Many boys need opportunities to move around and like competitive situations.

On the playground, it seems so obvious. Girls huddle and chat, often using vocabulary that makes their parents shake their heads and ask “Where did my 4th grader pick up the word ‘ebullient’?”

And boys...well, they’re less likely to use words like “ebullient” and to have in-depth conversations with their pals on the playground. They’re too busy proving they can climb the fastest, jump the farthest, and holler the loudest.

“Girls and boys,” says one parent who has a couple of each, “they’re just so different.”

Researchers have long been fascinated by gender differences and how they play out in social situations, in the classroom, and in adulthood. Teachers and parents often struggle with the challenge of having such different kids assigned the same term paper or math test.

But do boys really learn differently than girls? Some experts say they don’t. “There is no difference in the nature and quality of how they learn,” says Judith Preissle, an education professor at the University of Georgia who has studied gender and education. “We’re not different species.”

But that doesn’t mean boys and girls are the same.

There is evidence that boys differ from girls in some key ways: They mature at a slightly slower pace, and they are better at spatial visualization. That’s not to say many girls aren’t good at reading maps or constructing elaborate three-dimensional projects. But on average, boys have the edge in these areas.

Another key difference is that boys need to move around more. Girls are often able to sit still longer and to stay more focused during a traditional lesson, a possible explanation for why girls are enjoying more academic success than boys. Boys are more likely to fidget in class and need frequent stretch breaks. Boys don’t just enjoy recess, they crave it. “If you want to help your boys, give them lots of opportunity to run around,” Preissle says.

Penmanship is also an area of contrast. “Boys just struggle with pencils,” Preissle says. Their fine motor skills will eventually catch up, but until that happens it can be difficult for boys to write neatly. Messy handwriting is often mistaken for laziness or carelessness.

Generally speaking, boys crave competition and the possibility of winning whereas girls are better at cooperation. Preissle recommends exposing both girls and boys to opportunities to compete and cooperate. That way, kids get to do what they enjoy and also have a chance to improve in areas that don’t come naturally.

Many experts, including Preissle, warn against putting too much stock in gender differences for fear parents and teachers will inadvertently reinforce stereotypes.

“Kids rise to our expectations,” says Lise Eliot, an associate professor of neuroscience at the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Chicago. Eliot is working on a book about gender differences, and she urges parents and teachers to be sensitive to individual differences without letting the expectation that boys will struggle in a traditional classroom become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Experts disagree over whether differences between boys and girls are biological or taught. Eliot notes that while little boys gravitate to balls and little girls reach for dolls, as girls get older they grow comfortable with trucks and action figures. Boys, however, don’t usually outgrow their aversion to girl-themed toys, leading Eliot to suspect nurture over nature.

In her years of research, the only biological difference she has seen between boys’ and girls’ brains is their average size. Boys tend to have bigger brains, but they also tend to have bigger kidneys and other organs, she notes. They’re just bigger kids. “I don’t get too excited about bigger brains,” Eliot says, adding that girls’ brains grow faster.

For parents, the possible reasons for gender differences aren’t as important as how they respond to those differences. Eliot recommends exposing all children, regardless of gender, to toys and activities that encourage literacy and math. “Expect boys to read,” she says.

Many parents and educators are concerned about boys sliding down the educational achievement ladder while girls leapfrog over them. As girls make gains in society, does it have to be at the cost of boys’ academic achievement? Eliot suggests paying attention to boys’ need to release energy on a playground, at the ball field, or in the backyard. She also advises exposing boys to musical instruments, fine arts, foreign languages, and other interests more often associated with girls.

Perhaps easiest of all, parents can help boys by exposing them to girls. “Boys who hang around with girls are better able to read emotions,” explains Eliot, adding that girls can learn from boys how to stand up for themselves and embrace competition. “The two genders have much to learn from each other.” That gives both boys and girls reason to be ebullient.

For more on the differences in how children learn best, read “How Girls Learn”


#5 Edmond J. Dixon, Ph.D 2013-05-27 19:35
My 30+ years of experience as parent, teacher, Principal, & researcher have convinced me that boys do indeed learn differently than girls. It has to do with brain wiring that influences their motivations and preferences.

