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5 Tricks for Motivating Boys in School

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“Why do I have to learn ______?” Whatever the lesson of the day is—algebra, the periodic table, state capitals—if you have a kid who isn’t motivated to do school work, he will fight you tooth and nail. And I say “he” because motivating boys in school seems to be a whole lot tougher than motivating girls.

Studies show that girls are better at self-discipline and self-regulated learning, so how does a mom get her son to care about times tables when all he wants to do is play baseball or Minecraft? The amazing thing is that you can utilize their boy brains to spark an interest in schoolwork. Here’s what the spark actually is and 5 tricks to light it up (girl moms, they will work for you, too)!

The spark is emotional energy.

For the most part, little boys have plenty of energy. A traditional classroom or homework setting doesn’t support that need. There are physical sources of energy, like sugar or a healthy meal, and emotional sources of energy. If you’ve ever felt drained after an hour of reading pandemic posts on Facebook, you know about emotional energy. It can feed or drain you. The key to motivating boys to learn is triggering their emotional energy so they make an emotional connection to learning. Try one of these ideas.

Get physical.

This might seem obvious, but it bears repeating. After all, I still tell my sons to sit at the kitchen table to do their homework and then can’t understand why they can’t focus. Any time movement or motor skills can make it into a lesson or homework, boys will automatically be more interested and their emotional energy will kick in. Use LEGOs for multiplication or division lessons or practice spelling words with a basketball game like HORSE.

Make it a competition.

One day, while volunteering in my son’s class, I watched a game where two students came to the board and stood back to back. The teacher would call out two numbers and the first student to write the sum lived to play another round. It’s a super simple game that involved speed, cheers from classmates, suspense! Math became fun.

Give the why.

Kids are no different from adults in this way. You can only get so motivated when you don’t understand the purpose of what you’re doing. The easiest way to explain the “why” is with real-life examples: Why do we learn fractions? Let’s cook and I’ll show you. Why do we learn how seeds are dispersed? Let’s check out these weeds in our yard. Why do we learn calculus? You’re on your own for that one.

Have an end product.

Much like giving the why, having an end product will shift that work from assignment to project. A boy would much rather produce something than do busywork. I loved watching my son do a non-traditional book report last school year. He had to create a cereal box that was themed around a book. The ingredients were the characters and the plot, the game on the back of the box explained the conflict and resolution, and the nutritional value was his review of the book. Genius!

Add humor.

The reason emotional energy sparks engagement is that it creates a connection between the child and his environment, teacher, tutor, or classmates. One of the best ways to do that is with humor. Yep, that silly cat poster actually serves a purpose! Use Madlibs to practice parts of speech and don’t be afraid to crack a smile when you quiz him on inert versus noble gases.

What are your tricks for motivating boys?


What are three things you would like to learn how to do?

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