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Connecting with my son and how boys learn

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Connecting with my son and how boys learn - wildflower ramblings

How frustrating is it to have worked so hard on a learning activity for your child, just to watch them turn away and go run and play with their Legos?  To watch them throw the marker?  Or destroy the contact paper?  Or crush the printable?

This has happened to me more times than I can count. I’m a teacher at heart and I love talking, writing, drawing and learning with students.  But now my son is teaching me — I am constantly exploring what is best for him and for his learning environment — and how boys learn.

My son doesn’t like to color.  I have printed out more printables than I’d like to admit. I have laminated more paper, punched more holes, cut out more shapes, set up more activities…. and my son could really care less about most/all of it.

He just wants to play outside, or play Legos, or play trucks and tractors, or read his books.

And is there something wrong with him?

Of course not! He is a young, perky, intelligent, curious, rambunctious, inquisitive, rough-housing, creative little boy.

These early precious years of play are, indeed, learning time!

And though it has taken me months to figure him out, I no longer expect him to “love” the activities I set before him.  In fact, he has declared that he doesn’t even like my beautiful Quiet Boxes and would much rather play trucks and Legos!

I think the revelation and acceptance of his learning style has truly come, embarrassingly enough, as I watch my daughter grow up (now 19 months). She is so different from him. She loves “busy bag” activities and will sit at the table with a marker for a long while. These are fun and enjoyable to her.

In contrast, my son (now 3 1/2 years) would spend about two minutes and then throw the activity across the room, laugh, and then proceed to make an even bigger mess and destroy the activity. It was fun. And probably I made it even more fun, with my face of disappointment and “AUGH what a mess” look! But I kept trying. And I’m glad I did. I think he did have some beneficial learning time from all of my efforts. And even more experiences with learning to help clean up (though reluctantly).

How to sneak deliberate learning in?

We have to sneak Tot School in when John is not looking. And I’ve shared many of our time together in our Tot School posts.  Mostly, I’ll begin doing an activity — be it simply using crayons or Do a Dot markers or painting — and he’ll think it looks like fun, so he’ll join in. For maybe five minutes.

Now there was a time when he would participate for longer. These are mornings that I cherish — when the baby was still asleep in the morning time and we had 30+ interrupted minutes together.  They weren’t all “school” — we did some paper work at his table, read books, organized shapes or letter pictures or did a sensory bin.  Just the two of us.  Oh I cherish those moments.  Every day brings a new surprise, a new moment.

I have a new plan coming up for our next alphabet go-around. More activities, less writing. More messy play, sensory time, less blogging. I don’t want all of the tangible evidence that we “did preschool.” I want the memories — and of course pictures too — but he needs me to be in the moment.  I can’t leave his focus for a moment, or he’ll lose his attention too.

Why do school time at all?

I have made the decision to homeschool my children. I love teaching and I spend my free time thinking about phonics. (!) I cherish the school time because that is a part of who I AM. But my son is different.

I connect with him through reading books and through deliberate learning.

Thankfully, my son adores reading. So his list is: Legos, trucks, tractors, outside, books. I often find him in his room reading. Since we don’t do much tv time, I let him be bored. I know it is so important for little minds to be still. And bored. And curious. And think. (You can see my post about limiting screen time — generally we only allow a 30 minutes movie on days when my daughter needs a nap at him — pre-approved and no commercials.)

How do I connect with him?

I think we, as mothers, need to find something that both mother and child enjoy, so that we can delight in moments with our children. Genuine delight.

Have you ever felt forced to “play like you’re having fun”? I know I have. Zooming the tractor around the floor for the 56th time. Or pretending I’m falling off the ship (bed) for the 89th time. Do I love being with him? Yes, yes, yes. Do I find joy in the actual activity? Not necessarily. And that’s okay. It’s okay to not love “sliding down the slide” or “playing swords” for 30+ minutes. The important thing, at least to me, is that I am with him in his moments of play and he is with me in the moments that I cherish.

And my genuine delight comes from reading with my son. We connect, we enjoy, we love one another through these books.

And…. I had to pause…. he just came in from his room (from making truck and ship noises) and asked me to read to him.

