I am so pleased today to be able to share with you the interview that I had with Stephen James and David Thomas, authors of the fabulous book, Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys.
Stephen and David, I wanted to thank you guys both so much for allowing me the opportunity to review your wonderful book and to interview you for my blog, Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. I thoroughly enjoyed gaining some new insight and perspective regarding my boy which I found particularly useful to me in my role as both parent and educator.
S & D: Thanks for taking the time to review it and for sharing your experience with the book with your audience.
In Wild Things, you mention that current research shows that many boys fare better in school if they wait to start first grade until they are six and a half. Many home educators favor the “better late, than early” approach of delaying formal education until age seven or eight. What benefits do you see in this approach, particularly in regards to a boy’s mental and emotional development?
S & D: We have yet to meet a parent who regretted waiting, and yet we could introduce you to hundreds who regret starting early. We don’t believe you will ever harm a boy in waiting. It gives him needed time to develop emotionally and socially.
Boys tend to start off behind in the beginning of the educational race. Waiting allows them to begin the race on equal footing with their female counterparts. It also strengthens the chances that he will see himself as a student and a strong learner. We see a number of boys who started at five, began struggling immediately and by fourth grade hate school and see themselves as failures in the academic environment. The compulsory model of schooling already has enough obstacles for boys – don’t layer it with anything more.
As home educators, my readers and I have a bit more freedom in educating our boys than can be found in a traditional classroom setting. I know that you mentioned, in Wild Things, some ideas for making a boy’s educational experience a better fit for his more kinesthetic, less verbal wiring. Are there other practical tips along those lines that you can offer homeschooling parents?
S & D: Congratulations on having the freedom to create as boy-friendly a learning environment as you choose. This is one of the many advantages of homeschooling. We recommend using “boy friendly” strategies to match his kinesthetic learning style while enhancing his fine motor skills (a common area of weakness for early boys). Use Legos, Magnetix, Erector sets, Lincoln Logs and other building blocks as learning tools. He finds them enjoyable and fun, while you are using them to teach math, nurture his imagination and advance his fine motor skills.
Furthermore, we’d advocate for using nature (an ideal kinesthetic classroom) for as much learning as possible. Make a science and science lesson into a scavenger hunt, have him build with wood and scrap supplies as often as possible.
Those are fantastic tips! I know my boy would appreciate them. I loved the practical tips and straight-shooting advice in Wild Things. Although the book’s focus is primarily that of parenting boys, many of the tips were just good, solid parenting advice. I know that both of you, like me, are the parents of daughters, as well as sons. What do you identify as some of the key differences in parenting boys and girls, especially in the areas of education and discipline?
S & D: We believe children (boys especially, but girls included) learn best through experience. We talk and to kids way too much. We believe that if we say something over and over, it will stick better. We believe if we say it louder or with greater intensity, it will have stronger impact. The truth of the matter is that kids learn best through experience. Rather than talking about world hunger and wasting food, take them to a local soup kitchen and let them see what hunger looks like and to experience it.
Just for fun, if a mother of all girls swapped places for the day with the mother of all boys, what do you think she would name as the biggest difference in the two families?
S & D: She would likely go home feeling more physically exhausted. Parenting boys is a physical task. Parenting girls is often times so much more emotional. We find that parents of boys tend to be astonished by how much girls talk and talk and talk. Boys make a lot of noise, but it’s not as often in the form of conversation. This would make for a really enjoyable and interesting experiment.
Finally, if parents, mentors and educators could take only one piece advice from Wild Things, what would you want that to be?
S & D: That boys are better served when we study their brain chemistry and pay attention to their development. We are parenting and educating boys in opposition to their design on so many occasions.
A mom recently emailed us to say that after hearing us speak in her state, she has found herself enjoying her son so much more. The things that once exasperated her, she sees so differently now. She is paying attention to moments that set him up for failure without realizing or intending to do so. That kind of feedback is deeply encouraging to both of us.
Thank you both so much for your time. I really appreciated the opportunity to feature Wild Things on Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. I wish I’d had the opportunity to read this book nine years ago, when my boy was an infant. I think it really would have impacted the way that I’ve related to him all along.