Wednesday, September 30, 2009

And the Winner Is....Part II

Gigi is one lucky girl. She's the winner of the Blogging 'Bout Boys LeapFrog Tag Reading System giveaway -- AND the winner of the Tag giveaway at 3 Carnations!

But Gigi is more than just lucky; she's generous. Listen:

"Thank you so much! I was lucky enough to win one from 3 Carnations, one of the other blogs participating in the contest. I don't feel right taking a second one, so please choose another winner. "

So I popped the numbers back into and the new winner is... dddiva! Congratulations, dddiva. Drop me a line ASAP with your shipping information and I'll get that Tag system right out.

Again, thanks to all who entered, and a special thanks to GiGi for sharing.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

And the Winner Is....

Talk about a popular product! I received over 200 entries for the LeapFrog Tag Reading System giveaway. So with no further ado, the winner is....

Oh, who am I kidding? We've all watched enough American Idol and Dancing with the Stars to know that the winners are never announced that easily! Instead, let's take a moment and talk about leadership.

A recent study found that children who break rules are more likely to become leaders -- IF they have parents who view rule breaking as a teaching opportunity. The study, published in The Leadership Quarterly, divided juvenille infractions into two catergories: "modest rule breaking" (such as breaking windows and family and school offenses) and "serious rule breaking" (any drug use, serious crime or offense that leads to police involvement). Interesting Parenting Nugget #1: Minor offenses do not necessarily lead to major offenses.

The study then examined parents' responses to rule-breaking. Interesting Parenting Nugget #2: What you do matters. The researchers found that an authoritative parenting style, one where parents have clear expectations regarding behavior but still allow children to test the rules, may help children assume leadership roles later in life.

"When individuals challenge the status quo or boundaries of authority/rules early in life they
can stand to learn a lot from these experiences if their parents help them understand why the actions they chose are problematic and more importantly how the individuals can achieve the desired goals in ways that do not involve breaking rules. That is, parents can arm their children with more effective strategies for achieving their goals."

Think about that the next time your son misbehaves: The goal isn't to get him to do what you want him do. The goal is to help him understand why his choice was not the best choice, and to help him figure out what he could have done instead.

More work? Maybe. Worth it? Absolutely.

And now, the winner is....

GiGi! Congratulations, GiGi. You're the winner of the LeapFrog Tag Reading System. I'll be contacting you shortly. Thanks to everyone who participated. I really appreciate your tweets, follows and comments and look forward to hearing from you in the future.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Messy, Messy, Messy!

I woke up to popcorn all over the living room floor.

Boy #4, apparently, had saved his popcorn from last night for an early morning snack -- except that, from the looks of it, less than half made it to his mouth. Before I'd even popped in my contacts, I was down on my knees, scraping popcorn leavings into a pile.

I swept the pile into my hand, headed toward the garbage can -- and passed a pile of cat puke. No, wait. Make that two piles.

The wailing erupted just as I was grabbing some paper towel. Remember Boy #4 and his early morning snack? Turns out he'd poured himself a glass of milk as well. You can see where I'm going with this, right?

(Forward to moment 1:39)

Parenting boys is a messy business, in more ways than one. There are the obvious messes (does anyone else's bathtub resemble a beach after the boys have bathed?), and then the not-so-obvious ones. Check out this excerpt from Scott Noelle's parenting newsletter, The Daily Groove:

"Even if you're a 'crunchy' parent who's not afraid of nature's messiness, there may be other kinds of messes you abhor, like the messy ways children learn, explore, and process emotions."

Boy learning is not a straight forward kind of thing. Rarely do boys start in one place and progress neatly to the desired end point. Learning, for boys, is a series of tangents, of stops and starts. To learn, they need permission, time and space to explore, to question --and to get messy.

The same holds true for emotions. While I thought it was a great idea to sit down and discuss how to turn crisis into opportunity, my boys did not. For a moment, I was frustrated, but then I remembered that my job as a parent is to support my boys in whatever ways they need. I will remain available, but I need to give my boys time and space to process their own emotions.

As Scott Noelle says, "Get over it! Life IS messy!"

