6 ways to raise feminist boys (all year long)

A vicious 24-hour stomach bug steamrolled through our house yesterday. We all spent today in recovery doing what I call couchschooling.

It is exactly what you think it is.

Some time after breakfast (my first full meal in 24 hours), I logged onto my phone and learned it was March 8.

International Women’s Day.

Somewhere in the haze of late-night bedding changes and semiconscious debates with Matt about which one of us was the least nauseous parent (and thus obligated to clean the carpet), I didn’t plan any special activities for today.

But on second thought, I justified to myself, stumbling my way from the bed to the couch, maybe it’s better this way.

Maybe it’s better to teach the important things – like feminism, or environmentalism, or racial justice – a little bit, all of the time.

And so that is what we did today.

We read a few of our favorite feminist biographies (while I still had the voice enough to read).

Then Gus chose one woman to learn more about. He picked Harriet Tubman.

We watched a few Youtube videos on Tubman’s life. (Which also meant that I could stop talking. Yay.)

Did you know that after guiding 300 slaves to freedom, she became the U.S.’s first black female spy (during the Civil War)? And that her most famous quote is, “Move or die”? And she never went anywhere without her gun?

Gus thinks she was incredible.

Me too.

He made a drawing of Tubman’s escape route (from the crops at the plantation to the northern part of his piece of paper). In his drawing, she makes her way through swamps and narrowly avoids alligators. He made sure to include her walking stick and gun.

And the words he used to describe what women can do? Be brave, navigate, rescue, spy. 

And that’s it, folks.

After that, I had enough energy to lay motionless, occasionally refilling the kids’ bowls of dried Cheerios.

(They were well-fed, supervised, and busy putting together alphabet puzzles. Don’t worry.)

We try to teach feminism year-round over here. Which makes me feel better about the minimal amount of effort I put into homeschooling today.

Here are my 6 Ways to Raise Feminist Boys (All Year Long): 

  1. Stock your shelves with books that feature bold, unstoppable female characters.

    Boys should be reading books about girls. There are lots of fantastic children’s books written about brave, clever, and creative girls – but it’s a problem if only girls are reading them. Boys need to read books about gender equality and girl empowerment, too.

    Curious about some of our favorites?

  2. Include the perspectives of women from diverse backgrounds. 

    Scour the library shelves for books about bold, unstoppable female characters, but don’t stop there. Make sure your collection includes the perspectives and voices of women of color, women from countries outside of the United States, women with disabilities, working-class women, and bisexual, lesbian, and trans women.

    Unfortunately, this isn’t easy. But there are book lists out there that can help.

  3. Learn about famous women from history…
  4. … but don’t forget about the amazing things young women and girls are doing today.

    Ted talks are a great way to introduce your kids to the young women who are changing the world today. Gus especially liked the talks featuring:

    Jade Hameister, who at 14 years old became the youngest person to ski to the North Pole.

    Adora Svitak, who published her first book at 6 and now, at age 12, is a educator, public speaker, and children’s rights advocate.

    Lauren Hodge, Shree Bose and Naomi Shah, award-winning teenage scientists.

    At 4.5, Gus is just barely old enough for TED Talks. If I pause the videos frequently enough to explain and answer his questions, however, he can follow along pretty well.

    And even if he doesn’t understand every detail of the talk, he’s seeing images of young women in positions of authority, accomplishment and leadership. This will make a lasting impression.

  5. Give your son female role models…

    Have a future pilot in the house? Learn about Amelia Earhart. A budding computer programmer? Read books about Ada Lovelace.

    Gus was already interested in spies when he discovered that Harriet Tubman had been a spy for the Union Army. That fact made him want to learn everything I could find about her.

  6. … as well as male. 

Boys need to learn that girls can do anything. But they also must learn that boys can too.

Boys can be sensitive. Boys can cry. Boys can play with dolls and wear pink. Boys can grow to become nurses, preschool teachers, and stay-at-home parents.

I’ve been searching for books that show boys and men in non-traditional gender roles.

One of my favorite books that teaches a broad, inclusive definition of masculinity is called Real Cowboys by Kate Hoelfer.

Real cowboys are gentle. They know all of the songs that keep cattle calm..

This book is amazing. I’ve never read another quite like it. Hoelfer does a fantastic job of illustrating how a person can be strong and sensitive, tough and tender at the very same time. Because, as she points out in the book, real cowboys are girls, too.

