Thursday, 10 June 2010

Boys and girls


Boys and girls. The truth is, even though we want to deny it with all our might, and even though it is the politically correct thing to be gender neutral, boys and girls are different.

Rcently I've been having discussions with other home edders about the 'feminine' (or 'feminised') environment of home education. To me it is plain to see. After all, the majority of home educators are women. Why? Financial reasons, the natural progression from childbirth to childcare or due to some other reason that make the universe turn.

I know personally of only two home educating families where the mums are the main income earners and the dads do the home education (plus one other family on a home ed list that I do not know personally). There may be more out there, but there is only one dad who participates regularly in home ed activities. I guess it's not an environment that dads feel comfortable in...

Because of this lack of 'man influence' at groups, activities, workshops, there is (to me) an overriding feminine influence. This is not a bad thing as such, particularly in the early years when children thrive in any communal environment that is nurturing. But when you have boys growing up this lack of maleness in their everyday life does concern me.

For instance, there are times when I look at the home education activities and how they are presented and I think 'Well that's ok for the girls, what are the boys going to do?' As anyone with boys know, one or two boys together is fine. Get 4 or more boys together with nowhere to channel their energies and they are quickly recreating scenes from Lord of the Flies! It doesn't take long for nature Walk to find flowers to press to turn into set up a base camp, give blood-curdling cries, and brain anyone who approaches with very large stick.

Now don't get me wrong. Of course, girls are capable of doing this too, it's just that mostly, for whatever evolutionary, social or cultural reason, they choose not to. Boys, however, tend to gravitate towards the loud, messy, and destructive end of any activity.

Is acknowledging this the same as having a sexist view or gender stereotyping? It's not like I decided to make my boys behave like boys (on the contrary, at first I tried hard to fight the testosterone-fuelled behaviour). A good friend of mine finds my views on this mildly offensive. I think she's in denial {g}, she thinks I'm trying to gender-pigeonhole the world. Perhaps we're both right. I'm not sure that we'll ever agree. (At least not until her 5 year old boy is 11 or 12 and she is in the same predicament as I am! lol). When you have an 11 year old boy whose natural desire is to find his place in the pack (the whole alpha male thing) and who desperately needs male role models around him to work out who he is and what he needs to do to grow into a man, then a feminine environment is just not enough. Nope. It's not enough.

So what do you do when your kids get to 11+ in the home ed world, when the home ed groups don't meet their needs? If they are into sports or drama or dance or gymnastics or scouts etc then there are other avenues they can move in, but if they aren't then what do they do then? In our area it seems that after the age of 11 most of the children disappear. Where do they go? Perhaps some go back into secondary school, or private education. Perhaps some are at home doing increasingly academic work. But what about the others? What about the non-academic, non-sporty ones?

My children are part of a large cohort of 7-11 year old home educated children. I was hoping that we could continue with the same circle of friends and companions at least until the children are in their teens. But having spoken to other home edders this just doesn't seem to happen. But noone seems to know why.

The only solution I have come up with is to design some activities specifically with the age 10-14s in mind. Social events - bowling, pizza evenings etc - and guided hands-on activities with an end product (maybe bicycle maintenance?). Will this work? I don't know, but it's worth a shot.

11 comments:

MadameSmokinGun said...

A friend of mine recently went to see Steve Biddolph speak (author of Raising Boys etc). I've not read it myself so can't comment, but she repeated something he'd said that night about our tribal ancestors would have had the boys looked after by the men from about age 4. They would have just been little men, learning how to be a man by being part of it all. I thought that was really interesting.

By contrast my husband is a photographer who sees different families all the time and he says it astounds him how often the fathers are so out of touch with their own children - not knowing how to even interact with them or speak to them.

Your point about the Home Ed world being very female has set me thinking. I suppose it is. And so are primary schools. But for that 11 upwards age group - hmmmmnnn.....

Maybe bash a few dads over the head? Otherwise it is just a virtual male influence through a screen I reckon. Which is an unsavoury thought.

Got me thinking now. Feels weird.

Big mamma frog said...

It was Steve Biddulph's book 'Raising Boys' that really made me rethink how I - and how society - views boys.

There's a bit in it on how we (women, society, the media etc) are constantly attempting to feminise our boys rather than celebrate their 'maleness'. i.e. we try to squash out all the behaviour we view as rough, dirty, noisy, boisterous, etc through ridicule (think advertising), coercion, criticism, or by withholding approval.

Although I don't agree with all of Steve Biddulph's stuff, and find it annoying that he rarely gives references to back up his sweeping statements about children and testosterone, he has made me realise that as a society we are in danger of bringing up a generation of disenchanted boys whose skills and strengths are not valued or celebrated...

oh yeah, I fogot, we're already there.

