We need to start thinking about our boys in Early Childhood Education as the statistics for them as they get older paint a less than desirable picture. As boys enter the formal schooling system they are five times more likely to be expelled than girls, four times more likely to be diagnosed with a learning disorder and three times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. As boys get older they seem to take on more stress and responsibility which leads to more worry and exhaustion.
So how can we help to change this in Early Childhood Education?
We need to be aware of just how different boy’s bodies are. Generally, boys have more muscle mass and so require more energy to maintain their body temperature. Girls are generally more insulated and so do not require as much energy. Under seven year old boys have very few inhibitions, they are free from stress and almost everything they do is spontaneous. We need to cater for this and tailor their experiences to let this happen for them. So what can we do for boys? One of the best experiences we can offer is free outdoor play. Outdoor play enables young children to learn lots and lots and lots of things about the world. Often outdoor play equipment has a little more risk than indoor toys which appeals to boys as they can test and challenge themselves. It also teaches them to explore new games and become confident in learning to try new things without being guided by adults. Nature is the best way for children to investigate, test theories and problem solve. How does ice feel and sound? Can sticks stand up in sand? How do plants grow? How does mud feel? Why do we slide down instead of up? How do I make my tricycle go faster? How does the overhang of the building create cool shade from the sun? What does a tomato smell and taste like? What does a chrysalis change into? Do butterflies have to learn to fly?
Movement decreases stress, which is critical for learning to take place. The part of the brain that processes movement is the same part of the brain that processes learning so movement helps stimulate learning. Play that involves a lot of movement is perfect for boys so outside is the best place. Super hero play is a great example, with a focus on the hero and saving side, rather than fighting. Rough and tumble is also beneficial but requires adequate supervision and an attention to safety. Providing parents and families with information of the benefits of this is a good way to ensure it is encouraged at home and that parents are joining in with their children in this type of play.