By reading their choices, I was able to discuss themes and plotlines with them. Because I listened to their recommendations, they were more willing to listen to mine. I've read all the Artemis Fowl, Pendragon, Fablehaven and Incarceron series my boys love. They've introduced me to Brandon Sanderson's fantasy novels and spy books such as Alex Rider. I've learned to enjoy these genres I'd never found interesting before, and I believe many of the best modern writers are penning children's and young adult fiction.
In return, my children have been much more willing to read masterpieces such as "Peace Like a River," "A Tale of Two Cities," "Les Miserables" and anything and everything from C.S. Lewis.
Play an instrument. Note the emphasis on play. You don't need to raise the next Mozart (we all know his father was a bit overbearing), but thousands of studies have shown the value in learning music. Musical training can teach children sensitivity, math skills and the ability to work hard. Yes, music lessons and instruments can be expensive, but there are a thousand ways to navigate costs. Trade skills with a friend, take advantage of community programs, practice on the neighbor's piano next door, etc.
When your child finds an interest, run with it. Nothing hastens learning more than personal enthusiasm. Obsessed with dinosaurs? Check out every dinosaur book in the library and visit your local natural history museum. Rocks, trains, animals, space — same drill. Just don't be surprised when they drop that interest and move on to the next.
Be willing to place education above sports. Please don't misunderstand me; I love sports and consider myself an athlete. My children have played on numerous soccer, baseball, football, lacrosse, basketball, track, cross country, Ultimate Frisbee, wrestling and swim teams. Team and individual sports teach cooperation and hard work while developing fitness and coordination. But I believe our country's overemphasis on athletics holds the primary blame for boys' lag in education and the United States' low rankings in education worldwide.
The worship of sports and athletes contributes to the idea that "education isn't masculine enough." Ask a dozen 11-year-old boys what they want to be when they grow up, and 10 will answer that they want to be a professional athlete. While I appreciate their optimism, there's simply no way every one of these kids will grow up to reach that level. The amount of time and money invested in athletics would pay a boy back many times over if invested in education.
Use the Internet for good. Yes, the "www" can drain all our time and energy, but the educational resources are tremendous. Kids can compete on Duolingo to see who can learn the most French and Spanish, listen to a TED talk, study on Khan Academy or watch a science or history video on YouTube (they also visit Facebook and play mindless tank games, too). Truly, I detested YouTube until my boys showed me these incredible videos explaining difficult concepts: MinutePhysics, Veritasium, CGP Grey, Art of Manliness, Vi Hart and Vsauce. ThePianoGuys and Mormon.org are favorites, too.
Last, own it. I'll admit, for years, I encouraged my boys to keep their brains under a bushel — "Don't raise your hand too often." And while it's never wise to brag or act superior to anyone else, it's fine to admit you like learning. At the beginning of my third son's sophomore year, he noticed no one was answering the teachers' questions. He was often the lone sophomore in a class full of juniors and seniors, but he decided to raise his hand whenever he knew the answer. Soon, the entire class was participating.
The more our boys own their intelligence, the sooner the deficiencies in boys' education will disappear. As parents (and especially as fathers), we can make learning masculine again. We don't need to swing the pendulum back to educating boys and ignoring girls; we need to move forward to where education is a priority for everyone.
I'm convinced our generation of parents can raise the most intelligent and creative wave of children the world has yet to witness.
Writer, photographer and Utah's Young Mother of the Year, Michelle Lehnardt is raising five future fathers and one little mother. She write at scenesfromthewild.blogspot.com on chicken coops, tea parties and missing her missionary son in Russia.
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