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Coping with Crisis

On the positive side, there are some girls who emerge out of the divorced, mother-headed households as exceptionally resilient young women. It seems that some young women thrive on the increased responsibilities and challenges that they face in these families, and they develop warm and deeply affectionate ties with their mothers. Similar findings do not occur for boys.
-- Robert Hughes Jr., PhD

Our family has been living apart for almost three months now. It's not easy -- Boy #4 continues to ask, several times a day, "When is Daddy going to live here again?" -- but we're surviving. Google, however, does not seem at all sure that we should thrive. Ever again.

A quick Google search of "boys" and "divorce" tells me that:

Excuse me for not buying that bunch of baloney. My boys are hurting, to be sure. But more likely to react with anger, aggression and academic problems? That's boys in general. More likely to suffer depression? So are boys in general. As for losing connection and assuming blame -- doesn't that happen to all children of divorce?

Call me in denial, but I don't think that's impossible for boys to grow strong and healthy in the wake of a divorce. Challenging, yes. But if I've learned anything in my life, it's that people can overcome all kind of challenges.

So instead of subscribing to the gloom-and-doom, I'm going to teach my boys 9 Basic Rules to Make a Crisis Work for You, borrowed by Isolina Ricci's excellent book, Mom's House, Dad's House: Making Two Homes for Your Child:

1. Don't Go Through a Crisis Alone

2. Learn What's Going On

3. Look for What Works and What Doesn't

4. Care for Your Inner Self and Spiritual Life

5. Take Care of Your Body and Find Safe Ways to Blow Off Steam

6. Keep a Positive but Realistic Perspective

7. Increase Your Skills

8. Watch You Language

9. Keep Your Sense of Humor

I'll be re-visiting these rules over the next few weeks, because I'm convinced that separation or no separation, these are important life skills for boys. Why don't you try putting them into practice in your own life as well? We'll compare notes soon!

Monday, September 21, 2009


Boxers or briefs?

My boys always wore briefs -- maybe because my brothers always did or because their dad did. Somehow, briefs just seemed right.

But lately, they've become aware of boxers and wanted to try them out. Without going into too much detail, let's just say they're all sporting boxers right now (except Boy #4, who is STILL wearing diapers) and that Boy #3 is very, very proud.

What do you think? Is there a certain age when most boys make the transition from boxers to briefs? From what I understand, boxers on little boys can be a messy ordeal. A friend's son recently, uh, dumped all over the front of her van. Not his fault, really. He was wearing boxers and when he lost control, the boxers didn't offer much in the way of support.

Today, let's take a break the big questions -- and solve the boxers vs. briefs dilemma instead.

One more week to enter my LeapFrog giveaway!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Snapshot Sunday: A Boy and His Dino

A long, long time ago, before Boy #2 became a nine-year-old boy obsessed with video games and destruction, he was a boy who loved dinosaurs. In recognition of that love, one of his amazingly fabulous uncles (who also happens to be his godfather) gave Boy #2 a six-foot-inflatable dinosaur for his birthday. To date, he has yet to receive a present he's loved as much as that dino.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Want to Learn a New Language?

I'm not going to turn this into a giveaway blog, I promise. But this one was just too good not to share.

@mommyPR is giving away a Rosetta Stone Language Learning program. Just visit her blog, tell her what language you'd like to learn, and you're entered. I've had my eye on the Spanish version of Rosetta Stone for years, so my name's already in the digital hat.

How about you? What language would you like to learn and why?

For those who want to stick to English, there's still time to enter my LeapFrog Tag Reading System giveaway as well. :)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Are Single-Sex Classes the Answer?

School is not usually a boy-friendly place. But what if your son was in an all-male classroom? Would make a difference?

A just-released report from Arizona suggests that it might. Officials at Anderson Junior High School say that four years of single-sex education have increased boys' test scores. Boys' scores increased from:
  • 62 to 69 percent in reading
  • 77 to 84 percent in math
  • 55 to 73 percent in writing

But it's not enough to just separate boys and girls into different classrooms. According to Dr. Leonard Sax, a vocal supporter of single-sex eduction, boys and girls must be taught differently. "If you put a teacher with no preparation into an all-boys classroom and she still expects the boys to sit still and be quiet, you're not going to get good results," Sax said. "In fact, you may have trouble."

