A Boy's Gotta Move
Creating an ideal learning environment for boys
by Colleen Lissamer
As an elementary school teacher, I am often asked by concerned parents, “How is my son doing? Does he pay attention in class? Is he making progress?” I also hear “Do boys and girls learn differently?” My answer is yes, boys and girls do learn differently—current brain research backs up this claim. This leads to a second question: “Is school a good place for boys to learn ?” I would say that the answer depends on the school. Effective education takes into consideration the needs of each child, treats each one as an individual, and doesn’t label. It also gives children opportunities to explore and develop their true identity through a wide range of teacher-directed and self-directed learning. Successful education also considers different learning styles and factors in the different personalities and needs of all the students.
To select a school that provides an ideal context for boys to be successful, look for the following:
A Balanced Curriculum
Our demand for earlier mastery of academic skills is robbing children of their need to be physically active and creatively involved with their own learning process. Too often boys are required to sit still and listen for long periods of time. Too much early emphasis on academics can lead to loss of self-esteem and a sense of failure.
Many boys learn best when learning is “hands-on.” This means learning by touching, moving, climbing on and building things. They solve problems physically. This applies not only in kindergarten, but throughout the school experience. Many schools don’t offer enough hands-on learning opportunities and boys can become frustrated as a result.
Look for classrooms where boys have plenty of opportunities to be active and where they are not expected to sit still for long periods of time. Play is the work of childhood, it’s how children learn social and verbal skills, and an enriched classroom provides opportunities for imaginative play along with formal learning.
A learning environment where boys will be successful will be rich in creativity and will include music, poetry and open-ended art experiences that allow for exploration rather than cookie-cutter projects that look nice on the bulletin board. Boy art will often involve duct tape, a story, and an enjoyment of the process rather than the results.
Reading that Reflects Boys’ Interests
Boys are often open to reading if they can make their own choices, and this includes all kinds of reading—magazines, graphic novels, comics—as well as books. Boys can also develop their reading vocabulary by reading directions, instructions and labels.
Many children today lack opportunities to be in nature, enjoying, exploring and learning from its rich context. A school that understands boys will offer an outdoor education program that provides regular opportunities for hiking, hands-on science, and pure enjoyment and contact with the environment.
Satire, parody and humour have an important place in a program that meets a boy’s needs. Look for teachers who appreciate and respect a boy with a sense of fun, while gently helping him to learn the appropriate time and place to express his humour.
The word “educate” means “to lead out.” Effective teachers create the conditions in which boys will, on their own timetables and in their own way, learn what they need to know to be happy and successful in the world.
Colleen Lissamer is principal and an elementary teacher at the Victoria School for Ideal Education. She is continually being educated about the needs of boys by her 11-year-old son.