Boys and Girls Learn Differently!
The Difference Between Boys’ and Girls’ Brains
The different learning styles between boys and girls have been well-documented over the past decade, with brain-based research and behavioural case studies from leading educationists invariably reaching similar conclusions. Whilst gender differentiation may be only a starting point for understanding how to provide the best learning environment for children (from birth onwards), it is important that we are aware of these differences, understanding how and why they occur, in order to manage our expectations of children’s development and behaviour.
Research reveals that there are significant structural and functional distinctions in the brains of boys and girls. What are the main differences and what does this mean in terms of learning and behaviour?
How do these differences in the brains of boys and girls affect their development?
Boys engage in rough and tumble play in the school playground because their sense of spatial awareness requires them to move as they learn. This assists the development of their gross motor skills. The urge to explore physically is what pushes boys to want to rush off and explore; to run, cycle, jump, roll and leap as much as they can. Conversely, during early childhood, girls tend to be ahead with fine motor development. Happy to sit for longer periods of time, girls develop strong skills in drawing, colouring, threading, painting and writing.
If you watch a class of boys and girls rush outside for free-play, you’ll notice that girls often spend most of the session discussing what they will do beforehand: who will be the Mummy, the Daddy, and other social aspects of the dramatic play, often leaving little or no time for the actual game itself! Boys on the other hand will tear around the playground immediately, as if the aim of their play is to cover as much ground as possible, as fast as possible.
Although boys may have an advantage over girls in terms of spatial-mechanical learning and girls may excel in language rich situations, this does not relate to any difference in intelligence. However, because traditionally we treat boys and girls differently from birth and often fail to provide them with the most suitable learning environment for their gender needs, this can lead to a disparity in academic results.
Ideal Learning Environment
The ideal learning environment for young children is one which recognises the different learning styles of boys and girls, ideally considering the spatial, emotional, social and cognitive needs of each gender. Ensuring equal opportunities for both sexes does not necessarily mean providing the same opportunities. For example, a young boy who finds himself in a crowded social setting may behave aggressively compared to a young girl, who will adapt more easily. Often, during the first few months of Nursery One, it is not uncommon for a little boy to hit, push or even bite as he struggles to feel comfortable in an unfamiliar setting.
Boys benefit from the opportunity to learn through outdoor projects, constructing, field trips and games. Because of this leaning towards hands-on-learning, boys more easily verbalise what they are doing than what they are feeling. When talking to boys while they are actively engaged in an activity, their language will be richer and more expansive.
How to Motivate Boys and Girls
From birth, babies are born with a huge amount of intrinsic motivation. When they see the results of their actions they are motivated to continue. This starts with understanding that crying will bring Mummy and milk. There are a number of ways that parents can help their children remain motivated:
- Provide an environment which allows them to explore freely.
- Do not jump in to help the child too soon. Provide ample time to allow for persistence to develop, vital to enable children to remain motivated.
- Set clearly defined limits that allow your child to be as independent as possible.
- Provide opportunities for you and your child to play to together. By exploring and interacting together, you provide a model for your child to learn from and you will get to know your child’s current interests and strengths.
- Praise and rewards should always be based on the child’s efforts rather than accomplishments. This can encourage the child to take on greater challenges rather than stick to a comfort zone.
It is important to understand that each child has individual interests and strengths and to get to know what these are. We all tend to be more involved with an activity if we enjoy it. This is especially true for young children. By understanding the differences between boys and girls we can plan activities which are more likely to appeal to them and lead to success. However, don’t forget that regardless of whether they are boys or girls, all children are best motivated by feelings of success, empowerment and by your encouragement, nurturing and love.
• Strong neural connectors in the temporal lobes make girls good listeners, with a sensually detailed memory.
• The hippocampus (storage area) is larger than that in boys, leading to an advantage in the language arts.
• Higher levels of serotonin in the bloodstream and hence the brain, mean girls are biochemically less impulsive than boys. Girls can sit calmly for long periods; take time to gather facts before reaching conclusions; happy to sit and chat.
• Large expanses of the brain used for verbal and emotive functioning. Girls are better able to multitask, with fewer attention span problems.
• Large areas dedicated to spatial and mechanical functioning. Boys, on average, use only half the space that girls use for verbal and emotive functioning. Boys adopt whole body approach to learning; can switch off if too much verbal explanation or when upset.
• Lower levels of serotonin and oxytocin (the chemical which promotes human bonding) leads to physical impulsiveness.
• Male brain is structured for compartmentalised learning.
• Male brain analyses symbols, abstractions, diagrams and objects moving through space. Hence boys tend to be good at maths, reading maps and logical thinking.