Are the differences between girls and boys nature or nurture? Does it matter? Do they affect our educational choices? Or are we perpetuating stereotypes by considering the sexes differently? This is an area where my husband and I have some discussion! He tends to take the view that all children are the same, and that we as both individuals and society tend to impose stereotyped behaviours on them from an early age. I used to believe that to be the case, but now, whilst I do agree that there are these cultural and societal expectations, and whilst there will always be exceptions, that some important differences do exist!
I'll share a couple of illustrations from my experience (although you could argue that these are just further stereotypes of individuals who have been shaped through stereotyping but I'll dispense with the caveats now and just get to the point). Friends who have girls are more likely to invite me and the boys round for coffee and suggest that whilst the children play quietly, the mothers can drink coffee, chat and then pray together. What a lovely idea! I'd adore that, but I know that it just would not be possible, not with my boys at their current stage. The other weekend we went to a childrens' party which began with sitting round tables and doing lots of crafty activities involving small pieces of paper and glue; indeed my friends with girls talk about things like 'cutting and sticking', when that is not particularly something my boys enjoy doing. The afternoon got off to a difficult start for them, as they wanted to run around the hall and chase the balloons, and we ended up leaving quite soon. (You could argue that this is because I don't tend to do these type of crafts, but instead we do plenty of painting, drawing and baking which require just as much precision and concentration). But you start to get a picture. My friends' daughters enjoy a trip to the park, but don't seem to bounce off the ceilings if they do not get taken outside into the fresh air on a regular basis; conversely, the boys seem to NEED that time outside at least once, but often twice per day.
And so our lives (and education) takes its shape around these things. Structured, short activities, but I take care to intersperse the quiet, concentrating type activities with those which are more physical (for example, we will do some baking when they wake from this current nap, but I have plans for a long walk as soon as things come out of the oven!). I was interested to come across this website which specifically focusses on homeschooling boys. A couple of years ago, I would have dismissed this as stereotyping and not helpful, but I read on and indeed saw described many of the things I have come to observe in my own children. Some of the suggestions are things which I have come to do instinctively, and others will be helpful to me as our education develops over the next few years.
It is hardly a secret that mainstream education is often more unhelpful to boys. Girls tend to learn to read and write earlier, whereas boys are more prone to be labelled as having attention or educational difficulties; indeed, I read a recent report that suggested that up to 25% of primary educated boys are currently diagnosed as having some form of special educational need. Without minimising the challenges that can be introduced by genuine special needs, I cannot believe this statistic to be true. I am convinced that much of it is that young children in general, but particularly boys, do not thrive in an environment where they are made to sit inside and concentrate and be part of a large group with little individual interaction. Further difficulties are introduced when children are given an unhelpful label from an early age, as they start to see themselves as problems, or people lower their expectations. Even through secondary school, girls increasingly outperform their male counterparts, and I do not believe this to be due to an academic superiority but rather that they benefit more from the current educational 'system'.
I do think some people take the stereotypes too far. Discipline, for example, should be given to all of our children. I have known several parents laugh at the blatent and destructive disobedience of their sons, and make a comment along the line of, 'Boys, what can you do!'. I remember the very negative comments I recieved when my second child was a son. 'Now you'll have your work cut out', I was told. 'Now you'll see what life is really like'. It was generally assumed that raising boys would be far more challenging, and less rewarding, than raising girls. (These comments were unusually insensitive given that I had already had and buried a daughter, but I'll not get into that right now!)
The challenges are different! I spend far more time outside being physically active than I might do given the choice. At the end of the day, my back, legs and arms can be incredibly painful. I am physically exhausted (bearing in mind, that on the days that I 'go out to work', I run the 5Km distance there and then back again in the evening, enjoy climbing mountains for relaxation and could hardly be considered a 'couch potato'!) But it is a different kind of tiredness, and a different kind of challenge. What I have noticed quite clearly is a deterioration in the behaviour and obedience of my sons when we do not spend enough time burning off energy; so simply we need to recognise and adapt to their needs. I would hope that we all do this for all of our children. Perhaps a greater challenge would be to have a family where each child had very different needs, and there was a greater need to add balance so that they could all be met.
These days, I am interested to read articles and blogs which do indeed focus on some of the differences, and discuss ways to best educate the energetic bundles of creativity that are our sons. I hope other readers here find the recommendation helpful.
I'd be interested to know in the experiences of others, particularly those who have experience with both sons and daughters!
- I am a Christian mother of five, and our highest goal as a family is to serve God in every aspect of our lives. Jesus promised His disciples 'life in all its abundance' (John 10:10) - that has been our story, a rich life, not devoid of challenges, but certainly abundant. Previously writing at www.homeeducationnovice.blogspot.com, we have come to realise that education is just one area where our faith shapes our choices and direction in life. This blog seeks to share our adventure.