Joy of Words
Helping kids love language and ideas. How do we encourage this? Parents, teachers, counselors and everyone interested—we value your input.
Ann from Boys Camp: About ten years ago, when my little girls shared bunk beds, I was inspired by the magical poet Naomi Shihab Nye: she told of waking her children each morning by reading poetry aloud to them. I tried it out, and all my children still talk of how the poetry has mixed in with waking dreams. Not to mention the place it put me in, in my classic (and oft unrealized) ongoing parental effort to prioritize a thoughtful mindset over stress.) Try it out reading from Salting the Ocean—a book of poems written by children, with the support of Ms. Nye.
As for my son—my schedule has changed and I’m at work when he wakes up in the morning, so instead I enjoy reading poems aloud to him in the evening or the car (and having the girl read their old favorites). I ask him to rate them from 1-5, to encourage reflection and differentiation. Lots get an eight! But we’ve also had some twos. Interesting! My go to volume for this—I still have my brother’s dog-eared fourth grade copy (Room 9, Lombardy Elementary School)—Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle.
Inspiration from India: Here’s a note from a friend of Boys Camp, Nandita Kapadia-Kundu of Pune, India, who shares our passions:
Dear Boys Camp,
You’ve taken me back several years ago when I recorded my son Shantanu’s stories and poems as he “spoke” them. I have a collection of about 15 stories and 7-8 poems. I was looking at them right now and there’s a monster or super hero in every story and there’s lots of kindness too. These are stories/poems written when he was 3 and a half to 6 years old. He has an unfinished novel with 12 chapters when he was 7-9 years. Then I fell sick and our project stopped for a while.
More than anything, it was something we did together. Since I’ve always been a working mom, one night when Shantanu was about three, I said to him, “Mama’s very tired. Why don’t you tell me a story tonight?” To my amazement, he started telling me a story of his own, from his own imagination. Most children say wonderful things but we rarely record what they say. I have always planned to put Shantanu’s poems/stories together in a book to tell other parents to encourage their children to create their own stories. Since talking to you, I plan to do so, for sharing with others.
Outdoor fun: hiking, backpacking and camping
All kinds of grown-ups agree: outside is a good thing. Running around. Nature. Creative play. Games. Working things out with other human beings. There’s backyard, playground, park, biking, hiking, camping, backpacking and much more.
And sometimes, being a tired parent, teacher or caretaker doesn’t help with the getting outside thing! Here’s a little inspiration.
Boys Camp Recommendations
Valerie Tripp recommends: HBO’s The Central Park Effect. “A glorious albeit quiet film, and it will make your heart beat faster to see how well Kitson Jazynka, author of Nate’s Story, captured how birders don’t go too public about birding because people think it isn’t “cool” until they do it.”
Ann Hendrix-Jenkins recommends: A simple deck of cards that can inspire fun. 52 Nature Activities by Lynn Powell.
Moving beyond gender stereotypes
How is it that stereotypes concerning boys and girls have completely flipped between 1950 and now (who used to be smart and dumb—and who is now?)…and yet people still buy into them! Yes, men and women have been socialized to heighten differences. But boys and girls? Let’s give them a chance to be themselves.
Season of Life: A football star, a boy, a journey to manhood. Jeffrey Marx. The story of NFL star Joe Ehrmann—and the amazing ways he helps transform boys into men.
Pink Brain, Blue Brain. Lise Eliot, Ph.D. How small gender differences grow into troublesome gaps—and what we can do about it.
Delusions of Gender. Cordelia Fine. How our minds, society and neurosexism create difference.
Packaging Boyhood: Saving our sons from Superheroes, Slackers and other media stereotypes. Lyn Mikel Brown, Sharon Lamb and Mark Tappan.
Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. Daniel Goleman
Books and movies kids love
Stories of adventure, survival, and nature (that include excellent boys and men)
- • Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare. Classic survival tale featuring the surprising friendship between a Native American boy assigned by his grandfather to help stranded white settler boy facing starvation.
- • My Side of the Mountain (series) by Jean Craighead George. Beloved classic about a runaway boy who survives on a mountain using mainly his bare hands. And he makes a wild friend who helps out.
- • Little House on the Prairie Series: A true story of one family’s adventurous series of moves that includes bears, wolves, killer storms, a dangerous woman with a knife, a truly charming father and more. (Warning: For all of her virtues, Ma has some truly unsavory opinions about Native Americans that either warrant thoughtful discussion or on-the-fly parental editing if read aloud. In about the middle of the series.)
- • Magic Treehouse Series by Mary Pope Osbourne. A brother and sister (who don’t act like you’d expect) with a secret portal through history.
- • American Tall Tales by Mary Pope Osbourne. Well-told craziness featuring old school superheroes of all genders.
- • Paddle to the Sea by Holling C. Holling. A Native American boy in Canada launches a wooden man and his canoe, who undergoes more twists and turns you’d think one little guy could handle.
- • Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Brave Irene and Rotten Island, by William Steig
- • Ferdinand the Bull and Wee Gillis by Munro Leaf
- • A Quiet Place by Douglas Wood
- • The Secret of Roan Inish, a movie by John Sayles. An subtle but incredible tale featuring young characters unconstrained by confining notions or gender or childhood. Including a wild baby with a cute bottom!
- • Finding Nemo, the Toy Story series, Ratatouille, Up, and Monsters Inc. Almost always, Pixar creates admirable, well-rounded and absolutely dynamic male main characters. (Warning—the first Toy Story movie does have a pretty disturbing neighbor boy.)
- • Old Yeller. The heart-rending 1957 American family tragedy and great story.
- • Where the Redfern Grows. An old movie set even further back—the 1930s—
about a boy who will do anything for his two dogs, Old Dan and Little Ann. Based on love and loyalty, quite a story unfolds.