Real cowboys want peace…

Real cowboys are good to the earth…

There is so much good in this book. And so many good resources out there.

But there’s not enough.

I want more children’s books to feature stay-at-home dads. (There is this one, however, that we plan to read).

I want to read a book that tells boys and girls that they can become a scientist, the president, or a stay-at-home parent – and that all of those choices have value. All too often, female empowerment in children’s books looks like success in the workplace. We need to recognize and value the unpaid work of full-time parenting (regardless of which parent is staying at home) and present it as a legitimate, valuable role for children to aspire to.

I want more books that teach children how to speak out and stand up to injustice.

It’s one thing to learn that injustice exists, but it’s another thing completely to learn how to stop it.

 

Alice’s homeschool day in the life (with a 1- and 4-year old)

I wanted to homeschool my kids long before I ever had any. Homeschooling was never a question of why for me. It was more of a question of how. How would I implement child-led learning? How would I unschool and still have my kids learn math? How would my kids learn to read?

I didn’t want curriculum or a schedule. I needed to find a lifestyle that worked for us – a way to live together that would give my kids what they needed to learn and grow.

I found some of my best inspiration for this lifestyle from other homeschooling moms.

My favorite place for inspiration has been the Homeschool Day In the Life series at Simple Homeschool. Every February, the website’s contributors share a typical day in the life of their family’s homeschool.

It’s from these posts that I’ve learned about gameschooling, nature journals, and the Brave Writer lifestyle, three elements I predict will be important to our homeschool going forward. I’ve also learned to relax, focus on the big picture, and realize that no day is ever perfect (nor does it need to be).

This year, I’m adding my own day in the life post to the Simple Homeschool link-up.

They’re tiny, but I call them homeschoolers.

Though neither of my kids are yet school-age, I’m going to lay claim to the title of Homeschool Mom because 1). We officially missed the deadline to register Gus for kindergarten in the fall (it feels like a big deal!) and 2). He’s beginning to read, write, and sum at a kindergarten level.

Here goes our first day in the life post. As it turns out, it was a fairly typical day – and a good example of how life works around here.

Early Morning

I wake up around 7:00 AM to a pair of tiny feet digging into the small of my back.

Gus, our 4-year-old, crept downstairs sometime in the early morning with a stuffed wolf under each arm and burrowed between Matt and I in bed.

“Mom,” Gus says, “what are we doing today?”

I blink at the sunlight streaming through the windows and strive for consciousness. Morning person I am not. “It’s a home day,” I finally answer.

Gus cheers.

A home day is what we call a day without any scheduled plans (though we rarely stay home). In general, we’re all happiest if we have three unplanned days a week, but I usually have to struggle to reign in our calendar that much.

There’s a common misconception that homeschooling creates isolated, unsocialized kids – but I’ve found the opposite to be true. We’re lucky to be part of a large, active community of eclectic homeschoolers and unschoolers. My kids could be involved in a class, field trip, or play date with our group every day of the week if we wanted to.

As it is, we participate Spanish class and go on weekly field trips with the group. Theater class begins when Spanish ends, and there will be a community service/activism group forming this summer. Gus also goes to a play-based nature preschool program two afternoons per week – and one of his best friends from homeschool group is in his class.

Today, however, we have nothing planned.

I love it.

Generously, Matt gets up with Gus and Henry (our 1-year-old) and lets me stay in bed a little while longer. He’s leaving for a business trip in a few hours and has more time at home this morning than usual. I hear the boys rustling through the entryway for their boots and snow pants, and before long they’re all outside throwing snowballs in the front yard.

Relishing the thought of being alone in a quiet house (for at least a few minutes), I quickly pull myself out of bed, make a cup of coffee, and start on breakfast. We eat an epic meal – eggs, French toast, oatmeal, yogurt, fruit – (everyone is always famished in the morning), say goodbye to Matt, and then get down to the business of the day.

The business is books.

We start every morning in the playroom, curled up on the couch with a stack of books. The boys would have me read to them all day to them if I could.

Gus tends to gravitate towards nonfiction, especially books about animal biology and environmentalism – so read aloud time often doubles as science.

He’s currently on a solar power kick. Today, we read Chandra’s Magic Light, a story about a Nepalese girl who earns enough money to buy her family a solar-powered lantern. I’m pleased that I was able to tie in one of Gus’s current interests with one of our homeschool’s overarching goals – to give our kids an education firmly grounded in social justice. One way I try to do this is try by choosing storybooks that feature protagonists from diverse backgrounds and cultures as much as possible.

