Gender Differences in Learning and Play

January 29, 2009 at 2:45 pm Leave a comment

I went to an interesting talk at my son’s school last night about differences in boys and girls in learning and play.  The speakers were 2 academic PhD types who have read every book on the topic and also have a private practice in counseling little kids.

They began the session with a great story, excerpted I think from Raising Cain (one of the definitive books about how the education system is squelching boys’ natural exuberance and society kills their emotional side.)   It was about a group of elementary school kids who were divided by gender for a woodworking activity and each side had to work together and decide whether they would build a bridge or a catapult.   Girls typically chose bridge and boys always chose catapult.   Then the girls got together in an organized fashion planning their bridge, discussing ideas, etc. (much like a business meeting I gather.)  The boys, on the other hand, each went off on their own, slapping together ramshackle catapults with little planning or discussion, trying to out-catapult each other.  They were more energetic and crazy and got madder and more frustrated, but soon the best catapults rose out of the rubble, then the boys would come together more, fine tune, share ideas, and ultimately a very fine catapult was build using the best ideas from the group.

But you can see where a teacher or parent would probably be telling the boys to work more like the girls and to pipe down, not goof around, etc.  Yet the speakers pointed out that the boys took more risks and may have ended up with a better catapult than if they’d sat there and “ideated” for a while.  So in the end, each side can learn from each other about ways to work as a team.  She didn’t mention it, but I bet the boys tried to use the catapult to smash the girls’ bridge.

Some other points that they made that are good for parents to know included:

Just because your son plays with fake guns or is enamored of voilence doesn’t mean he will grow up to be a gang member, NRA member, prison guard, criminal, etc.  He could just as easily be something peaceful (and make his mother proud.) As long as you keep reinforcing positive messages.

Just because your daughter is obessessed with princesses doesn’t mean she’ll grow up to be shallow fashion-loving bimbo.   As long as you keep reinforcing positive messages.

Just because your teenage son acts homophobic doesn’t mean he will be so as an adult.  As long as you keep reinforcing positive messages.

Young girls today are much more progressive in their thinking – they believe the world is their oyster, they can do anything, etc.  But they will still likely revert to the typical old pre-teen/teen girl way of thinking that will make you want to cringe (caring about what the bitchy girls at school think, treating other meanly, seeking approval from the opposite sex, etc.)  But they will emerge OK if you keep reinforcing positive messages.

Boys and men have a harder time multitasking than girls/women do.  So when you are reinforcing your positive messages to boys, don’t do it while they are deeply involved in another task.

Reading disabilities in 1st an 2nd grade are no predictor of future academic success IF they are dealt with.  Most can be corrected.  BUT, if a child continues to 3rd grade and on and these reading problems haven’t been dealt with they will likely be behind for the rest of school.

The recommended a book called Boys & Girls by Vivan Gussin Paley, a teacher who explored the differences in play and words of her Kindergarten class one year.

When I read Raising Cain last year, I did get a big apprehensive about putting a boy into CPS where there are big classes that are harder to control and plenty of teacher who use the traditional techniques to keep the kids in line.  So, plenty of opportunity for a rambunctious boy to be told he’s naughty.  I have to see how this pans out.  My son’s latent naughty side is now emerging so I may find out first hand how it is dealt with.

This morning I was relaying the story about the catapult experiment to my son.  Of course he was interested in building the catapult and his main comment on the whole things was “But how BIG was the catapult?!”  I guess I should have asked.  Gender difference.

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CPS Worries – Classroom Management Kindergarten: Pay to Play (and learn)

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