Written by: Cally Worden
Parents have known for a long time that, in general, Girl and Boy brains are wired differently. Science has finally caught up and in recent years a number of studies have produced evidence to support this. Girls learn best when given the opportunity to talk through a problem and work within a group and Boys have been found to grasp concepts with greater ease when visual stimuli and physical movement are employed. Understanding these differences can help parents and educators to target different learning techniques to each gender. But it’s worth remembering too that every child is different and that the observations that follow here are very general.
A Question of Maturity
As a rule, Girls have had the edge on Boys in respect of speech, reading and writing because they tend to mature more quickly, with their language skills progressing faster. Conversely, Boys forge ahead in maths and science and thrive in an environment where they can build things, manipulate objects and make visual plans for projects. On the face of it, the typical school environment favours Girls, but smart teachers know to present a range of activities that will appeal to the whole class. At home, parents can use this knowledge to encourage activities that play to the respective strengths of each gender.
Studies have shown that Boys and Girls prefer to wind down in different ways after school. Both genders need a little decompression time before launching into homework. But while Boys may choose to zone out to music or with a video game, Girls seem to favour talking, and playing games that offer an unconstrained verbal outlet. It’s as if the Boys have been forced into communication all day and need to recede into their silent shells and Girls have been forced to mute their natural chatty tendencies and need to let rip once they arrive home.
How to Help our Sons Learn
These observational studies provide the framework for strategies to help our kids thrive. Here are some of the ways they have identified to help Boys reach their potential:
- Help him to remain organised – Boys aren’t great at this, and buying him an organiser is a bit like giving him a pretty eye shadow set and expecting him to know what to do with it. Demonstrate how to use the tools of organisation, then work with him regularly on it until he’s able to wield them confidently alone
- Allow homework breaks, every 15 minutes or so, in which he can move around. Boys are often bursting with energy and it needs an outlet if he’s going to be able to concentrate on a quiet task. My lad is only 3, but this morning at breakfast he had one of his regular little ‘mad bursts’, involving arm waving, silly noises and shaking his head. It lasted about 5 seconds and then he was done and continued eating peacefully. I’m already working out a homework schedule for his later years that involves laps of the garden and stick throwing
- Be creative about keeping him focussed – sitting still can be made more appealing if it involves balancing on a fitness ball, for example. Or allow him licence to recite spellings and times tables while running on a treadmill. Make the talking part less burdensome for him by introducing physical movement to the task
- Invent study games that involve movement – throw a ball during counting games, or assign him exercise activities he likes as a reward for working well, and tougher fitness tasks for when he’s losing focus. Boys love to be challenge physically
How to Help our Daughters Learn
Our daughters need a subtly different approach, and can need some coaxing in their non-verbal development. Here are some suggestions for helping to keep Girls on track, and expand their horizons too:
- Ensure she has access to puzzles, building and construction toys and encourage her to use them. Many Girls won’t often naturally choose to think spatially unless encouraged to do so. My daughter loves Lego, but only if she can build houses for her other toys. My son prefers to create garages for his cars. Whatever works is okay
- Involve her in everyday science concepts outside of the learning environment. Talk about how you cut a sandwich into halves, then quarters, or divide a pack or sweets between three friends. Look at the angles on the slide at the park, chat about how the rain gets into the clouds, or observe the moon and stars together then encourage her to create a picture or model to reflect what she sees
- Encourage her to move around. Exercise is vital for good health and many girls slip into sedentary leisure activities like reading to the exclusion of all else. Go foraging together for items for a craft project, cycle to the shops for a loaf of bread, or simply take the dog to the park. She may initially resist but once outdoor fun becomes a habit, she will start to choose it for herself from time to time too
- Show her how to use a computer for research, design and play. Using techno-tools is a great way to get Girls to step outside of themselves and explore other modes of communication
- If she is struggling with homework try talking through a problem – help her learn to apply her natural and preferred method of communication in order to resolve an abstract problem
I know many of you reading this may think that categorising Boys and Girls in this way is in itself contributing to the stereotyping. But numerous studies have yielded similar GENERAL results. Be honest, how do your kids fit into these gender roles? It seems in my home that my Girl and Boy slot pretty well into these observed stereotypes, despite my efforts to ensure each is offered a broadly ‘genderless’ set of toys and opportunities. But equally I have friends whose Girls could be ‘Boys’ in these terms and vice versa. We’d love to know your thoughts on this, so please do share!