Ode to Pencil Belts

IMG_3051                                                                    A Pencil Belt Advertisement

Boys and writing. We read about this unlikely duo all the time. How to get boys to write. How to get boys to read. How to get boys to sit still to write and read. Well something hit me this past week. Boys want to be heard just as much as girls do. No, I don’t mean by yelling out in class and all the other, often inappropriate, ways that boys garner our classroom attention. But they want their thoughts, feelings, and needs to be heard.

Often we wonder why boys struggle so in school. Sure there are many external reasons that we can’t really do  a lot about. Family issues being one. But there are a few we can do something about. Many, many boys are hard wired to move, and move a lot. Yet school is so often all about sitting, being polite, taking your turns. Yes, important things but do they always have to be front and center? Can we move, speak out, and wiggle sometimes and have it be OK?

A week ago a boy in my class decided that he wanted to sell unusual handmade items called pencil belts. We had just watched a video on Heifer International in our knitting club and decided we wanted to make yarn objects like knitted pouches to sell so we could purchase a farm animal to donate to a family in need. This boy asked if we could sell pencil belts. Pencil belts? Sure, sounds harmless enough. So off he set to make posters to put around school, set up a desk outside the classroom, design raffle tickets, order forms, a system to track orders, and “hiring” others when the business became overwhelming for him.. Holy cow! Reading, writing, math, economics, graphic arts… all for pencil belts.

“Pencil belts?” you may ask. Well, to be honest, I asked too. We’ll get to that. The real heart of this story is about the power of when boys’ voices are heard. Boys whose voices are heard do better in school. I say this using evidence from years of watching this phenomena  over and over again, with pencil belts being the most recent. While I am fortunate to have many engaged boys in my class this year I have a few who at times are not. When this pencil belt phenomena took hold these boys jumped in head first helping with posters, manning the desk, counting the money, and of course using their hands to wind yarn around weaving needles to make, of all things, brightly colored pencil belts. Pencil belts you see are tiny yarn belts for pencils. They are designed to be tied to the top of the pencil near the eraser. Then they work their magic by making your writing come alive.

IMG_3053                                                     The Pencil Belt “Store” AKA Desk
IMG_3052                                              The Well Constructed & Organized Desk Top

You may wonder if my boys all of a sudden enjoy writing more? Well, yes I think they do. Will it last? Who knows. But the important part was that we listened. We listened to the boys. We heard them. We heard their plea to create, take control, move their bodies, use all their learning for something meaningful. When we listen, they learn.  

      Ode to Pencil Belt 

I sat at my desk and wanted to cry,

My teacher told me to just try.

I wanted to write.

I really did.

But no matter how hard I tried,

nothing seemed to work.

Then John gave me something

that I had never seen.

It was tiny. It was yarn.

It was a bright color green.

He tied it to my pencil.

“You’ll see,” he said.

I began to write and

the words…

well they just flowed.

I soon realized that this

little yarn was

stonger than steel,

better than gum.

“What is this?” I asked.

“A Pencil Belt!” he grinned.


**All 100% of the proceeds of this trademarked  Pencil Belt goes to http://www.heifer.org/



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