Thursday, January 28, 2010

Boys and Hair, Part 3

I've blogged about Taylor Pugh before. Most recently, the long-haired little boy's parents reached a compromise with the school district, agreeing to secure his hair up before sending him to class. According to his mom, Elizabeth, Taylor "looks a little like Princess Leia" with his new 'do.

Keep that in mind.

In another school district, in another place (far, far away, of course), another boy's long hair landed him in trouble. This time, apparently, the school district was OK with his hair. His teacher clearly was not.

The eleven-year-old's mother has filed a lawsuit alleging that his sixth-grade teacher pulled his hair into ponytails, re-introduced him to the class using a female name and paraded him to other sixth grade classrooms.

The teacher's behavior was clearly over the line. But what intrigues me the most here is:
  1. The amount of time, energy and passion invested in boys' hair
  2. The differing responses

In one case, we have an extremely conservative school district that is apparently OK with a four-year-old boy coming to school with Princess Leia hair. In the other case, a rogue teacher in a more tolerant school district ties a boy's hair up and his parents sue, alleging that the ponytails "caused ... extreme humiliation, embarrassment and emotional distress" and that the school "failed to protect him against gender-based harassment."

I don't mean to downplay the pain experienced by either boy. I just find it incredibly ironic that a "girly" hairstyle is the answer in one school district and the problem in another. And as a woman who is also the mother of boys, I am disturbed by the undercurrent: in both cases, adults are imposing notions of masculinity on little boys. In both cases, the clear message is this: Don't be a girl.

Is it possible that our sons, the younger generation, don't feel nearly as confined by typical sex roles as we did? Is it possible that their comfort makes us uncomfortable? I'm eager to hear your thoughts.

Monday, January 25, 2010

In The Flow

I said the words "historical disaster" -- and my kitchen erupted into a frenzy of baking soda and vinegar, clay and cardboard.

Our homeschool group is hosting a Historical Disaster Fair on some yet-to-be-determined date. (Cool idea, eh? I got it here.) Today, I figured, was as good a day as any to tell the boys.

Somewhat surprisingly, they were ALL excited. (I think the word "disaster" had something to do with it.) Within minutes, they had selected their topics: a volcanic eruption for Boy #2 (think Pompeii), an asteroid impact for Boy #3 and either Hiroshima or Gettysburg for Boy #1.

Pleased with our little conversation, I headed to the basement to start a load of laundry. I returned a few minutes later to find a cookie sheet covered in vinegar and cardboard boxes in various states of deconstruction.

The boys were in the zone. Boy #3 sketched his plans for an asteroid impact model while Boy #2 experimented with different "volcanoes." (He ultimately settled on a water bottle, lid off.) Boy #4 watched with glee while Boy #2 tested various concentrations of baking soda and vinegar. #3 sliced shapes out of extra cardboard boxes and colored them, just right -- 2 shades of blue for the ocean and a blank, deforested area on planet Earth. Boys #1 and 2 cleaned out an old fish tank/new home for a volcano. #2 microwaved modeling clay to soften it, then crafted a volcano-shaped shell around his water bottle. He also made a building out of a small cardboard box.

My kitchen was a mess, but the energy in that room was inspiring! This was not learning for learning's sake; this was creation. These were boys who were applying knowledge, boys who were free to pursue a project in whatever way felt best for them. There were no rules -- "each project must contain a timeline" or "all reports must be double-spaced" -- to interfere with their visions. No bells sounded, artificially ending the energy. The boys worked and worked and worked -- because they wanted to, not because someone told them they must.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Turning Lemons to Lemonade

Talk about a nice start to the weekend. Blogging 'Bout Boys has been named a Lemonade Stand Award winner! According to Michelle and Karen at Layers of Learning, the Lemonade Stand Awards recognize blogs that demonstrate great attitudes or gratitude.

