Friday, August 31, 2012

Boys and Their Brains

I was talking with my sister the other day asking her how her 3rd grader was doing at his new school. He has made a couple of friends already. He is the only child in his grade who brings his lunch. Homework has started, but there are no instructions as to how to complete the homework or what is expected. And then it happens. My sister shares that the teacher told her, "your son raises his hand a lot in class and really likes to ask questions and talk to me." Apparently this is not a good thing in that classroom. The children are NEVER allowed to talk....not even at lunch! YIKES!


That got me thinking about research and best practice for working with and being around boys. Boys really are different from girls. Their brains are physiologically different starting during prenatal development. Boys process information and interact in different ways with the world compared to girls. There are implications for children's cognitive and social/emotional development throughout the early years.


There are more than 100 structural difference between brains of girls and brains of girls. Prenatally, girl brains are wired for talking, reading, and writing. Girls have larger language structures in their brains than boys.  Prenatally, boy brains are wired for activity, attention to stimuli, and reacting physically. Boy brains aren't programmed to think a lot but rather to react in a protective way. Girls have greater access to both halves of the brain than boys do. The corpus colosum is actually thicker in female brains than in males. Girls can access the right side of the brain for word production and multi-tasking. Boys tend to operate from one side of the brain or the other and on single tasks. Female brains release dopamine and girls feel better when eating chocolate. It's good for the brain and the heart! Male brains, however, release dopamine and boys feel better when they hit someone. The male brain is rewarded by the feeling, sounds, and responses of conflict.



Let's think about how boys and girls experience, process, and express emotion. This has implications for behavior issues. Girls tend to give more eye contact, convey meaning through tone of voice, and use body language to give/receive cues related to emotion. Boys tend to give/receive high 5's (or low 5's), body bumps, fist bumps/pumps, and even more aggressive body movements.



The current education system favors strengths of girls versus boys. Girls are more equipped to sit still for long periods of time, pay attention, talk, read, and write.





Boys have less blood flow in their brains than girls. It takes a lot to keep boys awake and paying attention. Boys need brighter lights in classrooms, natural light, water breaks, and opportunities to move. This is counter to most classroom environments and teacher preferences. 







Girls respond to "the look" and it's easier to catch their eyes than boys. Boys tend not to respond to "the look" or even see it, and often this is interpreted as defiance. Play-based experiences (hands-on learning) equal decreased behavior problems.



So, what do we do with this information?
Think about your classroom or learning environment and what you expect out of your male students.

  • Is there plenty of light? 
  • Do the children can access to water when they want it?
  • Do you suggest children get a drink of water? (Side note: Look at the pads of your fingers. If they look pruney or shriveled, you need water! If they are puffed out and smooth, you are hydrated.) 
  • Do you have opportunities for children to move around the learning environment regularly? 
  • How long are you expecting or having children sit? 
  • How many transitions are required throughout the day? Can these be limited?
  • How balanced are your expectations about how children demonstrate learning? (Do you rely on verbal/language-based responses?) 
Children cannot help who they are, and you cannot blame a child for being him or herself. Boys will be boys as they say, and that means they fidget, make little noises, make faces, and generally will do anything they have to to stay awake. Before you decide that the problem is with the child, ask your self is the problem within the child? or within the environment or social system? If we expect that boys need more light, more active learning and play, and more water breaks along with less time sitting, we can plan to meet their needs and avoid some of the challenges boys bring to the learning environment. 
And ladies, understanding the physiological differences of the male brain can be beneficial when working with or relating to adult men as well! These brain differences do not go away as we age. 



Blog entry by Dr. Ellaine B. Miller, PhD. Family Child Care Partnerships 
at Auburn University.

1 comment:

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