughed or just got grossed out by the thought of eating worms.

Somehow, Mike thought it would be cool to take it to the next level. Guess what?? Yep, he decided he would eat worms too. He took bets on the playground about how many he would eat and how much money the poor little 4th graders would give him. He got a handful of change for the first worm which he dangled in front of his face then dropped into his mouth and to my horror actually swallowed.

The next few worms went down even more smoothly and Mike delighted in getting a large horrified group of girls around him to watch him eat it. Soon the kids stopped placing bets. One of the girls was horrified that she told the teacher what Mike was up to. Stupid girl!!

As soon as Mrs. Boyd found out about Mike and the worms, the reading of How to Eat Fried Worms came to an abrupt end. If we wanted to finish it, we would have to do it on our own. Of course, we all clambered to check it out from the library. I must have been fifth on the waiting list and had to wait a while. Boy, was I mad at that stupid Mike and even madder at the girl.

While I admit, How to Eat Fried Worms was never one of my favorite books, it introduced me to a whole new world of books written and enjoyed for boys. A world I introduced to my own boys.Tomorrow, I will review that book here. I will also add a list of recommended books for that reading level.

In the future, I will be hosting drawings for the books I review so check back often to find out how to enter.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Why I started a blog on boys and reading.

I have three children. I love to read and wanted to instill that love into each of them. It was easy with my oldest, my only girl. I read to her from day one. From Pat The Bunny and Dr. Seuss, then moving onto to Matilda, Little House on the Prairie, and Anne of Green Gables. As well as classics like Little Princess,and The Secret Garden. I didn't think there would ever be a book we read that she would hate until we got to Treasure Island and she told me she hated it. WHAT? How do you hate pirates, your brothers love them. I wondered to myself then aloud.

While reading to my daughter, my next son came three years later and patiently endured our reading time. He only half listened unless the book involved a dinosaur or monster, then his little ears pricked up. Suddenly it dawned on me, that if I wanted him to listen too, I had to find books he liked. The only problem is that it didn't always agree with what my daughter liked. I decided to break our sessions into two. The first session would be for my younger son then my daughter. They chose vastly different books as their favorites. The roar from the dinosaur in How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight became my sons favorite page. Night after night, he wanted the same book. His sister even got really good at reading it to him with the loudest roar.

When my son was old enough for Treasure Island, he loved it. I rejoiced. I was raising readers by finding books suited to my children. The struggle came with my third child, my youngest son. He always to busy to read, but he listened to every Harry Potter book. I found it was much easier to get my daughter to read than my sons. But, my sons would read if they could find characters and plots that were of interest. That interest definitely involved swords, guns, pirates, dinosaurs, bad guys, and magic much more than love stories and relationship issues.

Whether I liked it or not, my boys were typical boys. I was not going to get them to like "girl" books no matter how many times I read them to my daughter. BUT, I could get them to like books and learning. I just had to adapt to their learning styles. Since so many current studies point to the fact that boys are getting left behind in schools, this blog is for boys. A place where I can review and recommend books for boys, articles for learning tactics for boys and anything else that can help boys get back on track.