Now it's time for me to pass on the honor. Here are 10 blogs that I think deserve the Lemonade Stand Award:
  1. Parenting by Trial and Error. Sarah Ludwig is a single mom of four kids, just like me. She's also a witty and personable writer who understands parenting from the trenches.
  2. Living in Splitsville. Christina and her husband separated a little over a year ago. Her tagline -- Notes on a Midlife Makevoer -- says it all.
  3. Journey to a Wondraful Baby. Disclaimer: My SIL runs this blog and the main topic is my adorable little niece. Underneath is all, though, is a story of gratitude as Heather blogs about finding their daughter through adoption.
  4. Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. My first, favorite homeschool blog. Here, you'll find real-life stories of homeschooling and thousands of fun tips.
  5. Eclipsed. Yup, it's a two-for-one deal. Eclipsed is by the same woman who writes Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers, but it focuses on weight loss instead of homeschooling.
  6. Boy Crazy. How could I not like this blog? The writing is divine.
  7. Saying YES 2 Boys. Andrea is a mom after my own heart. Her boys run, jump and swing swords while she reflects, supports and joins in on the fun.
  8. Alasandra's Homeschool Blog. If you're a homeschooler, Alasandra's blog is a must. She keeps you up-to-date on news and happenings in the world of homeschooling.
  9. The Happiest Mom. Another parenting blog by another writer and mom of many. (Meagan has five children.) But her take on parenting -- Happy. Mother. You really can use both words in the same sentence. -- isn't one we hear often.
  10. BIKE with Jackie. This blog is all about positive attitudes and gratitude. Jackie uses her BIKE technique to teach you how to overcome adversity.

What other blogs inspire you? I'd love to hear about your favorites!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Braid Might Be The Answer

Remember Taylor Pugh? According to his Texas school district, his hair is too long; therefore, the four-year-old (yes, 4-year-old) receives instruction separately from his classmates.

Taylor's parents asked the school board for a dress code exemption, but their request was denied. The Superintendent, however, mentioned a braid as a possibility, so Taylor's mom braided his hair, crossed her fingers and sent him to class today. According to his mom, Taylor "looks a little like Princess Leia" with two braids coiled on his head.

What do you think? Are braids a viable solution? Do you think the school district was right to keep Taylor out of the classroom? Do you think his parents are right to challenge the school?

Monday, January 18, 2010


I am concerned about grade level expectations which are enforced without any true understanding of when children are actually ready to acquire the skills being covered...

When I asked for your learning concerns, Andrea answered. So today, let's talk about grade level expectations.

According to the Louisiana Department of Education, "A grade-level expectation (GLE) is a statement that defines what all students should know and be able to do at the end of a given grade level."

What concerns Andrea (and many others) is the "all" in that sentence. ALL children in Louisiana Public Schools, for instance, are expected to "decode simple one-syllable words" and "read books with predictable, repetitive text and simple illustrations" by the end of kindergarten. But what if child is not biologically ready to read by the end of kindergarten?

Well-established research has shown that different areas of the brain mature at different times in males and females. The part of the brain that handles language typically matures earlier in girls than in boys -- so much so, in fact, that the language area of the brain of a five-year-old boy is comparable to that of a three-and-a-half year old girl. Is it fair, then, to place five-year-old boys in classrooms with five-year-old girls and expect both sexes to read by the end of the year?

At age five, boys are also typically more impulsive and active than five-year-old girls -- characteristics that don't exactly bode well for a study of the written word.

And yet, some boys read by the end of kindergarten. Some girls don't. At what cost? Do we truly know the benefits or harms of pushing a child to achieve skills before he is naturally ready? We do know this: any early advantages gained in kindergarten tend to even out around 4th grade. In other words, it makes no difference whether a child learns to read "early" or "late."

Thirty years ago, American kindergartens were focused on play, not literacy. We learned to read in 1st grade, not kindergarten. Even that, in hindsight, seems rather arbitrary. Who decided, years ago, that children should know how to read by age 6? Why? (For the record, I'm going to do some digging. Hopefully, I'll report back soon with answers.)

What do you think of grade level expectations? Do you feel they help or hamper students? If you homeschool, do you worry more about grade level expectations or the readiness of the individual child?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Caffeine Affects Boys More Than Girls?

So say the headlines. But when I read the article, I was leery.

Concerned about the growing epidemic of soft drink consumption among American teens, researchers at the University of Buffalo conducted a study to assess boys' and girls' response to caffeine. What the researchers found was that boys were would work significantly longer at a computer game to win a caffeinated soda than girls would.

According to a Discovery News story, "Jennifer R. Temple, lead researcher and neurobiologist at University of Buffalo, said she expected caffeinated drinks to work most strongly on those in the study who routinely consumed the most caffeine, regardless of sex. Instead, the results revealed a relationship between gender and the desire for caffeinated soda.

"We aren't sure (why boys responded more), but we speculate that it could have to do with circulating hormones and their effect on the metabolism of caffeine," Temple said.

Um, maybe because oodles of research and anecodotal evidence suggests that boys are more attracted to video games than girls?

