My family and friends are looking at me with expressions of bemusement lately, and a little confusion as well, when I tell them that we are now including “warrior training” as part of our homeschooling curriculum. For the past year and a half, our approach to learning has been pretty standard — lots of math, reading, and history at the kitchen table, with a healthy dose of “real world” application. But after a recent conversation with a psychologist friend of ours about the psychology of boys and how to help them thrive, my husband and I decided to add a new “warrior” dimension to their education. So now, in addition to their regular school work and sports (diving, swimming, and martial arts), the past two weeks have also included: bouldering, archery, laser tag, Ninjitsu “night training”, and an aerial ropes course (complete with ziplines!).
I’m assuming you have the same perplexed expression on your face that I’ve seen so many times recently. “This is school?” you might ask, or “Why are you doing this, exactly?” The short answer is because they’re boys, and boys need physical challenges that not only allow them to release energy, but that also connect to their male spirit. Adventure and risk-taking are hard-wired into them, and showing them how to channel these impulses into healthy and “manly” activities builds their competence and confidence, and feeds their soul.
The physical benefits are truly secondary to the other types of growth we’ve already noticed. Building strength and endurance are certainly outcomes of this type of training, but they were already getting many of those benefits through their regular sports and play. The difference in the “warrior” activities is that there’s an emotional component — the boys are facing fears, exploring limits (physical and mental), and learning what it means to manage their emotions. As our friend put it, “The goal is to help them develop a sense of strength and capability, which will have benefits in all areas of their life, including school work and relationships.”
And building this sense of capability is key for boys (and girls as well). Tony Deis, the founder of Trackers Earth, a wonderful outdoor education organization where my sons have attended summer camp for the past two years, recently wrote: “We need more educational settings where the teachers believe it is about helping kids become more capable, not regurgitating transient facts, search engine results or philosophy.” For me, this means letting Sam and Ben think for themselves and figure it out on their own as much as possible, whether it’s doing math or climbing a wall.
But before you decide to embark on your own form of “warrior training”, I should warn you that it’s not an easy path for parents (especially moms). Why? Because parental involvement needs to be minimal. If the activity is about us wanting them to do something, or protecting them too much, it won’t work. The goal is to give kids room to make their own choices, fail (maybe even get hurt), and try again. Our job is strictly to give them an age-appropriate venue, and then back away. The upside, however, makes it totally worth it — both of my boys have been fully thriving the past few weeks, and they even cleaned their “warrior rooms” without complaint!