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No. 6

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by Hal & Melanie Young
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Homeschooling Boys and Girls: Is There a Difference?

When we were visiting colleges with our eldest son, we toured one with a historic campus, top-flight academics, and incidentally, an all-male student body. John was invited to sit in on an economics class, and he came back fired up.

Recognize the difference between your sons and daughters.

“It was great, Mom!” he told Melanie. “They were arguing every point, the professor called them knuckleheads, and they were yelling back at him. It was awesome!”

Melanie’s response was, “And this is good—how?”

It highlighted a fundamental truth—God made boys and girls different, and that extends to how they respond to education. The challenge is to figure out how to best reach each of our children, and somehow teach them in the same homeschool!

He Created Them Male and Female

We’ve seen distinctions almost from birth—our baby girls have been fascinated by faces and people, our boys loved motion and noise. As they’ve grown, we’ve seen those distinctions carry through. Our girls are often focused on relationships and feelings, while our boys are intrigued by machines, forces, and power—benign or destructive!

Granted, these are generalizations. Boys and girls fall on a spectrum of behavior and interests; God created them as individuals, not members of a classification! It’s important to remember, though, that when it comes to gender traits, a bookish boy has far more in common with his athletic brother than with his studious sister. To teach them effectively, we need to understand how they differ—what motivates them, what attracts their attention, and what could interfere with their learning process.

Here for You

Did you find this article helpful? Find more resources on HSLDA’s Early Years website. Or explore the archives of Home School Heartbeat programs and our @home e-vents. You may also take advantage of your HSLDA member benefits by calling Vicki Bentley for assistance with your particular questions about homeschooling through the early years!

Take developmental differences. We’ve all heard that girls mature faster than boys, but really, they just mature differently. Girls tend to be advanced in small motor skills, such as writing, while boys are farther ahead in spatial reasoning and large motor skills. That difference in coordination may affect your choice of curriculum. Often girls will happily fill in worksheets at a young age, while boys may become frustrated and are better off doing things orally.

That’s one reason elementary school often seems challenging for boys: they don’t naturally sit down and color within the lines like girls do. Teachers who are former girls themselves may unconsciously reward one’s behavior while giving the other a continuous cycle of “Sit down! Be quiet! Stop fidgeting!”

While we do train our boys to sit still when needed, we’ve found it’s often better to work with that energy rather than squelch it. Researchers have found boys concentrate better when they’ve used their large muscle groups—exercise isn’t just for P.E., there's an academic benefit too! When the fidgets start, we give them an errand or send them to run up and down the stairs to burn off some energy. Go ahead, let them use the floor, the countertop, or a whiteboard to do their work. Don’t despair—Thomas Jefferson and Winston Churchill did some of their best writing standing up or pacing around!

Courtesy of the family
Hal and Melanie Young are the parents of six boys and two girls who were homeschooled from the beginning. Their book, Raising Real Men: Surviving, Teaching and Appreciating Boys, is available from the HSLDA Store. Also be sure to listen to their archived HSLDA @home e-vents (“Ballistic Homeschooling: Teaching and Appreciating Boys” and “Raising Real Men”), and their Home School Heartbeat interview. You can also visit the Youngs’ website.

We’ve seen differences in motivation, too. Boys love to try their strength and compete—against others or themselves. One of our sons seemed to drift during math lessons until we started timing him. When he had to beat the clock for a reward, he quickly learned to pace himself and keep focused. Boys are often goal oriented; if they can’t see the purpose, they balk. “Why do I have to do this?” Sometimes “Because!” is the only answer, but it’s helpful to remind them why they need spelling or long division to do what they want in life.

Girls, on the other hand, are often motivated by relationships. A desire to please those in authority over them can make them seem more compliant than their brothers, but it can also make them overcautious (afraid to take risks or try something new), easily manipulated, and terribly sensitive to criticism, even from themselves! Dads in particular should be aware of their daughters’ need for extra encouragement and affirmation.

How about subject matter? Recently Melanie reviewed a new art curriculum which turned out to be a very boyish program—all the exercises involved things like airplanes, dinosaurs, and superheroes with bulging biceps. The boys loved it; our school-age daughter, not so much. Where were the flowers, the people, the horses? It just wasn’t lovely! The clear, kid-friendly instructions could teach her drawing, all right, but this program wouldn’t grab her imagination. On the other hand, letting her add illustrations and color makes even handwriting worksheets a delight.

Even the environment can be important. In our house and in our van, control of the thermostat is a male/female issue. The ladies want things warm and cozy; the gentlemen could hang meat in their area. How can you concentrate if you’re uncomfortable?

Bringing it Together

So how can you handle all these different tendencies in one homeschool? We got a clue from a church we used to attend. The historic sanctuary was drafty, and we noticed the elderly ladies congregated near the heater while the expectant mothers hung out in cooler rows in back. We can do the same in our home. Why not let your daughter have the sunny spot by the window and let your son sit under the ceiling fan? Sometimes we need to take turns.

Studies suggest boys and girls actually hear and respond to voices differently. Susie might think you’re shouting, while Will seems hard of hearing! Try reading with expression—lots of it. Raise your voice to capture your son’s attention, lower it to draw your daughter closer. Direct questions to each by name, instead of asking generally, “Who knows...?”

Don’t be afraid to recognize the differences God placed in your sons and daughters. Rejoice in them, as you see your children display different facets of God’s character, such as His strength, His compassion, His justice, His creativity. Just as God gave a diversity of gifts to His church, He’s done the same for our children. Homeschooling gives us the tremendous opportunity to cultivate the uniqueness of our children as we raise them for service in His Kingdom!