For more info about the study, click here.

Friday, January 15, 2010


One of the most interesting things about Lisa Rivero's gifted education workshop is that she encourages parents to examine themselves for gifted traits. Giftedness rarely occurs in a vacuum; if a child is gifted, chances are one of both parents are too.

Indeed, like my oldest son, I'm an emotionally sensitive person. My mother frequently described my brain as too big for my body and I always had a large and impressive vocabulary. I also struggle with perfectionism.

Because gifted kids are so good at so many things, they often expect everything to be easy. When it's not, they may become frustrated. And to avoid such unpleasantness in the future, they may refuse to try new activities. Better to be good at your strengths, the thinking goes, than to be exposed as mediocre.

The problem is that such perfectionism becomes stifling. Instead of expanding their horizons, some gifted kids become trapped in a box of their own making. I was always an academically talented child, but I was not athletically inclined. (Yes, I was the kid who got Bs and Cs in gym.) My 8th grade year, though, I decided I wanted to join the volleyball team. Almost every other girl in my class played and I wanted to play too. On the day of the first practice, I biked to school, dressed and ready. But I couldn't make myself go in. My fear of failure -- my fear of not being good at volleyball -- was greater than my desire to play. To this day, I avoid team sports.

Perfectionism in gifted kids can also result from minds that grow faster than bodies. Many gifted kids can envision elaborate projects, but lack the physical or social skills to see such plans to fruition. When the real-life project fails to meet their expectations, they may explode in a rage.

Handling such perfectionism is a challenge for the parent, especially if the parent is a former gifted child who struggles with perfectionism his- or herself. One of the most important things you can do is let your child see you as less than perfect. Try things outside of your comfort zone. Let your child see that you are good at some things, and less-good at others. Let him see you having fun, even when you're less than the best. Those non-verbal messages will speak volumes.

Also let your child see you handle setbacks. If you spill while cooking or make a mistake in a painting project, how do you react? If you explode, become frustrated or quit, chances are your child will too. If your child sees you take a deep breath before adapting to the new situation, he too may learn how to deal with simple setbacks.

Be sure to value the whole child. Gifted children have a number of gifts, of which we are understandably proud. But a child is more than his talents and deserves to be loved as a human being, not just a conglomeration of gifts. Spend time nuturing your child's other interests. Enjoy his company. Love him, unconditionally.

Encourage your child to try new activities, and praise any and all efforts to step out of his comfort zone. Even if he "fails," remind him that he's learned something simply by trying the new activity. Also be sure to let him know that practice equals improvement. (Please, stay away from "practice makes perfect.") No one is great at everything the first time around.

Finally, point out the positive. Many gifted kids are acutely aware of the flaws in their work, and will deem an entire project a "disaster" because of one tiny flaw. Help them pull back and see the bigger picture. Ask them what they like about the project. Ask them what they learned. Help your child celebrate his accomplishments and encourage him to see mistakes as learning-in-progress.

Do you have any tips for dealing with perfectionism?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Gifted = MORE

The issues that concern me have more to do with emotions and balance. My son is often highly-intense,easily frustrated, and negative.

Sound like anyone at your house? Sandra's comment immediately reminded me of my oldest son -- and of a workshop I've attended not once, but twice.

The workshop was Homeschooling Precocious, Sensitive, Intense, Creative (and Otherwise Gifted) Children; the presenter, Lisa Rivero. Giftedness, Lisa says, is more than intelligence. It's more than high test scores. It's more than ease of understanding. Giftedness, quite simply, is MORE.

A gifted child, Lisa explains, is one who is more sensitive, intense and creative than others. A gifted child might exhibit strong attachments to people, animals and things. A gifted child may find exceptional delight in beauty. A gifted child may create elaborate imaginative games.

As the parents in the room discussed their gifted children, the pieces began to fall into place. My oldest (at that time, only 7) had always been an extraordinarily intutive child; he's the kind of kid who can walk into a room and sense the emotional temperature before anyone says a word. At age three, he had not one imaginary friend but an entire work crew. (This was during his construction obsession.) He's very sensitive to sounds and textures. And the questions! This kid asked probing questions from the time he could talk.

In the book You Know Your Child Is Gifted When..., author Judy Galbraith writes, "gifted kids are often so much more of everything than other kids their ages -- more intense, curious, challenging, frustrating, sensitive, passionate."

Parenting such a child is, of course, a challenge. Strong emotions in a small package are frightening to many parents, especially when coupled with a powerful intellect. And gifted children frequently struggle with other issues as well, including peer relationships and perfectionism.