There are specific approaches that work well with boys without disadvantaging girls. I describe them in the book Helping Boys Learn: 6 Secrets for Success in School.
#4 Amy Trampf-Brown 2009-11-23 17:34
In my school district, they have recognized that there is a difference in learning styles in boys and girls and during the last school year, all the teachers learned the "Conscious Discipline" (Dr. Becky Bailey) techniques. In there, they discussed the book "Gender Matters". In the summer, one of the teachers then taught it to a small group of parents through a series of workhops. It has made a big difference in my son's academic career. All the teachers learned these techniques and implement them in the classrooms. It has helped my son, who has ADHD, tremendously. There is no major difference from school and home so he has nothing to make him uncomfortable. I help in my son's classroom once a week for an hour and I can see the difference it has made not only with my son but with the other kids too.
#3 Warnell Samuel 2009-10-08 21:50
very informative
#2 Ann Duckworth 2009-04-01 16:41
Ann Duckworth

While both boys and girls begin life equal, they are then raised from birth to be different. The boys are treated not by accident to increasingly more aggressive styles to make them tough. They are not given as much mental, emotional, social support for fear of coddling them. Most importantly and not by accident but by intent, they are increasingly given love, honor, and respect, the essentials of self-worth, based on measures of achievement, power, status, etc. This makes boys and later men much more competitive (by design) for this makes them try much harder in order to achieve those feelings of self-worth from peers and society. Those boys or men who do not measure up in some way will not only receive less honor and respect but will receive more aggression from society. In the information age, all of those areas have led to a large decrease in academic learning and in turn ability to compete in the information age. Women are surging ahead.

Since girls and later women are not supposed to be strong this allows for much mental, emotional, social support from an early age along with much love honor and respect simply for being girls. In the information age, this support not only allows girls to mature faster but to do better in academics. This support continues through adulthood and now is showing up in economic advantages for women.

Today, the combined real effect of wives earning more; the media blitz against men in various ways (again, since Males are supposed to be strong that allows more types of aggression); and the very real problem with Males unable to compete and earn a living in the information age; is all working together to create some very hostile Males who are now losing big time, feelings of self-worth (love, honor, and respect) from society. Many Males may either lose the ability to escape to the local bar or get a quick drug fix. Also many hardworking, though industrial age Males who have not read the handwriting on the wall that the information age is becoming the more so the only game in town to earn a living are finding themselves helpless in supporting their families and now feel they are failures as men and deserving of more abuse from society. This then leads to more accumulated psychological suffering, lack of reflection time, and depleted feelings of self-worth. This is making many, even formerly good hearted Males susceptible to a catharsis of violence. Usually this will be taken out on those closest to them in their lives. My learning theory offers hope in this area. Thank goodness it shows a sociological solution and a permanent genetic problem. It will go to all on request. mayfieldga@bellsouth.net
#1 Amanda 2008-09-19 21:02
I suppose you would call me a "helicopter mom." But honestly, I feel that it is my job to make sure that my children get the best of what I can help provide for them. Therefore, when this school year began, I was first to sign up for volunteer. Unfortunately, regardless of the .sign up sheet, my daughters teacher refuses to take any volunteers. When I have tried discussing this issue with her, or any other, all I have found is rudeness and inability to communicate with me in a positive way. I have seen her be rude to students as well. My daughter, who is actually quite shy, got a note sent home on the 2nd day of school saying that she was sent to "yellow light" for talking in the hallway. The next day, she was so scared she would get into trouble that she peed her pants instead of asking to use the restroom. At this point, I am wondering what to do. I would love to have her switch teachers, but I don't want to be that parent. I want to form a relationship with this woman because she is helping to mold who my child is. She spends more time with my daughter than I do day-by-day. I feel that I should have some say as to who spends the entire day with my daughter. If the teacher is unapproachable, do I go to the principle? Do I try to have a sit down with her? I am just downright frustrated. I guess I totally disagree with the idea that all teachers are equally qualified.

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