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Boys Will Be Boys: 10 Activities to Engage Them in Education

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A February 2 New York Times opinion piece decried the fact that boys are academically falling behind their girl counterparts. Nothing new there. Girls are apparently getting better grades, graduating in greater numbers from high school and pursuing higher education.

The prevalent theory is that today’s classrooms, curriculum and assessments are not set up for boys. So they disengage.

As parents, we can take part in engaging our boys in their education from the start. I have three boys, so I have thought a lot about what the articles are saying. These are some ideas for parents of boys in Denver (they are great for girls too):

1) Create a fantasy football league, do baseball stats, or otherwise find ways to play with numbers and sports together so that they are doing math without even thinking about it.
2) Help your boys take apart an old cell phone, computer, engine or small appliance and try to rebuild it, create something new with it, or turn it into a piece of art. Then ask them to write the instructions down and give it to a science teacher, art teacher or friend.
3) Encourage your school to form an after-school Lego League (http://www.usfirst.org) team or Destination Imagination (http://www.destinationimagination.org/) team. If your school does not have the capacity to do it, look for a local team. Both provide opportunities for kids to compete and encourage problem-solving, innovation and creativity. Both start as early as kindergarten.
4) Give them the space and materials in your house or yard to build things: blocks, cardboard, Legos, scraps of wood and tools.
5) If your boys need hands-on experiences to get engaged, take them on adventures and turn them into science, math, literature, history or art-focused experiences. Possibilities in and around Denver include:
a. The new, very interactive Colorado History Museum (http://www.historycolorado.org/) has great interactive exhibits and is offering fun, educational, hands-on, parent-child Spring Break workshops March 25-29 for 3-5 graders.
b. The Garden of the Gods (where they can learn about both dinosaurs and how much that very spot has changed over millions of years), then go home and make a list of all the creatures and peoples who may have lived in your yard.
c. Tour the Argo Gold Mine and Mill in Idaho Springs, the Country Boy Mine in Breckenridge or the Hidee Gold Mine in Central City, (http://www.colorado.com/articles/colorado-mine-tours-gold-rush-towns).
d. The Manitou Cliff Dwellings of the Anasazi (http://www.cliffdwellingsmuseum.com) five miles outside Colorado Springs, then do an art project at home inspired by your trip.
e. The Wild Animal Sanctuary (http://www.wildanimalsanctuary.org/home.html), America’s premier sanctuary for large carnivores, which is just northeast of Denver.
f. The Crow Canyon Archaeology Center (http://www.crowcanyon.org) offers week-long summer camp sessions for middle and high school students, where they get to participate in an archaeological dig.
6) Invest in a membership to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. My boys have been to the human body and space exhibits at least 50 times each, and they still get excited to go back. Make sure to go again when they cover either in science class.
7) Read with them about interesting, innovative men like Benjamin Franklin, Teddy Roosevelt, the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison, Neil Armstrong, Martin Luther King, Thomas Jefferson, the Navajo Code Talkers, Louis Armstrong – anyone who thought outside the box.
8) We keep hearing that technology (video games and texting and Facebook) is this generation’s downfall. Embracing it, however, could also be their path to success. If your kids enjoy video games, use programs like iMovies and ToonTastic (free for the iPad, see http://launchpadtoys.com), where they can do their own storytelling using the technology they love. It may not be the way you learned to write, but it could get your kids excited about it.
9) One of my boys is a money-guy, so I might as well give him opportunities to play with it. Young Americans Bank (http://www.yacenter.org) offers summer camps on personal budgeting, banking, running a town, and starting their own business for grades 2-7. The camps are surprisingly affordable, and they extend learning into the summer in a way that does not feel like school.
10) Often kids need to experience either the opportunity to lead or to give to others in need. Check out the Young Philanthropists Foundation (http://www.ypfoundation.org) for local opportunities to do both. The YPF hosts family service days throughout the year. Or have your child apply for its Impact Factory, which is a year-long program focused on teaching business etiquette, leadership skills, public speaking, board service, diversity and inclusiveness.

If we recognize what does get our boys excited, we can leverage those activities to get them inspired to learn, to focus, to lead, to thrive in school. As parents, it is our job to advocate for our kids in school (“he needs recess; don’t punish him by taking it away!”), but it is also important for us to engage with them in educational pursuits outside the classroom.

Denver and our surroundings offer abundant opportunities. Just keep trying until you find something that grabs your son’s imagination and makes him want to learn more.

Jennifer Kelly is a freelance writer and mother of three young boys. She founded Penny Jar Kids, which creates Global Giving Kits to get young children engaged in philanthropy while learning about the countries they choose to support. She also authors a parenting and education blog at jennswondering.

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Comments
  • comment avatar Charlie Hendricks February 28, 2013

    We struggled with our two sons and found technology that actually help them engage and connect with science. My husband got them hooked on Microsoft Flight Simulator and they have learned to fly planes. The benefit is that he uses the time to teach them the science behind flight while they enjoy flying. Our 5 year old can actually fly a 747 and land it using instruments – I couldn’t believe it. The important part to me is that they are very interested in the science and engineering aspect and learning from Dad. But don’t get me wrong – they love the game too!

    • comment avatar jennswondering March 2, 2013

      That sounds so cool!

  • comment avatar Sarah March 1, 2013

    Very nice tips and ideas on how it is possible to engage our little boys in learning! I really like the aspect behind of all these ideas – it’s just that we have to do something with the boys (like Gold Mine tour or Wild Animal Sanctuary) or let them do something creative, fun or sportive (football, baseball or soccer). There are also many toys supporting education of boys.

    The big problem with boys education lies at the parent side: if we are lazy, uncreative and just give them a x-box and a some games, they will just sit in front of that thing. But if we think a little bit about it and give them some possibilities to learn – I am pretty sure they will! I am not saying they shouldn’t be allowed to play with the playstation, it just should be in a helthy ratio.

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