Tomorrow, we'll talk more about perfectionism. Today, I want to hear more about your kids. Do you have a son who is gifted? How is he MORE, and how do you handle it?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Learning Challenges

Yesterday I wrote about twice exceptional children, children who are simultaneously gifted and learning disabled.

I'd like to write more about learning challenges and education, but first I'd like to hear from you. What learning challenges have your son(s) faced? What would you like to learn more about?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Twice Exceptional

Imagine instinctively solving advanced math equations in your head -- but struggling to read the word "multiplication." Or mentally composing elaborate plays that you can't write down. Imagine your frustration. Imagine your humiliation. Imagine life in a world that focuses on your weaknesses and ignores your gifts.

Such is the world of the twice exceptional child, a child who is simultaneously gifted and learning disabled. To many, the very words "gifted" and "learning disabled" are complete opposites. How, some wonder, can one person be "smart" as well as "dumb?"

Well, "gifted" does not equal "smart" and "learning disabled" does not equal "dumb." A gifted person is one with incredible potential, one who sees and experiences the world in a way that is more intense, more open to possibility. A learning disability affects one's ability to process or interpret information; a person of normal intelligence who struggles to read or write likely has a learning disability.

Children who are both gifted and learning disabled frequently feel confused. They may be ahead -- very ahead -- in some school subjects, but behind (even very behind) in others. The twice exceptional student doesn't quite know where he fits in; his teachers and parents wonder why he's not living up to his potential.

According to the Colorado Department of Education, "Gifted students with disabilities are at-risk because their educational and social/emotional needs often go undetected. The resulting inconsistent academic performance can lead educators to believe twice-exceptional students are not putting forth adequate effort. Hidden disabilities may prevent students with advanced cognitive abilities from achieving their potential."

Some schools, however, are making strides to ensure that twice exceptional children have the opportunity to succeed, even as they learn to cope with their disabilties. Watch the "Chance to Read" video here to see how one school is helping twice exceptional boys.

Monday, January 11, 2010

So THIS Is Why my Toy Room is Filled with Tonka Trucks!

I started down the Path of Parenthood with few, if any, toys. We got a stuffed Tigger for our oldest son's birth, but that was about it. Twelve years and four boys later, our toy room is a stereotypical boy haven.

In one corner, Tonka trucks and farm toys. In another, wooden blocks and Lincoln logs. Matchbox cars litter the floor and toy guns peek out from the toy box. Random dinosaurs, poker chips and action figures -- not to mention light sabers and train tracks -- complete the look.

I did not intend to have this many boy toys. And, to be fair, my boys have played with some "girly" toys as well. They loved Care Bears. They liked the Winx club. We even have dolls and a plastic babycare center.

Overwhelmingly, though, their toys scream, "male!" Is it because I unconsciously push my boys toward boy toys, or because of their own innate preferences?

A new study suggests that hormones are to blame. Researchers measured testosterone and estrogen levels of three- to four-month-old babies; they also used eye-tracking software to guage the babies' level of interest in a doll vs. a ball. The results indicate that babies with higher testosterone levels prefer the ball.

What do you think? Do you think boys show a natural inclination toward "boy toys?"

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

She Said It Better...

...than I ever could.

The evening sent me spinning.
Dizzy from the nonstop
that I holler out, like a caller at a square dance
for feral cats.

The words are genius, a beautiful word picture of events and emotions all too familiar to moms and dads. Head on over to Boy Crazy to read the rest of her wonderful poem, "current."

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Crafting in Clay

Our drive home from the orthodontist today turned into an impromptu art class.

For some inexplicable reason, Boy #3 brought along some modeling clay. He crafted a bullet out of his clay and showed it to his brothers, who promptly told him everything that was wrong with it ("it doesn't even have a primer pan"). They, of course, declared they could do better. Soon, all three of them were crafting projectiles out of clay.

Boy #2 made a shotgun shell. Boy #1 created a musket ball, which he deemed the most realistic, since musket balls WERE essentially round balls. Not to be outdone, I promised to blow them away by crafting a .22 when we arrived home. (Yes, I simply made a "22" out of clay. They did not appreciate my humor.)

The whole incident got me thinking about boys and the many ways our society restricts boy behavior. Would my boys have been allowed to create clay bullets at school? I doubt it. For understandable reasons, schools no longer allow weapons of any kind -- even in play. Boys who write stories with violent themes are referred for psychological counseling. Games such as King of the Mountain are disallowed.

