Should we teach boys versus girls differently in preschool?

by Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. on May 16, 2011

in Bam Radio Series on Early Childhood Education, Teaching Boys versus Girls

Let’s face it – little boys and little girls have some basic differences. They look different, they smell and sound different (sometimes), they have different body parts, and sometimes they even play differently. But the real question is, should we teach them differently?

Rae Pica with Dr Cordelia Fine, Abigail James,Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. on Bam Radio

The most recent topic of discussion on Bam Radio titled “Debunking 3 Big Fat Myths About Teaching Boys Versus Teaching Girls” seeks to answer that question.  Click on the link to listen to the experts (and me) discuss this topic.

My thoughts…

If you spend any time in the early childhood classroom you will often see the boys head over towards the blocks while the girls head over to the art table. So perhaps it is fair to say that boys tend to be interested in one type of play and girls in another.

But is it fair to assume that all boys like blocks and all girls like art?  Should we teach boys differently than we teach girls? Do we teach boys differently than we teach girls? During the Bam Radio interview, Abigail James stated, “People expect children to learn in certain ways because of their gender. We need to expand the way we approach learning in a more comprehensive way.”

Perhaps you do not think that you teach the boys any differently than you do the girls in your classroom. Perhaps you believe that you give each child equal opportunities to participate and succeed regardless of gender. Perhaps you are not aware of any gender bias in your classroom management or in your teaching style. I am not here to say whether you have any gender bias or not but I do think that it is important for all of us to reflect on our own teaching practices and consider whether or not any part of our teaching practices are driven by gender bias.

Questions to ask yourself…

  • Do I expect boys to be interested in one type of learning or play and girls to be interested in another?
  • Do I encourage the girls differently than I encourage boys?
  • Do I discipline girls differently than I discipline the boys?
  • Do I hug the girls and high five the boys?
  • Do I compliment the girls on how pretty they are dressed and ignore how the boys are dressed?
  • Do I compliment the boys on how fast they can run but ignore how fast the girls run?
  • Do I simply shake my head when I see the boys hitting each other but go into a state of shock when I see the girls hit each other?
  • Do I wait for girls to verbalize their thoughts when they are answering a question but jump in and “help verbalize” or speak for the boys when they seem a little stuck?
  • Do I think boys who cry need to toughen up but girls who cry just need more time to mature?
  • Do I send the boys to Time Out when they misbehave without much discussion but when the girls misbehave, take time to discuss how they can make better choices?
  • Do I naturally tend to give praise to the children at the art table for their effort but walk by the block center and tell everyone to play nice or we will put the blocks away?

Our attitudes about boys and girls as a gender are often reflected in how we teach them and even in how we care for them. It is important to recognize any hidden attitudes we may have about gender. By being aware of any gender bias you may have, you will be better able to “expand the way you approach teaching and learning in a more comprehensive way.”

A Lasting Impact…

Cordelia mentioned in the Bam Radio interview that preschoolers “already know an awful lot about gender… I don’t think we should be assuming that what we see in their play behavior is this sort of natural unsocialized state – that would be to ignore the previous first five years of experience of their lives.”  Not meaning to be disrespectful, but I didn’t understand exactly what she meant by this statement since preschoolers are still experiencing the first five years of their lives. But what I did get from this statement was that as preschool teachers, we are extremely influential during the first five years of life and when it comes to preschool age boys and girls, our teaching approach can have a life-long impact on their learning potential.

This article is being shared with you by Deborah Stewart of Teach Preschool - Sharing the wonders of early learning in action!

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