Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Boy Brains

Daniel. For months we've been struggling through a back-arching, boundary testing tantrum phase. And 'phase' I declare it to be. Phases pass. He's three. But there seems to be more to this than just defiance and anger. Frustration, maybe? Independence? Attention seeking?... (he did just become a middle child)

Someone with much more mothering experience than me, once advised that I become a student of each kid. That I study them and know what makes them tick. By doing so, I could reinforce their strengths and improve their weak areas.

With Brenna this meant feeding her brain constantly. She is a knowledge sponge and I just followed her lead. We learned about opera, Eleanor Roosevelt, double digit addition, and farmer's almanacs. Most of the nuts and bolts of learning - the letters, colors, letter sounds, numbers, writing, reading, etc. - were done with workbooks at the dining room table. She loved it.

Daniel begs to do 'school' as well. But doing a workbook with him isn't as...shall we say...effective as it was with Brenna. For example, a few weeks ago we had a page on opposites:

Me: Daniel, what the opposite of hot?
Daniel: I don't know. Not hot.

(Later that afternoon - after I've poured out my frustration to Michael. We're in the living room and Daniel is playing with his cars on the floor.)
Michael: Hey Daniel?
Daniel: What? (still playing)
Michael: What's the opposite of hot?
Daniel: cold.
Michael: What's the opposite of open?
Daniel: closed
Michael: What's the opposite of up?
Daniel: down
And so it goes.....

Day after day. He wants to do the workbooks, but I find it an aggravating process. He memorizes like crazy. He knows his letters, letter sounds, more than thirty sight words, the Lord's prayer, the fruits of the spirit, plus the repetitive parts of his favorite books. But he plays me. He fidgets. He works too fast. He's impulsive.

Become a student of your child....

So I set out to read how boys learn. I started online and then moved to books. I have no idea if this information is controversial. I just know it seems to ring true in my own experience. Here are a few highlights from my research:

1. Boys brains seem to like pictures or diagrams that are moving rather than words. Their bodies have more dopamine in the blood which apparently increases impulsive behaviors - making it harder to learn by sitting still. (umm...workbook at the dining room table?)

2. Boys have less blood flow to their brains than girls which has something to do with them not being able to multi-task as well, or move quickly from task to task.

3. This I thought was fascinating: If a boy is overstimulated, doing too many things at once and getting frustrated, a part of his brain called the amygdala swells. Apparently that's the center for anger and aggression. Higher frustration leads to higher stress and adrenalin which comes out as anger and aggression. (And probably on occasion back arching temper tantrums.)

4. Male brains go into something called a 'neural rest state' between tasks. It self charges or renews. In classrooms, sometimes boys get wiggly or tap pencils to try to keep themselves engaged.

5. It was suggested in one book that little boys can get antsy and frustrated in smaller spaces. They need a big play space to spread out. (We cleared all the toys to the upstairs and moved our living room couch back. That allows Daniel to bring his cars downstairs and have entire open space to play.)

6. Boys see better in a brighter light. Boys don't hear as well as girls.

7. One quote I wrote down, boys tend "to learn by innovating in risk taking ways" with "physical movement and manipulation of physical objects". (explains the 'why-on-earth-did-you-do-that? stuff)

In addition to clearing a bigger play space, I've severely limited his tv time, given him more independence, sent him outside to play more often, and stopped insisting we work at the dining room table. Maybe it's coincidental, but the tantrums and back arching have subsided significantly. I have lots of ideas for working on the same 'workbook' material in a more physical way, too. It's called 'action response learning', and I'm going to see how it works.

I like learning my kids. And I can't help but wonder what challenges Carrie will bring...

(much of the information listed above came from Michael Gurian's book, The Minds of Boys.)


Ginger said...

Good Job Momma! Our old preschool teacher (before we moved) said that she's had boys sit on exercise balls instead of chairs and that little bit of (subconcious)movement kept them more focused on their work at the table. Just an idea. I haven't tried it yet.

Isn't it amazing how different siblings and the genders can be?

MomBrose said...

Wow! That's amazing stuff! I know that even my girls learn differently from each other. I like the phrase "become a student of your child." That's good!
Also, when I was teaching gender communication, one research article I found referenced the corpus colosum (sp?) which joins the right and left brains. Feelings occur on one side. Words on the other. The psychologist that wrote the article said a womans is a six lane superhighway where information can easily get from one side to the other. That's why women talk through problems and stress. Males have a winding dirt country road joining theirs. :) So they have all the same emotions and feelings but the inability to actually put it into words as easily.
That always fascinated me. :D

Anonymous said...

I'm storing this tid-bit of information in the back of my brain for when I have children! Julie, I hope you know your going to be my "help hotline" when I have children!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Ginger. The exercise ball is an excellent chair for children who just can't seem to sit still. We use these at Crestview.
Another thing to look at is Daniel's diet. There could be a hidden allergy targetting his behaviors. For example, I had a student who was a major behavior concern... could not focus, always on the move, easily distracted, etc. One day he made it through the day being so calm and cooperative. I asked the parents what he ate differently. He had eaten a full breakfast... pancakes, bacon, and scrambled eggs and not his normal bowl of cereal. I learned that some mornings mom sent him out the door just having ate toast or a doughnut. When mom changed the morning diet, what a different child we all had.