If the teachers are aware of the learning differences between boys and girls, though, the results can be almost magical. At Anderson, teachers in all-boy classrooms utilized competive learning environments, physical movement and visual lesson plans.

Dr. Sax believes that young boys stand to gain even more than older boys from single-sex classrooms. "What's best for a five-year-old girl is different from what's best for a five-year-old boy," Sax says. "The most dramatic success stories we have of huge jumps in grades and test scores and drops in discipline referrals are at the elementary school level."

Think there aren't any single-sex elementary classes where you live? You may be wrong. According to Dr. Sax, just 11 public schools were offering single-sex classroom in 2002. Today, there are over 500. For a complete list, visit

Have you entered my LeapFrog giveaway yet? There's still time!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Withholding Affection

What's more important: getting our kids to do as we say, or helping them grow into fulfilled adults?

You might argue that it's not an either/or choice, that it's fully possible for a child to obey and grow into a fulfilled adult. And yet the question is one, I think, that cuts to the core of parenting choices.

If you believe that it's most important for kids to do as you say, you're probably more likely to implement a sleep schedule for your baby. If you think it's more important for a child to grow into a fulfilled adult, I think you're more likely to pay attention to your child's individual needs. You're more likely to encourage your son's love of reading than to insist he read a certain number of minutes per day, whether or not he likes it.

This question was an important one for me today as I met resistance after resistance from my boys. I pulled out a reading program for my six-year-old, he said no. I pulled out an educational game for all my boys, they moaned and groaned and acted like I was killing them.

I was frustrated. I told them so. Loudly. Then I gave myself a timeout.

I realized that part of the problem is that I encourage free thinking in my boys. I encourage them to question and to follow their instincts. I want them to be in touch with the quiet little voice that whispers inside. As much as possible, I respect, encourage and accomodate their needs and desires.

The problem comes when I want them to do something they don't want to do. What then?

Many parents punish, insist, shame or issue consequences. But is that the best move? An intriguing article in today's New York Times suggests that maybe it's not. Numerous scientific studies, it says, have shown that withholding parental affection and approval -- or pouring it on when the child behaves as you'd like -- is counterproductive. The child may behave as you'd like in the moment, but generally develops negative feelings and unhealthy internal compulsions.

Instead, the article said, "unconditional acceptance by parents as well as teachers should be accompanied by 'autonomy support': explaining reasons for requests, maximizing opportunities for the child to participate in making decisions, being encouraging without manipulating, and actively imagining how things look from the child's point of view."

Shaping a human being is hard work. But when I think of the task, I think of Michaelangelo, who said, "Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it." My children, I think, are the sculptors of their lives. As a parent, my job is not to chisel away, creating a statue that perfectly coordinates with my living room furniture but to support each child as he discovers the statue within.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Giveaway: LeapFrog Tag Reading System Bundle!

I love educational toys. So I'm very pleased to announce a new contest (drum roll, please!), the LeapFrog Tag Reading System Giveway.

Thanks to my friend Sarah Ludwig at Parenting by Trial and Error, I've been selected as one of ten bloggers to host a LeapFrog giveaway. The prize is amazing: a LeapFrog Tag Reading System, including The Cat in the Hat and two extra books. Retail value: $77.97

In case you're not familiar with the Tag, it's the one with the magic pen -- you know, the pen that your child can drag over the words to read the words outloud. It also interacts with the book in dozen other ways (check out the demo), offering kids multiple ways to enter into the story. The Tag Reading System has won 28 awards in 6 countries and was recently named the Best Educational Toy of 2009.

So how do you enter? Leave a comment here, telling me why you want to win. (Limit one comment per person. For extra entries, you can:

  • Tweet the contest (including a link to my blog). You can do this daily, so each day can equal another extra entry.

  • Post about the contest on your blog.

  • Join the Blogging 'Bout Boys community. Sign on as a follower (and be sure to let me know!)

Contest ends at 11:59 pm Central Time on Monday, September 28 2009 and the winner will be announced on Tuesday, September 29. Contest open to residents of the United States and Canada only. The winner be chosen by and will have 48 hours to respond to notification with shipping info. If no response is received, another winner will be chosen at random.

