Supporting Boys in Early Childhood Education

Posted under Educator Inspiration

I just had an email from Katie (thank you) and have been in contemplation all day about the joys and challenges of raising little boys.
Having my own son has been the catalyst for me to really SEE (with open eyes-oh my gosh, I’m shocked!) the difference in how boys and girls play.
It really got me thinking again about how we can support boys in early childhood educational settings and in our homes.  Boys ARE so different to girls, aren’t they!  Having one of both has been so eye opening for me, even after YEARS of boy-top heavy classes in my kindergartens.
Why was that??  Something about MY energy
(taurus bull/chinese year ox/ choleric/ metabolic sense for those of you who are interested!!)
being better suited to boys?? 
When I taught, every little space in the room was FILLED to the brim with busy, creative, constructive children: mostly, the boys in the middle spreading out, and the girls in the corner pockets of the room.
They would WORK and WORK to build their projects.
Picture a bee hive, with workers going about their business independently of each other but knowing their tasks.  That was the Kindergarten.
A few years back, I was part of a project looking into boys in education.
Boys in general (in schools of all kinds) do tend to be more full of energy – needing physical activity, more challenged to sit in a chair for long periods, needing to play rough and tumble etc, and superheroes!
So many superheroes!
Rather than try to hide that, or water it down, we need to embrace it and make education FIT the boy, rather than the Boy fit the Education.
I wrote to Katie,
“I like the idea of ‘enobling’ the challenging themes of play. By that, I mean to take say,  ’superhero’ play, and transform it somehow, to take the essence of what they are doing (eg showing courage, bravery, strength etc) and helping them to channel that into purposeful tasks (somehow) without them thinking that WE think ‘superman’ or ‘spiderman’ is wrong.
There is NO wrong.
It is what surrounds us everyday so of course they will imitate it. It calls on us to think creatively, that is for sure, as their desire to be superman or batman or spiderman or buzz lightyear is SO strong!!
For me, my biggest challenge is how I can sever the cords of consumerism (and the associated images of the superheroes) from them when it is everywhere- even on yogurt pots! “
One story I love to share is of a time when my class was filled with 18 boys and just 9 girls.
In desperation to make my inside play opportunity meaningful and constructive, (rather than just a rehash of the tv program they watched that morning), I brought in my old futon bed frame with about 20 long lengths of timber slats.
The children, especially the boys who became Fingerknitting Kings,  fingerknitted and fingerweaved and knitted “with Nancy” until there was a basket overflowing with ‘ropes’.
The ‘builders’ then set to work, making houses and highrises (our local beach is lined with hundreds of highrises) and window cleaning swing things and cubby houses and roadworks.
My only interventions into these weeks of self directed play was to remind them that the ‘Health and Safety” Officer would be visiting so they must build safely and keep all ‘demolitions’ within their safety boundaries (notified by chair barracades and ‘notices’ hung by the children) so passerbys would not be hurt.
They created roles for their teams, named each other with their role for the day (eg man in charge, safety officer etc) and generally worked together as a team of builders would on site.
Later, one dad came to visit and build a teepee in the garden.  These builders were delighted with the ‘real work’ after so much preparation!
It was fair to say that not a lot of ‘playing’ happened within the structures.  The building was, for them, real work and they didnt have time to then ‘play’ inside but occasionally they would invite the girls and boys into the spaces to make their homes, or kitchen.
Now, I have my own boy, I am even more keen to ensure ways to help him feel validated and worthy through real work in the world.
I wonder, have you had any great boy moments in play too?
Why not share them here??

5 Responses to “Supporting Boys in Early Childhood Education”

  1. Liz

    Yes, boys are altogether different to girls and I wouldn’t have thought that before having my son, followed by twins – a boy and a girl. My eldest boy has just started Steiner kinder here in Tas and his teacher really lets boys be boys. He walked out of class in his spare clothes on his first day after getting into a huge water fight in the sandpit which resulted in mud everywhere. During the winter teachers plead with parents to pack extra warm sets of clothes for the children as they go out in all weathers and play in the dirt! Its so good for them. Indoors they play kings a lot, and dress up in cloaks and crowns and have swords, and of course outdoors sticks become guns – even though we’ve never had gun play at home, its archetypal I think – but the other day, at home, he was shooting with a gun of life which I found really interesting. I totally agree with the importance of channelling and honouring boy’s energy, it needs to live and be validated or else the problems start when the fire gets suppressed and starts to burn on the inside….. Wild boys! I love em!

  2. Donna

    When my boys were young, I felt it was so important for them to express their abundance of energy. I made swords and capes for them – they loved having sword fights (and still do in the pool). They loved making fires (with supervision). They always had a tree in which to climb and build some kind of cubby. In fact my 13 year old has spent the last 6 months building an amazing treehouse out of only scraps of wood – no money spent at all(I will do a blog post on it).I can’t put into words how much joy he has had from this process. I often wonder if those early years of waldorf/steiner schooling has kept the creativity alive for him … I really think so.

  3. savvychic

    I even notice the difference in play when my son or eldest daughter are home alone (without the other) and when they are home together. By the end of a day together they are rolling on the floor (play) wrestling. My eldest daughter at 2 1/2 yrs is quite an active little girl so she copies everything her older 5 1/2 yr old brother does. Yet alone by herself she is a more girly girl. My son is quite sensitive so not as rough as most boys. His middle sister gives him a run for his money!

  4. Amber MamaMoontime

    I love hearing stories! It is great to share our successes AND challenges! I think mama’s do so much better when we let down our guards and be real. We are all just trying our best, and doing a mighty fine job I believe! Great work, Mama Bears!!

  5. M. Bloom

    As a mama of 2 boys I talk with my mama-friends about this a lot… it’s important to be in touch with and validate the fact that boy’s play so differently from girls!

    thanks for opening a conversation…


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