Most of you know me for my work with girls and women. You may not know that since the beginning of my career working with youth, I’ve also created programs that focus on boys and young men. My first job out of college was in a residential treatment facility (aka juvenile detention) where I worked with teenage boys. Next I worked at an LGBTQ youth center that served primarily boys. I loved working with boys at these places. Especially when I had the opportunity to get beneath the surface and hear their hopes, worries and questions about their lives.
As other wise women before me have pointed out, patriarchy hurts boys, too. The boys I’ve met and worked with want opportunities to talk about their feelings...but there aren’t many available. We don’t create spaces for boys the way we do for girls - the kind that emphasize reflection, self-awareness, communication skills and relationship skills. But in my experience, as long as there’s good leadership, no judgement, and space for lots of noise and laughter, boys are DOWN for this kind of group. They want it. They know they need it.
When I left the non-profit world and started Red Seeds, I carried the love I had for those boys. After a great deal of dreaming and scheming with my wonderful collaborator, Ent Natale, we launched a program for “Boys who love earth” a few months ago. And now that we’re up and running, I thought I’d give you an update!
Tiny but Mighty
Four boys, all in 3rd grade have joined the group. At first, I was reluctant to run a group this small...typically 6 is my minimum. But after a few months, Ent and I are realizing that spirit is in the details. These four boys are dedicated and awesome. They are full of enthusiasm and curiosity and willingness. As we explore and develop curriculum, they are helping us figure out what works. We feel very lucky.
Learning from Dragons
Imagination and story are the best teachers. In Diana Circle, we return to the stories of the goddess, Artemis, for inspiration to talk about instinct, authenticity, bravery and so much more. In this new group, we’re don’t know yet what our long-term teaching stories will be. But we’re starting with dragons.
Dragons have a rich range of stories that are both ancient and contemporary. Depictions of dragons show them as fierce, dangerous, mean, aggressive, solitary...and also tender, loyal, kind, and relationship-oriented. Our goal in this group is to challenge patterns of toxic masculinity and lift up models of “positive masculinity.” In my experience, especially with children, playing with stories is the best way to encourage self-understanding and the development of values. So, every group has a chance to play dragons. Boys are developing dragon characters for themselves that have special powers, desires and needs. Questions for reflection happen during and as a part of play. Ent, who facilitates the group, has told some great stories of boys running through the park, arms outstretched in flight, while they have some critical conversations about what it means to be “powerful.”
What is strength?
Along with dragons, we are building curriculum around the question “what is strength?” At age 8 or 9, boys are already comparing their bodies to other boys, and asking if they measure up. In conversations, they know what they’re supposed to say “there’s lots of ways to be strong” they repeat. But there’s doubt in this affirmation. The same goes for emotions. Our curriculum gives space to voice those doubts. To name and gently support the feelings that come up.
Ent has some great angles on this. As a professional biologist, he has lots of activities that draw on nature - animals and plants - to illustrate strength in ways that aren’t just about dominance or physical prowess. And he’s brought all sorts of things like building models, doing experiments, playing with magic the gathering cards, and playing games outside to create an atmosphere that is engaging and fun.
It’s exciting to see this program take its first steps. And we feel hopeful! The boys are so great! Their families are so great! We’re inspired and having fun with the curriculum planning. But the truth is, what really makes a difference is intention, consistency and time. It will be years before we’ll know how much of an impact this group makes on the boys as they grow up. So, we’re here for it. We can’t wait to find out.
We’ll welcome new members to this group in the fall. If you are in Philly and would like to join us, reach out!