Now for the really good news: You can enter 9 more times! Visit each of these blogs and sign up for extra chances to win. (Not all of the contests are up and running yet, so check back frequently)

Parenting By Trial and Error

Frisco Kids

Confessions of a Mean Mommy

Ready Mom

The Adventures of Supermom

3 Carnations

My Semblance of Sanity

World of Weasels

Blog Salad

Good luck!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Guest Blogger: 5 Reasons Boys Love Gardens

Please join me in welcoming guest blogger Nancy Mann Jackson! Nancy is a freelance writer who gardens with her husband and two young sons in Florence, Ala. She blogs about gardening, harvesting, cooking and preserving with kids in tow at

Five reasons boys love gardens

Summer may be over, but there’s still plenty of time left to play outside. And gardening can be one of the best ways to get boys engaged in outdoor play that also teaches valuable lessons about nutrition, the environment, and reaping the benefits of hard work. And the best part is that while gardening is hard work, most boys hardly notice it because playing in the garden is also lots of fun. Here are five things boys love about gardening:

1. Critters. Boys are known for bringing home creepy-crawlies, and gardens are chock-full of critters of all sizes. This year in our garden, we’ve spotted ladybugs, spiders, raccoons, even a deer. My boys never tire of searching for and catching crawling things, or imagining which animals left each paw/hoof/claw print in the soil.

2. Dirt. Like macaroni and cheese, boys and dirt just go together. And a garden has plenty of the brown stuff. We sometimes take sand buckets and shovels to the garden and let our two-year-old play in the dirt while we plant, weed or harvest, and he loves it. My mom used to say when our bathwater turned brown, she knew we’d had a fun day — and after spending time in the garden, my boys’ bathwater is never clear.

3. Destruction. Last week before school started back, I was reflecting on the summer with my four-year-old and asked him what he liked best about helping in the garden this summer. I’m not sure what I expected to hear ("watching our seeds grow into delicious food" would have worked), but I was surprised to hear him say, "whacking down all the corn stalks after the corn was gone." What boy doesn’t love a little destruction? And in a garden, you get to tear everything up and start all over again every year (or twice a year, if you plant in the fall and the spring).

4. Food. If you have boys, you know they like to eat. And nowhere will you find as much fresh, nutritious, delicious food as in a vegetable garden. My four-year-old loves to eat cherry tomatoes right off the vine, and just-picked squash, corn, and peppers also make great snacks in the garden (as long as you haven’t used harmful pesticides). Even if your boys don’t eat the garden’s bounty right there in the dirt, they’re likely to enjoy cooking and eating the veggies they’ve helped grow.

5. Time. As with most family activities, the best thing about gardening together is the "together" part. And because most young boys can’t grow a garden by themselves, time spent in the garden is time spent with an adult he cares about. My boys love playing with each other or with other kids, kicking a ball or digging in the sandbox, but getting out in the garden seems to be a special treat because the whole family’s getting dirty with them.

Photo credit: Nancy Mann Jackson

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Are Boys Overscheduled?

You've heard it before: Kids today are too busy. Between school and sports, church and community, there's simply no time to just be.

Writer Laura Vanderkam disagrees. The author of the forthcoming book 168 Hours passionately argued her point in a recent Wall Street Journal article, The Myth of the Overscheduled Child.

Vanderkam argues that everyone has the same 168 hours a week. (7 X 24) By her calucations, a boy who sleeps 9 hours a night and attends school 30 hours per week still has 73 hours left. And according to data from the University of Maryland, homework usually only takes up another 5 hours. Sports, 4 hours. Other organizations, less than 1.5 hours.

Obviously, those are averages. Some boys do more; some do less. The point, Vanderkam says, is that our children are not grossly overscheduled.

I'm not entirely convinced of her point -- and I was less convinced when I when read that she thinks moms have plenty of time in a day as well.

But one sentence made me think. Talking about the 40% of American children who are uninvolved in extracurricular activities, Vanderkam writes:

"Unfortunately, these young people tend not to fill their free time with the high-quality unstructured play that pundits praise. Many are at home, by themselves, watching TV..."

