DIVERSITY ISSUES IN BOY-FRIENDLY PROGRAMS
Frank Robertson…Feb., 2003
Minister of Religious Education and Steering Council member, UU Men's Network)
The center of gravity of boys’ groups is far more physical and
outwardly competitive than girls’ groups. As a Minister of Religious
Education, I have seen that very thing again and again in church school classes
where boys are present in large numbers or in the homes of families where
children happen to be boys. Generally, most boys are out there attacking evil as
Spider-man or going directly to the toy trucks. Most girls are dancing with a
ribbon or going directly to pick up a doll.
The UU Men’s Network has been trying to help churches understand what
it means to be boy-friendly and provide more active, physical, outwardly
competitive opportunities for boys. Our church programs seem to need that
encouragement right now because so much of church school is centered on
activities in small rooms where discussion and the arts are high priorities. Our
men's movement is calling us to get more active in those rooms and organize more
trips outside with muscle-centered programs.
In the midst of this encouragement, all of us know that a few of the
young males listen to the sound of a different drummer. They are the boys whose
central being propels them to dance with a ribbon or play house. They also soon
learn to hide themselves somewhat from other children—and, of course, a few
girls hide their longing for rough play, too. As we strive to become more
boy-friendly in our churches, we should continue to affirm the unusual boys and
girls, but also recognize their natural tendency to hide who they really are.
Perhaps we should also recognize that many boys feel confined in a passive RE
program and may be hiding their true feelings in order to “behave” as they
think they should.
Added to the challenge is the inevitability of a few children with
special needs in most of our church schools. Boys with special needs seem to
stand out the most because their behavior can be too physical, sometimes
even violent. In training sessions during the last few decades, religious
educators have been seeking advice about how to understand and minister to the
needs of such children. A lesson learned from this training is that one should
be careful not to assume that a more active program will, by itself, meet the
needs of a boy who is uncontrollably active.
It is clearly possible to
raise the activity level in a religious education program if one sets out to
include situations where young people run, climb, jump, build, lift, etc. Many
times additional organizing by leaders is required in order to provide such
opportunities for young people, but the results make it all worthwhile. I have
always found that teachers are eager to lead a more dynamic program, even if it
takes more of their time, if they can see how such a program meets the physical,
social, and religious needs of their students.
Suggestions for a
Organize a progressive dinner to
three or four of the homes of children (about age
) where at least two of the host families have
boys in the group. The meal is served in stages at the various homes in sequence
and each host child and family is responsible for some sort of game or activity
for the group.
Plan a game where everyone can participate regardless of their skill level but
which welcomes muscle use, such as volleyball, broom ball, or a tug-of-war.
Hold a “Boys and Men’s Night” at the church but plan it well in advance so
that boys whose dads may not be able to attend can still be involved by coming
with a mentor. Keep the diversity of boys in mind but plan some physically
active parts of the program.
Take the group on a hike on a nature trail or up a small mountain.
Rent the use of a pool for a church school class for an hour and arrange to eat
lunch together at a theme restaurant.
a trip to another UU church, especially where there is a bell tower to climb. A
video of that bell tower and the group’s visit might be fun to share with the
congregation during a coffee hour.
Help a group of dads and their sons make a cabinet or bookcase for one of the
Try games where kids pick up teams and run around in the classroom related to a
curriculum theme. For example, develop a series of about twelve sentences with
key words missing that retell the story for the day. The teachers hide those
words about the classroom in advance of the session and two teams try to find
the missing words around the room. The team that gets their sheet completed
first wins. (Include a code number with each word and require that all of the
words be found with their code numbers.)