Fall temperatures have finally arrived in Texas after a very long, hot summer. This weekend, I had the opportunity to take three of my grandsons to the Botanic Garden here in Fort Worth. We meandered through the gardens, having a picnic by the fountain pond, counting turtles by the bridge, throwing sticks in the water, exploring “mysterious forest paths,” and climbing on rocks. The boys led the expedition, and huffing and puffing, I followed.
These three grandsons also attend our school, Shady Oak Learning. Major, age 4, is currently in his “junior fireman” stage after crawling on a firetruck last week on one of our field trips. I consider our outing a victory because he did not fall in the pond. Deacon, age 6, whose favorite color is green and is obsessed with trains, showed his excitement by flapping his arms while looking at all the turtles. Wyatt, age 8, an extraordinary reader, read all the signs to us about the plants, and was so absorbed in the sights and sounds that he ran ahead, totally tuning out my voice calling his name to slow down, since my sore knees could not keep up with him.
This “Grammy Field Trip,” as I decided to name it, inspired me both as a mom/grandmother and as a teacher who is passionate about educational reform. As I observed my grandsons, I noticed how engaged and curious they were. The beauty and complexity of nature gave them endless moments to engage their thinking and wonderings. The boys led the expedition, and even though I feared that they might stumble while claiming a high rock, fall in the water, or go ahead of me and get lost, we made it safely with no harm done. I think that they will remember this for a long time – I know I will!
BOYS ARE AT RISK
Boyhood, in the way God created it to be experienced, is seriously at risk. Boys spend fewer hours moving and playing, and have become “feminized” by our culture’s obsession with safety at the expense of exploration and free play. Our educational system has boys sitting and confined to desks and high expectations and abstract thinking standards have been pushed down to inappropriate ages. Many developmental problems can be traced to a child’s lack of movement during early years.
HOW CAN WE CREATE JOY IN BOYHOOD?
We expect boys to sit in desks at age 5 and be able to read by the end of kindergarten as well as write complete thoughts going into first grade. Last week after giving the SOI Form L (K-2nd ) assessment to a beginning first grader, I lamented the fact that his private school thought he was behind in writing. His NFU score was above expected range, he wrote the words for CFU (visual closure) which were misspelled but he wanted to write them all. In fact, he had a strong profile. The mom said the school was upset because he wasn’t fluent in writing sentences. This student was exceptionally bright, extremely witty, and intuitive. This is an example of unreasonable expectations that are inappropriate in my opinion.
I have mentioned before in a previous blog post, Can We Play in School?, the highest achieving academic scores in the world come from Finland, where boys do not enter kindergarten until the age of 6. When they get to school, a huge chunk of the school day is spent playing, not completing worksheets. One Finland teacher reported, “Play is a very efficient way of learning for children, and we can use it a way that children learn with joy.”
There is an old Finnish phrase, “Those things you learn without joy, you will forget easily.”
We are working to create a place of joy for boys. We have 16 boys and 5 girls ages 4-14 in our school. On a typical school day, our boys (and girls) spend a great deal of time outside in “free play.” We don’t have a big budget for playground structures, but we see boys running, pretending to be kings and firemen, having stick sword fights, and totally getting filthy making roads and bridges for their toy cars. Problem solving, eye-hand coordination, and evaluation are all skills developed on the playground during free play.
HOW TO HELP BOYS BE BOYS
Parents can help by limiting screen time and getting outside with their boys to encourage running, climbing, spinning, and jumping. Parents can put pressure on schools to increase recess time and not use withholding recess as a punishment tool. Teachers can include more short movement breaks during the day to increase attention and engagement.
SOI has long been a leader in helping schools to recognize that movement and perceptual motor skill development is key to helping boys overcoming barriers to learning.
When we develop and train foundational thinking skills and sensory processing skills, we empower boys to be confident learners.
written by: Pam Jarvis
Pam is an SOI Practitioner and the founder and Director of Shady Oak Learning, a private K-6 elementary school in Fort Worth, Texas.