I think fathers are more involved in family life now than in previous generations - and there are huge expectations on them. However from conversations I've had, I know at least a few who run away from all the childcare/nurturing responsibilities and use work as a hiding place. I sometimes wonder if our long working hours are a symptom of men's lack of confidence about their role in the family and in society. After all, in just a few generations men have gone from being the main provider and head of the household to having to fit in with the whole 'new man'thing. In the same way as the choices provided by women's lib has meant women are now expected to do EVERYTHING, so men's role has become less identifiable. If we can do pretty much everything and men are only needed for reproduction, then where does that leave men in a society that is scornful of maleness.

Or perhaps that's too profound for a comments section on a blog lol

Liz said...

This is something we've also noticed at our home ed group - once the kids reach about 11 years, they don't want to do the group in a scout hall thing any more and often disappear - boys and girls. We have thought lots about what they might want or need, but I have to say I've been saddened by the lack of motivation the boys, in particular, seem to have. Most of our girls of that age have interests - sport, drama, art, writing, science - things they're interested in and can organise for themselves or ask for what they want us to do for them. Whereas the boys just don't sem to have any passion for anything in life - they like football, but can't seem to organise a game by themselves without adult input. Some of them are interested in playing the electric guitar, but they won't then sit with an adult who offers to run a lesson or a freeform informal jam. They don't want to do shelter-building. It's really hard to fulfil the needs of a group who doesn't seem to have any interest in anything in life and I have to say I find that worrying.

I also don't want to assume that all boys will be interested only in football and running around screaming, as that is really disrespectful to the ones aren't inot that and get really fed up with beng stereotyped in that fashion (such as my husband was when he was growing up and my elder brother, and one of the dads at the group).

Maybe it is a boy-girl thing, I don;t know, my boy is only 5 yet. Also, we do have dads at our home ed group, we regularly have at least 2 or 3 and sometimes another 1 or 2 as well, and they do have a better result with the older boys - usually just running games of football.

If you discover a solution, do let me know as I'd been worrying that we were failing our 11+ boys too and wondering if it was because we were mums.

Big mamma frog said...

Sigh!, yes Liz, it seems a similar experience here.

Sometimes I wonder if the boys ARE passionate about things, just not the sort of things us women pick up on or not the sorts of thing that work well in a group..? My kids love to do animation and stuff on the internet, but it's not easy to do as a larger group of children. Again motivation is an issue. I dont' want to be nagging my children to do something - I want them to be inspired and driven! (ok, perhaps asking for too much).

Warhammer has been really popular with all the boys at our local gorup, including the older ones - in fact it's the only reason my boys go. They play the game, but mostly discuss tactics and build scenery. But apart from that...

I've emailed everyone I know locally about a bowling evening for the over 10s, but I've not exactly been swamped with responses {g} Plus most of the people who've replied want to bring along younger siblings, which kinda defeats the whole intention of an activity for older kids lol. Then I feel mean saying no...

Ah well. I'm not going to feel defeated. It's early days yet.

parasombra said...

There are a lot of men out there doing things who would be happy to have lads alongside them working together. Seeking out those opportunities outside the home ed circle will be easier than trying to encourage it to happen within, I reckon.

(Sweeping generalisation coming up...) Very few kids learn much from their immediate peers: think of the mad logic of socialising 5 year olds all together in a class at school.... Anyhow toddlers learn from adults and so do teens so getting them together is not always as fruitful as one might think - especially with boys.

Liz please don't think that you are failing the boys in your community; they won't do the things that the girls do but that doesn't mean you all need to step in so that they can. I've seen my boys go through a phase of not being able to process two different pieces of information at a time so the idea of your lads not being able to organise a game is not surprising. They won't all turn out to be useless in the future, don't worry.

Big mamma frog said...

Parasomba wrote: 'There are a lot of men out there doing things who would be happy to have lads alongside them working together. Seeking out those opportunities outside the home ed circle will be easier than trying to encourage it to happen within, I reckon'

I think this is definitely the case, though I have no idea how to find these opportunities or to enable it in a way that we all feel comfortable with. Also, unless you can tap into the retired male/student resource, I would guess that most men are too busy already with work and family committments.

Ds1 volunteered for a while at a local scrapstore and that was a brilliant experience for him. However due H & S/Child Protection I had to be there the entire time to supervise him, which meant dragging along two smaller children who made it known that they didn't want to be there (!) and who were too young to let play outside the premises on their own
:(

It would be different now they are all older, but sometimes even when fab opportunities come along it can feel like a real challenge to make the most of them!

Liz said...