If he asks, I stop everything so I can read to him. It is an unwritten rule.

We sat down for at least 30 minutes and read. We connected. Him on my lap, his head resting on my chest. Oh those moments are what I live for. I long for his smelly hair and his fingers sometimes laced in mine when I can get away with it.

how preschool boys learn

He won’t fit into any box and I wouldn’t have him any other way.

What is your child’s joy? What is your joy?

Can they intersect? Can you find one activity that you both adore? I hope so.  For us, it is reading.  It is also being outside together, enjoying nature, as well as cooking together.

But never, ever, feel that you must do what you “think” your child should do. He or she will never fit into a box. And that is wonderful.

I have received many comments and emails from mamas who relate to my situation. Our children — mostly boys — don’t want to sit and color!

They want to destroy and conquer.

This is not wrong. This is good. And it is beautiful.

There is nothing wrong.

What about art?

I realize that I want to create tangible art with my son. This is my desire. Certainly not his. He is not inspired to want to create an art project. However, after I set something up, he’ll come over and ask if he can do it. And he may do it for a short (short!) time, and then he will go back to his room to play with his trucks and tractors and Legos.

He’ll feel proud of his work. It will display on his clothesline in his room or on the clothesline in the kitchen above our big window. And he’ll say, “Look, daddy, look what I made!” So I know he feels a sense of accomplishment and pride.

However, these tangible pieces of art are not as important to him as our experiences together.

How can I create experiences that are centered around learning?

Well, for young children, play is learning. So when he’s building with Legos, he’s learning. But I make learning more intentional than “just play” because I enjoy it — not because it is necessary!  (This is why I created our Lego ABC Cards!)

My goal for our next alphabet round is to create more experiences for him that involve his passions.

He loves to read. We will be reading. A lot. Does he want to do printables attached to our books? No. But could I make a fun recipe (think green eggs with Green Eggs in Ham) or we could do a re-enactment? Yes! Or a fun sensory bin? Yep.  Activities don’t always have to be planned, and they can be spontaneous.


I will share our Preschool Plans soon! We are already on the Letter Z. Ready to start new and fresh.

I hope this post has inspired and encouraged you today.

  • Do you have a child who doesn’t have the same learning interests as you?

  • How have you had to adapt to his/her learning style?

  • What activities do you enjoy together?



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  1. Thank you so much for this post! I have a daughter who is just like your son – never a sit-down-and-color kind of girl, rejecting many of the “educational” activities I diligently plan. I almost have to sneak in the learning, because if it has even a whiff of learning, she tunes out. But, like your son, she does love to read. Thank you for saying so eloquently what has been in my mind!

    1. Emma, I’m so so glad you posted! I have been thinking today, that I should have written that this is definitely not “boys only” — there are boys who love to sit down and girls who don’t — like your daughter!! Thanks so much for sharing — it took me a while to get my thoughts on this into words, and it has helped clarify things for me :)

  2. Shirley Gilchrist says:

    I am impressed not only with all of the activities you prepare and do with your son, but that you are attuned to his learning style.

    I started saving your info when you began your felt toys with the turtle as I plan to make them for my grandson. Do you plan to make felt toys for the A to S letters of the alphabet?

    1. Hi, Shirley! I will post my Y (is for Yak) on Sunday! We are still slowly moving through — thanks for your patience, and kind words :)

  3. Wow! You literally have taken the words and thoughts out of my heart and mind regarding my little girl! We have finished Tot School and I must say I am relieved as it was taking a lot out of me and it may or may not be something she was interested in for all the time I put into it. I’ve also wondered how to share our homeschool activities with her because like you said, I want to be present; I don’t want to always be taking the picture more concerned with how that turned out vs. being WITH her. And I also don’t feel a need to document that we “did” preschool” with her; she has already shown me she is much different than her big brother in learning styles! She doesn’t mind coloring {when it is her idea}, but she sounds a lot like your son– big on outdoors, sensory play, and reading : ) I’ve wondered where to go from here with her; she’s the second in between two boys, so I look forward to hearing your Preschool Plans. Thank you again for sharing!