After about an hour of reading, I turn on a Spanish music CD (Okee Dokee Brothers’ Excelente Fabuloso), and the kids play independently while I clean up the kitchen. I’ve been more intentional about speaking Spanish with the kids lately, and I try to turn on Spanish music or read a Spanish storybook with the kids every day.

From time to time I hear them singing along with the music. (Even Henry is saying “gato.”)

Mid-morning

After the kitchen is cleaned up, we start project time. If we’re anything, we’re project-based unschoolers, and project time is the core of all of our homeschooling. During project time, the kids do whatever they want – play, read, or create. I work alongside them as a helper or guide.

As they get older, project time will look more like research, creation, and presentation. Right now, project time is serious play.

Gus, who has been fascinated with wolves for the past 18 months and plans to become “a scientist who studies wolves in the wild,” chooses to spend project time focused on his favorite topic.

Usually he wants to play wolves or draw pictures of wolves, but today he decides to work on his messaging for Wolf Day at the Capitol. In a few weeks, we’ll be attending a rally at the Minnesota State Capitol to support federal protections for wolves. He’s taking the chance to speak up for wolves very seriously.

Meanwhile, Henry works at his favorite place on top of the playroom table.

The kids are both happy and engaged in their work. I hang out with them, help Gus spell the words he wants to write, answer his question about the difference between a lower-case h and a lower-case n, and try to scrub marker off of Henry’s face. He’ll remain pink-striped for the rest of the day.

Peace reigns until 11:30 AM, when the kids start pelting me with sock balls (so much for folding laundry). I decide it’s about time we get outside.

Afternoon

I was hoping to bike with the kids today, but the surprise snowfall last night will my plan back a few days. Instead, I load the kids up in the Burley for a walk to the library. We’re working on the #1000hoursoutside challenge, hoping to spend 1,000 hours ouside in 2017. Our walk to the library brings us to hour 51. We’ve got some work to do!

Within five minutes of being outside, Henry falls asleep. He sleeps throughout the walk and just long enough for me and Gus to grab our books off the reserve shelf and browse the non-fiction stacks. Then we head to the children’s section where we hang out for about an hour.

We take home books about wolves, a ninja baby, and a rabbit who won’t stop saying “poop-di-poop”, which is a decent summary of my boys’ current interests.

I add a few Spanish storybooks and books about environmentalism, including a picture book I’m really excited about called If You Spent a Day with Thoreau at Walden Pond.

Once we’re back home, we have a snack and pull out some board games. A few months ago I rearranged the playroom, clearing out a bunch of toys and filling the shelves with puzzles and board games instead. Gus’s math skills have exploded since then. So much of kindergarten math can be learned by playing board games – numeral recognition, counting, addition, subtraction, and estimating quantities and distances, to name a few.

We play a few rounds of Count Your Chickens, and then Gus decides he wants to practice parkour. Lots of jumping off the couch, somersaulting, and cartwheeling ensues.

Note to self: More outdoor time needed tomorrow.

Evening 

Since Matt is out of town on business tonight, the boys and I have special plans to order take-out. Gus chooses curry and samosas from our favorite East African restaurant, and the server surprises the kids by giving them free fresh mango juice when we pick up our meals.

After dinner, it’s bath and pajama time. Gus and I recently finished reading the Winnie the Pooh anthology, and as a special treat tonight, he gets to stay up late and watch The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh with me. This is the 1977 version, a movie I remember well from my own childhood, and I enjoy the nostalgia of watching as much as he enjoys seeing it for the first time.

By 8:30 PM, Henry is long asleep and Gus’s eyelids are heavy. I put him to bed, spend time catching up with Matt on the phone, and then dig out my current sci-fi novel (The Three Body problem by Cixin Liu) and read until I’m ready for sleep – which is much later than it should be, but the book is hard to put down.

And that’s it! A typical day in the life of our homeschool.

What I didn’t mention includes, but is not limited to: Epic negotiations required before any clothing change, tooth brushing, face washing, or other act of personal hygiene; more couch-jumping than you can possibly imagine; and potty talk. So much potty talk.

There’s no perfection here, but there is a lot of enjoyment. I am so grateful this how we spend our days together.