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How Boys and Girls Learn Dierently


05/16/2014 05:13 pm ET | Updated Jul 16, 2014

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Dr. Gail Gross


Human Behavior, Parenting, and Education Expert, Speaker, Author. Ph.D.,
Ed.D., M.Ed.

JONATHAN KIRN VIA GETTY IMAGES

Men are from Mars, women are from Venus... or are they? Are the dierences
between boys and girls really that great? Or is our biological determinism more
of a self-fullled prophecy?
Neuroscience tells us that yes: boys and girls are dierent. Boys brains are
larger, but girls brains grow faster and typically their interests and learning
styles vary somewhat. But are these dierences as signicant as we once
thought?

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New studies tell us that it is the environment that we create for our children that
has the greatest impact on the way they learn and what they learn. We can go

PRESE N T E D BY F I DELITY INVESTMENTS

back through history and point out notable men and women who have gone
against gender stereotypes. We can talk about Wolfgang Mozart, Leonardo da
Vinci and Michelangelo men who had ne motor dexterity, could sit for long
periods of time, had beautiful handwriting and who were interested in arts,
literature, music and writing.
We can talk about women such as tennis legend Billie Jean King, astronaut
Reece, Aviator Jacqueline Cochran, doctor and researcher Elizabeth Blackburn

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engineering and science.

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andin Girls
Dierently
andHow
so on Boys
women
historyLearn
who were
interested in athletics, math,

In todays world, the outliers are more the rule than the exception, and parents
have the greatest impact on both the suppression and enhancement of our

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childrens genetic makeup.


All generalizations are false, including this one.
It is true that many boys pick up less social cues than their female counterparts.

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That girls make more serotonin and oxytocin, so they are calmer and more
interested in emotional connection. Boys mature more slowly than girls and
girls have more of their cerebral cortex dened for verbal function. The
hippocampus, where memory and language live, does develop more rapidly

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and is larger in girls than in boys. This impacts vocabulary, reading and writing
skills. Boys, on the other hand, have more of their cerebral cortex dened for
spatial relationships. As a result, they learn easily through movement and visual
experience. Also, because girls have more serotonin and oxytocin, they can sit

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for longer periods of time, easier than boys who may need movement to feel
comfortable.
However, there is very little gap between what girls and boys can learn, and
herein lies the rub. In fact, the dierences are most pronounced in young

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children, and as children grow older, their home environment, their interests
and their peers have the greatest inuence over their behavior. By the time
children are in the 12th grade, the dierences between boys and girls are very
subtle. Understanding these subtle dierences can help educators guide their
students in a positive way, meeting them and their needs where they are.
When little boys dont want to make eye contact and they dget in their seats,
and little girls are caught talking and sending notes, a savvy teacher can
organize her classroom in which she takes into consideration that little boys

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need to move around, and little girls need to express themselves verbally, and

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interprets this as part of their biology rather than misbehavior. A savvy parent
can be sure that there are playtime opportunities during the day for both boys

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and girls to unwind and express themselves in a creative way. Further, allowing
children to start school especially little boys a little later, perhaps even by a

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year, gives them an edge. A more mature child can handle school material in a
much better way.

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In my years as a researcher and educator, Ive found it to be true that boys and
girls perceive their school problems in dierent ways. Girls tend to take their
problems and failures personally, and are much more self-critical. Boys, on the
other hand, see their problems in more focused ways and will assign their
failure to a particular area of study rather than over-generalize and see
themselves as lacking. Ironically girls tend to do better in school than boys and
are more likely to stay in school and graduate.
we do
to help
boys
and girls
have a happy, fullling, well-rounded,
Howcan
Boys
and
Girls
Learn
Dierently
So what

and successful school career?


Be certain that your childs school has a recess program that includes
unstructured playtime.
Be careful to not label children, especially with labels such as ADD and ADHD,
unless they are diagnosed by a health care professional. Many boys and some
girls are just on the outer edge of active and are being mislabeled.
Encourage girls to play with toys and activities that allow them to use their
spatial relationship and manipulation skills.
Encourage boys to take study breaks and allow your son to be active during
those study breaks.
Help your daughter talk through her feelings about schoolwork and school
problems. Because girls may focus on communication, relationships and
attention for approval, they can easily get caught up in an intense emotional
experience. Often a girl will subvert her own feelings, including needs, to get
the approval of others and this causes self-esteem issues.
Engage your daughter in sports to help her build condence.
Help your son with literacy skills, including reading, writing, journaling, drawing,
creativity, fantasy, humor, war and mythology. Boys are action-oriented, often
competitive and impulsive risk-takers, so giving them an opportunity to express
themselves creatively and explore their interests is very important. This will
help connect their words to their feelings and validate both.
Oer your daughter the opportunity to experience STEM (Science, Technology,
Engineering, Mathematics) using everyday examples. By having access to a
computer, girls can build, design, and explore anything from architecture,
medicine, engineering to culinary experiences. You can also enroll your
daughter in one of the many STEM programs around the country.
Make sure teachers understand the dierent learning styles of boys and girls
so that they are able to create a learning environment that meets the needs of
both, by teaching dierent modalities that capture girls needs for spatial
learning practice, including geometry, and boys needs for enrichment projects.

Follow Dr. Gail Gross on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DrGailGross


More:

Gender Dierences

Gender Equality

How Boys Learn

Stem

Neuroscience

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