    1. Kristina, thanks so much for commenting!! Yes, I want to be present for his schooling — right now, mostly, it has been reading, reading, reading! I sneak in some painting and a lot of non-worksheet review too! I’ll have my preschool plans up after I post Letter Z :)

  4. I’m so glad you wrote this. I sometimes feel as though my son is the only one not interested in worksheets and printables. I tried doing the traditional tot school stuff with all the printables but quickly realized it was not going to work for us. Since then I’ve been focused on doing hands-on learning and just letting him play however he wants. He may not know his alphabet or how to count to ten, but we are getting there and mostly on his own! Besides, he’s only 3, I have to keep reminding myself. I’ve recently started using the Before Five in a Row curriculum and doing lots of projects based on the book. He seems to really like it so far and asks to “do fun things” everyday. He is especially fond of science projects. Looking forward to hearing about your preschool plans.

    1. It’s seems that a lot of our children just don’t like printables and just want to play lol :) I started out connecting activities with books, and I know I’ll need to do more of that! I love what you did with The Carrot Seed and other books, connecting activities and science–we will be using some of your science ideas, Samantha!!

  5. Bo goes through stages – he really loves the printables and I was really surprised by that, but he also loves playing toys, riding his bike and being outside a lot. His interest in school waxes and wanes, as I expect it to.

    I do feel that I am more present when I am photographing what he does – I see things differently through my lens. I am more focused on details I would otherwise miss, and love that when he is tucked in bed at the end of the the day I can relive the moment and revel in it. Time stands still for me in those moments. :)

    1. Thank you thank you for writing Michelle. You’re right! I love looking back at these posts and seeing his little (littler!) face and his mind working! Thanks for reminding me why I document theses moments!!

  6. This was great! I will be following. I homeschool a 7yo and I have a 23 mo old.

  7. Thank you for this post. I have a son much like yours and it relieves some of that mommy guilt knowing there’s another mommy that misses the mark too. I’m going to change how we look at learning time. Thank you!

  8. This may be one of my favorite posts of yours! Thank you for sharing your heart!!

  9. Seeds To Harvest Homeschool says:

    I can not thank you enough for sharing your thoughts and feelings in such an open way! So many times feeling the same and not taking the time to let it out…. GOD works in such mysterious ways! giving the right answer or guidance when one less expects it!
    Once again … Blessings … So glad for having found such and amazing blogging space!

  10. This is amazing! Not only do I recognize my youngest 4yo son, who I am searching for help because I am homeschooling, I recognized my oldest, 23 yo, son and myself. My daughter, who is my oldest, came naturally to information. I taught her how to write her name while she was still two. Obviously I understood my daughters learning style. My poor sons struggled with my teaching style. I didn’t homeschool my oldest two, but I still tried being an active part in their education. My youngest, I am homeschooling. He need to learn as much as possible so that I do not fail him. Thank you!

  11. Hi Amy!
    The behavior of your son have reminded me of my younger boy.
    It’s imposible to use worksheets with him. Al least to end them.
    He loves playing with Legos. He started playing with the classic ones with 2 years old. He has so much imagination as he can play for long time alone and with not so many toys.
    He loves books and is very perfectionist.
    In next August he is turning 3. I live in Spain but I speak in English with him and the rest of people in Spanish and Basque because we live in the Basque Country.
    Nowadays I’m finishing to prepare his Curriculum for next year.

    Anyway the most important change in our lives is that I have recovered my older child after 5 years fighting. So from now on we are being a four-membered family. And this boy is completely different to my baby, hehe. I know he isn’t a baby, just kidding.
    Yes, the older is very quiet and with him I don’t have any problem working with worksheets. He is very down to Earth.
    However, the other is always singing and dancing,. He is very extrovert.
    Both of them in September are going to start going to “Ikastola”, it’s the basque name for school where you attend from Preschool to 6th grade.
    They are attending school for the morning and for the afternoon I will teach preschool to the youngest. And also I continued speaking in English with the oldest and hopefully sooner than later both of them will have the same level of English.

    I haven’t had access to your profile of pinterest until I have travel to a house where we have internet by Satellite. I don’t know why with my spanish wifi I wasn’t able to open your links.
    So I will take advantage of this situation and I will saved several pins from you, hehe.

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