Help Active Boys Focus on Homework
It doesn’t matter if your children are enrolled in public or private schools, or even if you teach them yourself – they all have homework, and most children will complain about it if you give them a chance. Boys, especially, may be prone to this.
Some boys may find school discouraging because the typical classroom doesn’t play to their strengths. Where they desire action and competition, many boys find a restrained classroom and cooperative learning. Recess may have been taken over by structured activities, if not canceled altogether. Homework can seem like a plot to deprive them of their freedom once school lets out for the day. By considering personal preferences, parents can help homework be less loathsome for young, energetic students.
Encourage physical activity
First, don’t underestimate your son’s need for activity. Whether he likes team sports, building, digging, or just running around the neighborhood, be sure he has the opportunity to stretch his large muscle groups. Consider scheduling homework time after activities and dinner rather than immediately after school.
The need for physical activity extends into the academic world. Boys – and men – often find they concentrate better with some mild discomfort or activity to keep them alert. That’s why a young man intent on some task, whether building a cabinet or writing an essay, may unconsciously gnaw on his lip or knit his brow. Here are some suggestions that incorporate activity:
Some boys may like to work out math problems with a marker on a white board or a large sheet of paper. The extra arm motions and the ability to step back and look at the whole problem on a large scale can be helpful.
Walking around the room while reading assignments, or even carrying a book while walking around a track, is another time-honored practice. Many scholars and preachers in an earlier era used to read and even write while walking or riding from town to town. Reading aloud is another option.
Unexpected positions may help schoolwork come easier. Thomas Jefferson and Winston Churchill used to write standing up, using tall desks without a chair or stool. Your son might find it easier to work on the kitchen counter or spread his books out on top of his chest of drawers.
Personalize the environment
The environment can make a bigger difference than you might expect. Michael Gurian, in his book Boys and Girls Learn Differently, writes that the lighting, noise level, and even the temperature of the classroom make a serious difference to the students. What girls, or Mom, find comfortable may undermine a boy’s attention span. Gurian says girls often prefer a warm room with soft lighting and quiet sounds. Such a restful environment can put boys right to sleep! Boys may respond better to louder speech, bright lights and a cooler temperature.
Consider the following when evaluating your son’s homework environment:
Can he keep the room comfortably cool, at least to his own preference? Maybe he needs to open a window or turn on the fan.
Is there enough light? He may need a more powerful lamp for his desk or wherever he enjoys working.
When you help him with explanations or answering his questions, do you speak directly to him, with enough animation and expression to keep his attention?
Homework doesn’t have to be fun, but it does have to be done. Help your son implement strategies that help him concentrate the way that works best for him – even if they are a little unconventional.
Note: If your child has ongoing difficulty focusing on schoolwork, consider talking to your health-care professional to rule out possible causes.
Hal and Melanie Young are parents of eight children, six of them boys, and authors of Raising Real Men: Surviving, Teaching and Appreciating Boys. They live in Smithfield and write about raising boys at www.raisingrealmen.com.
Boys and Girls Learn Differently: A Guide for Teachers and Parents by Michael Gurian, Patricia Henley, Terry Trueman (Jossey-Bass; 2001; $14.95 paperback)
Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex Differences by Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D. (Broadway; 2005; $14.95 paperback)