Parasmobra, that is encouraging to know. The problem is, the boys at our group moan that there's nothing organised at the group for them, but then can't tell us what it is they want. I agree that one to one stuff with older boys/men is probably better at this age, but they or their parents need to organise this for them, not me as a group-runner. But sometimes (whisper it), it seems the parents are just as rubbish as the kids and don't want to go to the effort. So the kids then look to me!
Ah well.

Big mamma frog said...

I think also the parents of boys complain that there's nothing for their boys at groups (me included!), but can't actually come up with ideas - or put ideas into action - to solve the issue.

Maybe it's just one of those things and isn't a problem that necessaily needs fixing..?
When the kids were tiny I remember trying to get dh involved in Dad's groups and get Dad's groups started up locally and the Dads just weren't interested. At all. EVER. Zero turnout. Even the ones that were nagged into Dad's group activity soon drifted off when pressure from wives faded!

Perhaps the truth is that most/some men just don't function like that most of the time. Their networks are based on different things, perhaps, and us women trying to force them into situations that they don't feel comfortable in is counterproductive. Are boys the same? Or is this just another form of unhelpful labelling? It seems kinda weird to me that some men have 150+ facebook friends, but haven't developed anything more than a superficial 'let's talk about work and sport'relationship with other men in the real world.

Oh I dunno. I go round in circles on this one.

ps. Liz, one thing that WAS popular with both genders at a local group (apart from warhammer) was 'active science', e.g. paper aeroplane/helicopter making, making marble mazes out of tubes and junk, making chairs out of newspaper (competing against other teams). www.sciencetoymaker.org is a good source of inspiration.

parasombra said...

"Maybe it's just one of those things and isn't a problem that necessarily needs fixing..?"


I had said this in a longer reply that I deleted. The feminine side of us is saying 'They aren't doing xyz' as if they should be but without being in their heads we can't know what they want. AS you say, many men aren't pack animals and don't like sitting around nattering like we do but they are no less adequately human for it. Others, like my eldest who has spent the last six years talking to friends whilst walking, cycling, standing on street corners or sitting in cafes and is destined for a job that involves talking to people - much as Mr G does now.

Send them off on bikes or walking in the woods or in town and most lads will talk to each other. What they talk about is not really our business and we would probably not understand why they are talking about that stuff but that is because we are women and they are soon-to-be-men.

parasombra said...

"Maybe it's just one of those things and isn't a problem that necessarily needs fixing..?"


I had said this in a longer reply that I deleted. The feminine side of us is saying 'They aren't doing xyz' as if they should be but without being in their heads we can't know what they want. AS you say, many men aren't pack animals and don't like sitting around nattering like we do but they are no less adequately human for it. Others, like my eldest who has spent the last six years talking to friends whilst walking, cycling, standing on street corners or sitting in cafes and is destined for a job that involves talking to people - much as Mr G does now.

Send them off on bikes or walking in the woods or in town and most lads will talk to each other. What they talk about is not really our business and we would probably not understand why they are talking about that stuff but that is because we are women and they are soon-to-be-men.

MadameSmokinGun said...

Yes - come to think of it men in general (in GENERAL) don't really like to be organised into nice social group things by women so it's not too surprising that that the younger versions don't either. The couple of teen lads we see regularly at our groups (who only agree to be dragged along with younger siblings if they know the other one is being dragged along too) are useful for going out to get the milk etc. DOING something - even menial - is better than having to 'join in' with the rest of the chattering group.

There's an older girl who comes along too (with her younger sibs) who would also dearly love company of her own age but she has no problem chatting to any of us of any age and helping the younger ones etc - it's not that girls are simply 'nicer' or drilled to be helpful, girls just work differently.

Girls seem to make friends verbally over a range of subjects - toe in the water stuff - shoes, music, shops, interests, names, siblings - whatever they can strike up a conversation about.

Boys seem to make friends over a ball. After 20 mins or so of action they might speak. 'Out' or 'Yesss!' or 'To me' or something. Or over a Nintendo DS.... silent button bashing for a good while and then 'Do you know any cheats?'

My brother once said to my mum of his eldest when he was approaching about 10 'just give him a ball and a bag of sweets and he's happy' and I replied 'so is his uncle'.

I have no idea if 'helping' boys to get together to do stuff is cool or horrendous but my nearly 9 year old has never been one for the craft table. Come rain or shine he's outside with a ball and communicates best that way.

They just seem to have to be DOING something to free up their talking channels. They hate being somewhere where there's 'nothing to do' and hate being offered 'things to do'.

Maybe we should just drop them off outside electronics shops or music shops or open spaces before we get to our scout huts and leave them to it.