What do you think? Do you think boys are overscheduled? Or do you think they need more outside stimulation? Are too many of our boys frittering away their time?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Mars and Venus

Remember the book by Dr. John Gray, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus? The idea was that men and women have different emotional needs and different ways of communicating (and expressing) those needs -- and that by learning to communicate with our partners in ways they can understand, we can improve our relationships.

As a mom of four boys, I've thought about that book a lot. There are some things I just don't get about boys, like their constant need to fight or their biologically-based inability to hold a stick without swinging it. I understand some of those things now, thanks to to experience, reflection and a slew of books about boys, but I don't get it. I will never intuitively think like a boy and I've wondered at time whether or not my inability to see the world through male eyes might inhibit my relationship with my sons.

I've often thought there should be a Mars/Venus book aimed at parents of opposite sex children.

Dr. Robyn Silverman, a child and adolescent development specialist I've had the pleasure of interviewing in the past, recently penned a wonderful article on just that topic, Daddy's Little Girl and Mommy's Little Boy: Bonding with your Opposite Gendered Child. Among her suggestions:
  • Take the cultural labels with a grain of salt. Best line: "Don't let anyone taint your relationship with your opposite gendered child."
  • Open up communication. Best line: "Just because you might not understand some of the things your opposite-sex child is interested in doesn’t mean you can’t. "
  • Treat your child with kindness and expect the same back. Best line: "Character does not need to be sacrificed in lieu of self expression."

For more tips, check out her full article. Then drop me a line and let me know how you bond with your son.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Tool Safety

After my First Day of School post the other day, Christine at Origami Mommy asked if I had any tips for teaching boys how to use hacksaws safely. She brings up a very good point.

Normally, young children aren't given tools to use. Plastic tools? Maybe. A real life, straight-from-Home-Depot hacksaw? Not so such.

But when Daddy stopped to pick up the hacksaws, his thinking was right on. He knows our boys, and he knew that as soon as the boys saw the tubes, their creativity would kick in. He knew that sooner or later, the boys would ask, "Can we use the knives?"

He also knows that one of the first rules of tool safety is to Use the right tool for the job. Kitchen knives are designed to chop celery and slice bread, not hack through cardboard tubes.

So he picked up the saws, which are lightweight and feature very finely-toothed blades. If handled properly, the blades will cut, but they're not so sharp as to deliver a cut at just a touch. The saws also have study handles which keep little hands far away from the cutting field.

I also implemented the second rule of tool safety: Supervise children using tools. Young children need to be taught how to use tools safely (which brings up rule #3: Model proper tool use.). Then, they need direct supervision as they learn to handle the tool on their own. It's not enough to toss your son and hammer and say, "Here, use this." First, you must show him how to hold the hammer and, more importantly, how to hold the nail. Then you watch and guide and tweak as needed. Only when you feel confident in his abilities do you step away -- and even then, it's best to remain in reach.

We also talked about rule #4: Store and carry tools safely. My kids know that screwdrivers must be carried point down, and we talk constantly about the need to put tools away after the project is completed. I'll be honest, though: My boys aren't so good at this rule. They left the hacksaws laying on the floor ("But Mom, I was going to use that again! I swear!") and their three-year-old brother picked one up -- and dismantled the saw before I knew what happened. An engineering project for him, but a slightly dangerous one he had no business undertaking.

For more information about kids and tools safety, check out this article from This Old House.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Earlier is NOT Better

The Boston Globe ran a great article the other day, detailing the ways earlier formal academic instruction is hurting our children. From the article:

"There is a growing disconnect between what the research says is best for children -- a classroom free of pressure -- and what’s actually going on in schools."

This is a problem, I'm far as I'm concerned. We know, through years and years of research and anecdotal experience, how children learn best. Young children learn through play and experimentation, and boys in particular need movement and hands-on activities. Yet our schools don't reflect that reality. No wonder so many boys are struggling!

The best part of the article is that it includes voices of experienced and retired teachers. Check this out:

"Roz Brezenoff taught kindergarten in the Boston Public Schools for 36 years, retiring five years ago. 'I have heard stories of kids having what they call psychotic breakdowns in kindergarten, kids who are distressed because they are ‘kindergarten failures’ because they can’t read and they can’t write,' she says."

