The idea that boys develop at a slower rate than girls is a common one across the Early Years Sector as well as wider communities. Is there any truth to this or is it an old wives tale that has developed and grown over time?
Well, in actual fact there is some research to support this idea (albeit most research around this topic is aimed at boys over 5 and there is sparse information and research regarding our Early Years boys) but we have to appreciate and understand, that like most things, it all starts with us. As Early Years practitioners we have a responsibility to identify any gaps in children’s learning and bridge these gaps the best we can, and the growing gender gap is no different.
Research does show however that it is not just DNA that contributes to the gender gap and there are other external factors that can impact upon the severity of the gap. Which also means that we can do our bit in bridging the gap and providing adequate support for our boys, before it’s too late.
Early Years experiences and learning opportunities are vital times for our children and if we don’t provide adequate support in these earliest moments, our boys will fall too far behind; this not only has a negative effect on their early development, but will also in turn, impact upon the rest of their schooling and even into their adult life.
As practitioners, we don’t have to just accept these facts and allow this to continue. We are all aware that boys learn differently to the girls in our settings and so we have a responsibility to ensure we are tuned into the needs of our children, not just by their gender, but their personalities and interests too and gain a deeper insight into what really makes them tick and how they learn best, in order to provide the right support for their individual needs and learning styles.
Doing what we can to bridge these developmental gaps for our boys in early years is essential, not only for improving outcomes, but also for making Early Years a more enjoyable place for boys. These gaps in learning and development can be reduced dramatically by positive and enabling environments and knowledgeable and supportive adults.
Understanding the different ways in which our boys learn and develop and adapting our practice and provisions as a result of this, will go a long way in bridging the gap for our boys across the sector.
Science tells us that boys’ fine motor skills develop later than girls, resulting in them generally learning to write later as it can take them longer to develop the necessary skills used for intricate mark-making, and so with this in mind, and understanding these small but noticeable differences in learning and development enables us to support our boy in developing not only an interest, but developing their fine motor skills by planning opportunities, environments and experiences to support and encourage this type of learning, thus developing their fine motor skills, and later pencil control, as a result.
As we previously mentioned there are other socio-economic factors that also contribute to the gender gap too. As we know only too well, parental involvement is key in a child’s early development, some research states that parents subconsciously interact differently with boys than they do girls and as a result can impact upon the gap too.
A holistic approach to children’s development is vital for all children and as practitioners we can support parents in bridging this gap in their home environment too; parents and families could be encouraged to provide their children with resources and materials to encourage them into reading for pleasure, this not only encourages an interest in books, but also to inspires story-telling opportunities that as a result will develop literacy and communication skills significantly.
Role-modelling is a key component in making opportunities and experiences more accessible and stimulating for boys, particularly in key areas of development that can be affected by the gender gap. Ensuring that we are modelling positive language, mark-making in all areas of provision, communicating with our peers, introducing new words into learning experiences are all key to being positive role-models for the boys in our settings.
Over a million boys in the UK struggle with motivation, engagement and problem solving skills as well as a motivation to learn, and as a result, are struggling to not only verbally express their thoughts and try to apply their ideas to their learning, but coupled with the delay in early language and communication, many of these boys now also struggle to communicate and engage with their peers; all of which further impacts their learning and development as a whole.
As a setting, we have identified and acknowledged this common development gap and as a result feel that we are in a prime position to adequately support the boys in our setting, thus minimising the risk of the gender development gap. As a smaller, home-based childcare setting, our ratios are lower therefore enabling us to really get to know the children in our care, in addition to easily adapting activities to meet the needs of all of the children. We ensure learning is a hands on and practical experience, as well as using our knowledge of how boys learn and adapting our environment accordingly. Similarly we also support our parents in developing their children’s learning at home by providing home learning activities/equipment for parents to use at home to reinforce the learning experiences on offer within the setting.
As we mentioned earlier, whilst there is minimal evidence focusing on boys in the Early Years, the ongoing difficulties and outcomes of older boys is evident and we must understand that problem starts before our boys reach age five, and so as Early Years practitioners it is our duty to intervene as soon as these children enter our settings, apply our knowledge and understanding of our boys as individuals and learners, adapt our practice and provision in order to meet these needs, thus improving the learning experiences and outcomes of boys as a result.