Boys, though, are drawn to these things. Most boys have an innate fascination with weaponry and most boys have a desire to test their strength and courage against other boys. Boys have a natural tendency toward competition. Boys think, wonder and fantasize about war.

That doesn't mean that the boys in question actually want to blow each other's heads off; it just means that they're learning how to make sense of those impulses. It means they're exploring ideas. It means they're growing.

What do our boys lose when we forbid them from all expressions of violence? When we tell them what their stories can and cannot be about? Do they not learn that there's something wrong with them, at the core?

Today, I was glad my boys were home, free to craft in clay.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Benefit of Brothers

My six-year-old recently told me, "You know what the good thing about having four brothers is? When we're all grown up, if a dude picks on us, we can take him down!"

He hesitated for a moment, then added, "And we'll have lots of practice from childhood!"

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Dollars and Cents

Why are all the good headlines from the UK?

Yesterday I blogged about a UK proposition that would pressure (I mean, encourage) young boys to write. Today's headline tells me that boys are better savers than girls.

What do you think? It's an intriguing topic, partly because of the possible stereotypical implications: Boys are good with money. Girls go out and spend it.

I think there's more to the story. The gender gap still exists, with females, on average, earning less than males. So perhaps the female teens simply earned less money? Perhaps it would be more useful to look at savings as a percentage of income.

And yet...there are some very real differences between men and women, at least as far as finance is concerned. According to Ramit Sethi , there are 13 Stunning Differences in How Men and Women Think About Money. Among them:
  • Males are more apt to rely on investments as a source of retirement income.
  • Males report greater interest in investing, saving and entrepreneurship, while females' financial interests tend towards saving and frugality.
  • Men are much more likely to report feeling confident about money. Women are more likely to feel anxiety and apprehension.

As parents of boys, we owe it to our sons to teach them the basics of personal finance. But it's also our job to let them know that females are equally as capable of learning about money. The boys we raise today are the husbands, fathers and co-workers of tomorrow.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Teaching Boys to Write

I haven't blogged in awhile. The holidays are partly to blame (how much free time do you have over the holiday season?) but so, frankly, was a lack of motivation.

Today, though, is a New Year, and in my determination to start the year out fresh, I spent some time deleting news messages from my inbox. One story caught my attention and I knew it was time to blog. The headline? "Three-year-old boys should be made to write to stop gender gap."

Officials in the UK, well-aware of the academic achievement gap that continues to exist between boys and girls, particulary in the area of writing, are recommending that three-year-old boys do more writing and drawing. Never mind the fact that three-year-olds are the most stubborn creatures in the world. I could hand my three-year-old son crayons every day of the week, but unless he wants to write, I can guarantee he's not going to write. He might fling the crayons. He'll very probably eat some of them. And he'll absolutely peel the paper off every single crayon. But write? Probably not.

Don't get me wrong: At three, he's showing a definite interest in letters, and he knows that we use marks on paper to represent those letters. When he's in the mood, he'll scribble something and tell me it's an "A" (or a "T" or whatever). Occasionally, he'll let me hold his hand as we create words on the paper. (He particularly likes to do this as we wait in the line at the grocery store.)

That kind of teaching/learning, in my opinion, is age-appropriate. That kind of teaching/learning respects biological differences (did you know that the area of the brain that handles language matures, on average, six years later in boys than in girls?). That kind of learning is a loving, caring adult responding to a child's request for information -- not a government imposing expectations on little people so the government's educational system will look good.

Perhaps -- just perhaps -- that stubborn gender gap is there because there are some very real differences between boys and girls. And perhaps -- just perhaps -- learning more about boys and how they grow, develop and learn will help teachers and parents close that gap.

The new recommendation, in fact, seems to ignore previous research cited by the same government. A literature review commissioned by the Office for Standards in Education notes that "Two longitudinal studies, one in America and one in Portugal, report that children who learn in child-initiated, active and free play environments made stronger progress in reading and writing than their peers in formal skills based environments...Too much focus on writing as transcription affects younger children’s perceptions of what writing is and what it is for. Letter formation may be started too young, and boys whose motor skills are less developed may experience early frustration with writing that looks, and is, less proficient than girls’. Since transcription is an area in which weaker boys have difficulty, they make early associations of writing with activities in which they struggle."

I've argued before that in the early years, we should focus on helping our boys Write, not write. The government of England obviously has a different opinion. What's yours?