Is this how we want to start children off? Stressed out, anxious and labeled? Seems to me that getting children excited about learning by building on their natural curiousity would be a better way to go.

The problem is, no one knows what natural development looks like anymore. American children are hurried from the womb: rushed out via C-section or induction before their time, placed in daycare by six weeks and in academically-styled preschools by age 3.

Few people know the wonder of watching a child pick up a pen or pencil and trace letters from the cover of a book, just because -- because few children have the opportunity to come to letters and writing on their own. Far more children are taught to trace letters in a book at a predetermined time.

And that is why I believe homeschoolers have a lot to say about education. We may not have all the answers -- no one does -- but homeschoolers are some of the last hold-outs against our earlier-is-better culture. Many homeschoolers have consciously chosen to slow down, and many of us can attest to the value of waiting.

Not that I think the Department of Education is going to be knocking on our doors anytime soon, asking for our collective wisdom. Most homeschoolers, in fact, would prefer they don't. Savvy to the current political situation, most of us know that our best bet for continued freedom is to meet the letter of the law but avoid any unnecessary government interaction.

Maybe, just maybe, that's the answer. Maybe the government has no business in education. From the article again:

"Early childhood experts have been publishing books, releasing reports, and testifying before Congress, with little change in public policy. Why isn’t anyone listening? '“It’s not the educators, it’s the politicians,' says Russell of the Boston schools. 'The schools don’t make the decisions. The politicians are making the decisions to meet political needs.'"

What do you think? Is earlier academic instruction a good thing, or a bad thing? Should government be invovled in education? How would you reform our school system to make it more kid-friendly?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

This is Courage

Courage is a big theme in a boy's life. So is purpose. In that spirit, I offer you this video. Watch it alone, then watch it with your boys. Then tell me what you think.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The First Day of School

Today, kids all around town woke to alarm clocks and backpacks. Mine awoke to a pile of cardboard tubes and hacksaws.

While other kids crammed into desks on a beautiful, perfect 73 degree day, mine were sawing tubes in two. While other kids rose and sat to the sound of a bell, mine created contraptions of their own imagination. While other kids sat through History and Reading, mine learned about the Battle of Fallujah and listened to Huck Finn -- and spent the afternoon with great aunts and uncles who lived through the Depression and World War II.

We're a homeschooling family and today, I was glad.

Dozens of research studies have revealed a multitude of differences in the ways boys and girls learn. For the most part, boys are more active, hands-on learners than girls. Boys learn best when they see how a lesson directly applies to life and boys, biologically, require movement to absorb information.

Cut back to the tubes.

The tubes (and saws) were their Dad's idea. His office was clearing some space, so he loaded his car with the carboard tubes (think Christmas wrapping paper tubes, but much larger and more sturdy) and stopped by Home Depot to buy hacksaws and duct tape. Then he deposited the supplies on the toyroom for the boys to discover when they woke up.

Their creativity immediately took over -- and apparently, the focal points for creativity and bickering are located in the same lobe of the brain, because while my boys were actively engaged, the house was almost peaceful. I say almost because, well, hacksaws sawing through cardboard are not exactly peaceful.

Today, I saw boys learning in a way that suits boys. They were moving. They were using tools. They were creating structures that had meaning in their lives. Boy #1 is working hard to make a fort. Boy #2 has half a robot completed. Boy #3 was inspired by the tubes to finally build and paint the bench he'd wanted to make. (Not exactly a typical first-day-of-school assignment for a first grader).

They kept moving even while learning in a more traditional sense, while watching the Fallujah documentary and listening to Huck Finn. They might have looked like they weren't learning -- after all, there was cardboard everywhere and they continued to saw -- but I guarantee, they were learning.

At one point, Boy #1 walked through the toyroom and saw Boy #4 intently sawing a tube. "This doesn't happen in most houses," he said.

Nope, I agreed. I wish, though, that it did. I'm willing to bet that most boys would pick hacksaws and tubes over alarm clocks and backpacks anyday.