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Boys are routinely stereotyped as underachievers in Early Years education and opportunities for success in the educational system remain challenging for most of them; indeed many will struggle to live up to the expectations of the conventional classroom environment that require decorum and having to sit quietly to learn. By nature, boys are very active, exuberant and restless; they also tend to lack the ability to concentrate for long periods due to what research refers to as neural rest state (Leonard, 2007). This means that the male brains typically enter a period of minimal activity when the brain is set to renew or recharge itself.
All too often, due to their energetic personality, most teachers attribute the restless nature and short attention span to learning disability (LD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) especially when behaviour and performance problems also arise out of this conduct. The trouble with the way some teachers react to them is that such boys may have trouble connecting with school, resulting in a sense of failure or dropping out of school altogether in the long run.
Certainly, not all boys lack the motivation to succeed in school or find school boring. Some are still academically intense and can be as driven and motivated as girls. Studies (Gurian and Stevens, 2004) suggest that although girls do better than boys in standardized reading and writing test in the Early Years, boys tend to develop superior spatial skills which help with mathematics and science. This article attempts to provide some insights into understanding the obstacles in boys’ academic path and ways to motivate them to be more scholarly in school and in life.
Some Characteristics of Boys
● Majority of the boys in the Early Years are more physically active than the girls
● They are developmentally immature compared with girls
● They lag behind girls until adulthood
● They need more time to learn how to read thus pushing them to read when they are not biologically ready can do them more harm than good.
Making the School Boy-Friendly
● Boys see everything as a playground: according to Leonard (2007), staying seated is a challenging task for a young boy than for a girl of the same age and half of 5-year-old boys are not capable of being attentive for more than a 20-minute stretch. It is therefore advisable to use a play-based environment for natural and spontaneous learning rather than a rigorous academic approach.
● There should be role play areas that allow for imaginative and creative play to promote opportunities to experiment with creative thoughts. Have a fun way to introduce skills and allow them to build things thereby expressing their creative talents in a fun and friendly atmosphere.
● Provision of competitive learning opportunities should be used to sustain their interest. For instance, classroom debates, content-related games, and goal-oriented activities are examples of activities that may keep them focussed. The bigger the challenge, the more they stretch and when things get difficult, it makes them more determined to succeed.
● Give them opportunities to move around in the classroom in order to burn off excess energy; however, they should be taught on how to practice self-discipline in their movement.
● Some boys need more time to study because the parts of the brain that process words develop more slowly in boys than in girls. Gurian research (2001) showed that the male brain is better suited for symbols, diagrams, pictures and objects moving through space than for monotony of words.
● Ensure there are opportunities for recess. Play is one of the means by which children learn without being taught as it involves doing, exploring, discovering, failing and succeeding. This may also help boys develop self-control, enhance their emotional competence and encourage problem solving ability. It is advisable that their play equipment should be challenging and complex.
● Rather than have very tidy and aesthetically clean and respectable playgrounds which are impressive to adults, they may benefit from loose materials to manipulate, freedom to express themselves and make their own constructions, which is an extension of their overall learning.
● Male role models: It is particularly important for male mentors such as fathers or other male volunteers to be role models for them by giving them drive and direction: motivating them on how to do things based on their own experiences.
● More action, exploring and experimenting: Studies have shown that children who spend significant amounts of time outdoors have better motor skills which they will need for handwriting. It is also believed that such people are less stressed and have fewer conflicts. Thus, opportunities for children particularly boys to spend time outdoors can hone their social skills, take risks and have experiential learning.
● Talk, talk, talk: Parents need to assert their authority and guide them to be strong and responsible. Society is facing a challenge where the culture promotes entertainment icons with less recognition over academic achievements. There is a need to emphasise to them that ‘real men’ love to read also and what really counts in the long run is not how you look but who you are. They should be guided to be focussed, hardworking and resilient.
● Give compliments: Do not belittle or undermine their achievements. Recognise their little efforts and support them to aspire to release their potential.
● Seek out boy-friendly activities: For instance organise football matches, games and activities that are challenging and engaging.
● Let your child follow his passion: Show interest in what your child is fascinated in. For example get engaged in his hobby and encourage him to read books on the subject: be it football, science fiction, watching documentary, trucks, and so on. The child will inevitably pick up knowledge and valuable language, mathematics, science and other knowledge from such experiences.
In conclusion, boys’ underachievement especially in academic settings is an issue across the globe. In order to support them to succeed both academically and socially, parents, practitioners and teachers especially in Early Years need to realise the differing natures of girls and boys, provide extra encouragement and gender-specific strategies to boys in order to close the disparity between their abilities and their achievement. Together, we can strive to break down some of the barriers that boys face at the beginning of the educational journey.
This write up is my personal view, though based on research. It is not all boys that under-achieve although, most boys will likely experience or exhibit the above traits. I have found from experience that a little more flexibility in how boys are taught and the involvement of male role models tend to improve their overall performance and attainment. The issues raised in this article are not to the detriment of girls. In fact, schools and parents can also use the same method to support girls who have the restless creative streaks as well, and this will be followed up on our website http://www.crecheschoolsng.com
Mrs. Remi Oyinlola
Head of School
Christian, H. S (2013). “What Schools Can Do to Help Boys Succeed
Evans, J. (1995). “Children’s Attitude to Recess and the Changes Taking Place in Australian Primary Schools.” Research in Education 56: 49 – 61
Freeman, C. (1995). “The Changing Nature of Children’s Environmental Experience: The Shrinking Realm of Outdoor Play.” Environmental Education and Information 14(3): 259 – 280
Gurian, M., Stevens,K (2004). With Boys and Girls in Mind. Educational Leadership 62(3): 21 – 26
Leonard, S (2007) Boys Adrift: five factors driving the growing epidemic of unmotivated boys and underachieving young men. Basic Book. USA
McKendrick, J.H., M. G. Bradford and A.V. Fielder (2000). “Kid Customer? Commercialization of Playspace and the Commodification of Childhood.” Childhood 7: 295 – 314
Maynard, T and Waters, J (2014). Exploring Outdoor Play in the Early Years. Open University Press. USA
Sommers, C (2000). The War Against Boys. Simon and Schuster