Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Parenting in Public

My parenting convictions were put to the test a few weeks ago.

The boys and I had traveled to the Wisconsin Parents Association conference, an annual event that that refreshes, recharges and re-energizes me. I'd agreed to present three sessions at the conference: Homeschooling Boys, Let's Make Paper Airplanes and Boundless Energy: Dealing with Boy Energy. The first two were sessions I'd done before. Boundless Energy was a new one for me, created as a direct response to comments and questions from participants who attended my Homeschooling Boys session last year.

How, they wondered, does one productively co-exist with a boy (or boys) who seem to have a constant need for movement?

So this year, we talked. We agreed that boys' desire and drive for movement is not a bad thing, and that part of our job, as parents, is helping them find outlets for their energy. Our room was a testament to our beliefs: As I led the discussion, my 5-yr-old son practiced handstands at the side of the room with another boy. No one minded. We understood that the boys need to move, that they relate and build relationships through physical interactions.

But what about other, less-friendly circumstances? While we all felt quite comfortable letting our boys be boys in the safe confines of our classroom, a number of the moms expressed frustration with pre-existing playgroups back home, playgroups where their sons are judged for wanting to play lightsabers over tea party.

The experienced moms in the room talked about the need to "find your tribe," to find a network of friends and families who understand boys' predilection to play fighting and physical activity. But the deep down question remained: How do you, as a parent, balance your sons' needs for physical activity with societal expectations? How do you handle mealtimes? Social outings? It's one thing to tolerate jumping off the couch at home; it's another thing to let your sons run rampant at the public museum.

I shared my personal reality. At home, my boys rarely sit through a meal. My 10-yr-old is prone to eating on his feet; he's still my Most Likely to Fall Off a Chair for No Apparent Reason. My 8-yr-old constantly rocks his chair and all of my boys are more than happy to leap up from the table to peer out the window. And often, I let it go. I reinforce proper behavior, but I know that expecting my four boys, ages 5 to 13, to eat every meal while seated properly is a bit beyond their current capabilities. So I tolerate a certain amount of physical movement during a meal. I know that my sons are quite capable of adapting their behavior to the situation (even at this age, they understand the difference between lunch at home and Christmas dinner at Grandma's), and that their behavior will change as they grow.

But at lunch that day, in the cafeteria, my convictions were tested. Boy #4, age 5, finished eating long before the rest of us. He started turning circles 'round the column next to our table. I had a choice: I could deny his natural need for movement and shame him into his seat. Or I could tolerate his non-intrusive behavior.

I chose Choice #2, acutely aware that my actual parenting would speak far more than any words I spoke in the classroom. At the same time, I was acutely aware of fear that plagues so many boy-parents: the fear that we will be judged as inadequate or ineffective parents for letting our sons be boys.

So talk. Discuss. How do you handle parenting in public? Are you fearful of judgement? Does that fear affect your parenting?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day for Moms of Boys

I got this card in the mail today -- from a Mom friend who really gets it.

Inside the card, it reads "Raising boys -- now THAT'S an extreme sport!"

Happy Mother's Day to my fellow Moms of boys!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Star Wars Day

Today is Star Wars Day. Don't get it? Say the date. Out loud. With a "the" between "May" and "4th". Add a "be with you on the end."

My boys, like many others, are Star Wars buffs. (In fact, my very first blog post was about light sabers.) We learned about the holiday by accident last year -- and celebrated by taking the kids to the park so they could have an epic light saber battle with other homeschooled kids. To the untrained eye, our children might have looked like a bunch of Star Wars crazed kids running amok through the woods in the middle of a school day. But our kids were learning, really and truly learning.

They were learning cooperation and leadership. Their imaginations were completely engaged. On the spot, they were crafting an enormously complex storyline, complete with characters and plot twists. They were also definitely getting their fill of physical activity. Running through the woods, swinging a light saber, is hard work!

If your son is a Star Wars fanatic, consider sprinkling some Star Wars themed learning into his day today. I posted a couple ideas on Twitter today. (Find me @jlwf) You can also:

  • Head to the library and check out Star Wars books. There is something for every age and interest, from Easy Readers to chapter books. You can also find books about the weaponry, spaceships, special effects, etc.
  • Watch the movies. Start with Epidsode 1: The Phantom Menace, or Episode 4: A New Hope, the original 1977 movie that will forever remain "the first Star Wars movie" in my head. The order doesn't matter. Spending time with your kids, digging into their passion, is what matters.
  • Discuss/write about the systems of government in Star Wars. The Federation, the Senate...there's a lot of Social Studies and politics in Star Wars. Compare and contrast the various systems of government in the the Stars Wars universe with those in your own backyard.
  • Study the science. Cloning is big in Star Wars. (Clone troopers, anyone?) Dig into the science behind the science-fiction. Talk to your kids about Dolly, the cloned sheep. (Watch a fun video here.) Ask their opinions about the ethics involved.
  • Draw/paint scenes from the movie. One of the best things about Star Wars is that it's boy AND girl friendly. Boys typically prefer to draw action; they love weapons and spacecraft. Girls may prefer to focus on characters or costumes. (Remember, these are just generalizations. Some boys prefer costumes and some girls are all about the light sabers.)
  • Let Yoda teach grammar. Yoda, Luke's tiny yet powerful Jedi Master, can teach your kids a thing or two about the English language. Think not, do you? Check out this Analysis of Yodish.

Do you have any other fun, Star Wars-related learning ideas? I'd love to hear them! What are you doing for Star Wars Day?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Boy Energy

I'll be speaking at the Wisconsin Parents Association conference in Oshkosh this weekend, reprising last year's Homeschooling Boys session. I'll also be presenting a new session, Boundless Energy: Understanding (and Respecting) Boys' Need for Movement.

Boys, as you well know, are built for action. Staying still is not their strong suit; jumping off couches is more their speed. But that nearly constant craving for activity can wear out even the most tolerant mom. My boys get away with a lot of stuff (see picture), but at some point, even I want to turn around and yell, "Stop!"

How do you cope with your sons' energy? Do you have any tips to help boys settle down and complete their assigned school work? Or do you eschew sit-down school work all together and plan innovative, active lessons? How do YOU help your boys learn? I'd love to share your comments, thoughts and ideas at my session this weekend.