Boys Will Be Joys:  Meeting Boys’ Needs In The Classroom

You bring a bouquet of daffodils from your garden for the children to enjoy.. Entering class that morning, two students run up to the flowers. The girl smells the blooms and pats them. The boy grabs a bud and pulls off the petals. Is the girl responding appropriately, and the boy being destructive? Not necessarily. The boy might simply be curious about what’s inside the flower. Or he might like to hear the satisfying snap when the flower is cracked away from the stalk.

That example suggests a broader issue about the challenge of teaching boys. I’ve observed that boys as a whole do act differently than girls. Boys tend to be less verbal and more hands-on learners. They touch, push, roll, use their hands and bodies to gather knowledge. Girls are better at listening and using their words. Perhaps because most teachers are female, girls’ behavior has become the norm for desirable conduct in the classroom. Some teachers spend a good portion of the day instructing boys to sit still and use their words -- in other words, asking for behavior that’s more natural to girls than boys. At the same time, toddler and pre-school boys often develop a narrow sense of what being male means. The stereotyping starts in infancy: Newborn boys’ outfits are usually decorated with sports or transportation motifs, not with flowers. As they get older, boys don’t learn about the variety of jobs that men do. They don’t know that men can be florists, or classical musicians, or nurses.

We can take some steps in and out of the classroom to broaden boys’ experience, while honoring their distinctive spirit:

•Find an opportunity to show photos of men crying. Did you know Michael Jordan sobbed on national TV when he received his first NBA championship trophy? We aren’t accustomed to seeing strong men cry. You may have to hunt through many magazines to find an image of a man crying. But through that image, children can learn that men have emotions, too.

•A variation on this activity: Show photos of different faces and let the children select who they think is strong. Discuss different ways of being strong.

•Use books and recordings created by men in your classroom. Look for recordings of men singing lullabies, and photos of men holding children. Show photos of male authors and recording artists, and talk about how they created their works. Use this time to balance the image of men that children acquire from TV.

•Discover new learning opportunities during Show and Tell. Have a conversation within your program about the range of acceptable toys for Show and Tell. Traditionally aggressive toys can be used to teach new lessons about humanity. If a boy brings in a superhero doll, for example, talk about who the superhero was as a boy. What foods did he like? Did he go to school? Have brothers and sisters?

•Show boys all the ways that women can be. Some boys see women as always correcting them. Do you have conversations with your students, or do you give commands most of the time?

•Invite men into your classroom. Young boys tend not to be around men day to day. Give your children access to many different types of men.

•Enhance your sensitivity by watching boys and men together. Let’s say you see a father and two sons playing in a park. How rough does the play have to get between the two boys before the father stops it? Would a mother have stopped it sooner?

•Talk with male teachers or males in your family about their ideas on how to guide boys. I believe gender differences are real. But recognizing these differences is only a start in our quest to teach our children well. Ultimately, we need to approach each child as the wonderful individual he or she is.

© Thomas Moore, 2000 Thomas Moore, Ph.D is a keynote speaker, workshop leader, early childhood consultant, and children’s recording artist. He is author of Gryphon House award-winning teacher resource books "Where is Thumbkin?" and "Do You Know the Muffin Man?". He is contributing author of Wright Group/McGraw-Hill’s curriculum, DLM Early Childhood Express and author of their literacy series "Music, Movement and More". He has also produced ten recordings for children.