Friday, August 14, 2009

Boys vs. Girls....

Well, aside from the fact that there really ARE more cute girl clothes than boy clothes out there, there are also some significant differences in behavior, disposition and attitude. Any mom of a boy will tell you this. Funny, isn't it, that girl moms don't always tout this mantra while boy moms seem to eat, drink and live it! As a teacher, I have always known this to be true, and honestly, one of the best compliments I have ever received was a parent telling me that they thought I was such a good "boy" teacher!

So...the post that I've been meaning to write so I didn't forget finally gets here...though sitting for any length of time really makes my back any more miserable than it already is, so I hope I do it justice. By any length of time, I'm talking about 15 minutes.

The best part of the conference I went to a couple of weeks ago is that it is finally getting more and more common-place to scientifically back up assertions. I'm not talking about a few facts and figures scientifically backing things up...I'm talking magnetic resonance imaging, PET scans and such...looking at what a 7-year old little girl's brain does when faced with a task and comparing it to what a 7-year old little boy's brain does when faced with the identical task. And watching how the brain works in both is amazing.

Life is all about bell curve math...and of course, there are always the outliers and anomalies...children who defy the generalizations--over (and under) achievers, if you will. But generally speaking, did you know:

***Boys typically have bigger of the brain that act as the center of emotions...than girls. Yep--that's right...emotional centers that are bigger than girls...and also more predispositioned to aggression because of this larger emotional center and larger quantities of testosterone developed.
***The corpus callosum (which connects the hemispheres and allows communication between both) is bigger in girls...hence girls seemingly more able to access both hemispheres of their brain quicker and more easily. It's true. They can.
***The hippocampus (memory center) is larger in girls and develops faster. Boys really may just not remember and girls really can rival an elephant's memory.
***The cerebellum of boys is better functioning and develops faster and typically stronger than in girls. The cerebellum is what controls large muscle movements--coordination and organization of muscle movements. Which is why boys prefer to use those large muscles more often and are more visible in doing so.
***Boys and girls brains not only develop at different paces, but in different sequence...which means that when one looks at a little girl and sees what she can do and then wonders why a little boy the same age can't do the same thing, they are wondering about something that little boys (or girls) simply don't control--their brain's development.
***Typically, boys hearing and vision is slower developed than in girls...which means that placing boys at the front of the classroom is not only a good idea for them to help lessen distraction, but to encourage learning--they need to be closer to see and hear better. More than that, when your little boy repeatedly says, "Huh?" or feels like he has to be on top of the tv or he can't see, he may not be in control of that either.
***When given problems to solve, and simultaneously having their brain activity measured while doing so, the parts of the brain that rely on deductive thinking are highly active in boys, while the parts of the brain that rely on inductive reasoning are more active in girls. This basically means that boys like to start with general principles when reasoning, whereas girls prefer concrete examples. Yep...that's SO John and me. I need details and want them to form my plan. John prefers a bigger picture and doesn't like to be bothered with details. It's our wiring.
***Movement stimulates the male brain and helps relieve impulsive behaviors. Girls do not have the same brain activity noted when moving and learning something new, nor do their impulses change in predominance. So, when your boy is sitting at the dinner table working on his homework and he can't seem to sit still (or even sit in his chair at all), while your little girl sits like an angel and quietly works--well, that's just how his brain works. Hers too. Which is why I've always been a big advocate of letting my male students stand or wiggle if they need to when they are working.

There's so much more that anyone can Google simply by looking for the differences between the young male brain and the young female brain, but the gist of this whole day of learning for me was really eye-opening in some ways, scary in others, and comforting in more--bottom line? Boys brains simply ARE DIFFERENT and develop differently than girls. This is so important to remember because the entire education system for as long as it has been a developed system has been geared (not necessarily purposely, but probably more conveniently) for girls and the way girls learn. Why? Because the way girls learn is more in line with the 'traditional way' that we think learning should occur--girls prefer written texts, focus on emotional workings of characters in literature, don't need as much space to learn, prefer concrete things they can actually see, are better listeners, follow conversations more aptly, don't need as much logical sequencing, are able to deal with and manage boredom better than boys, use words as the learn them and prefer to do so--all of the things we typically feel a classroom is like or should be. And while I am a teacher and I totally think that that type of classroom is a lot easier to manage, it is not one that is necessarily the most conducive to a little boy's learning...and so is it any wonder why it's typically our boys who are the 'trouble-makers' in the classroom? The classroom is not (usually) geared to help them learn best simply in structure and design, while it is tailor made for a little girl. More than that, think of who usually picks the books out that a little boy is supposed to be interested in? Mom. Or a female teacher or librarian. And while we are good at trying to diversify, what interests me with regard to reading material TOTALLY differs from what interests John...and I'm sure that was not different when he was a kid.

More than all that....guess what? Neuroscientists typically agree: Our brains were not necessarily wired to naturally read. In fact, when watching the brain activity needed to read, there are several different transactions that need to take place in several different parts of the brain in order to actually read something. Factor in the fact that several of those parts of the brain develop faster in girls than they do in boys and then one can see why reading seems to come more naturally to girls than to boys and it's no wonder that boys get so frustrated when it isn't as easy for them as it seems it is for their girl counterparts. One better? Of those several parts of the brain necessary for reading, most are not developed thoroughly enough, girl or boy, until about the age of 7-8, yet here we are pushing that ALL kids must read by 5 or else they are doomed to failure. We are under the misguided impression that reading ability = intelligence and folks, that just isn't so. I was reading at 3 and a half. Big words, too...and I was able to very clearly and concisely articulate my thoughts about what I read. John? Well...he'll still tell you he isn't the best reader and he certainly never was. My father-in-law wasn't really reading until about 5th grade. Yet those two men, John and Dad, are probably the two smartest men I have ever met, and though I admit my IQ is not too shabby, I know theirs run CIRCLES around mine. No, reading does not equal is highly thought that reading ability serves as an indicator of intelligence and success. While this may be sometimes true, it is a vague generality. If one were to use John's reading ability to predict his success...well, let's say the prediction would have been dismal at best. And yet, look at him--he's proof that wild, crazy boys who have BB gun wars, need tutors in school, get accused of setting fire to the neighborhood, are poster children for ADHD (adult ADHD too!) and probably are lucky to be alive today turn out to be wildly successful and marry well (ha ha). Again, neuroscience's general feelings on how education ought to be is that classrooms should be set up more by ability and less by generic age. Some even go one step further and suggest that classrooms for boys and classrooms for girls are more successful in learning as learning styles can be addressed as best needed by students. This theory has already been tested, and funnily, it has been tested because of the fear that girls do not have the advantage in school, specifically with regard to math and science. Yet our boys can so benefit too!

The moral of all of this is that even though we often know and feel it, science backs it up: boys and girls have different brains. They are wired differently, they develop differently. And it's up to us to make sure that our girls and our boys are in the best environments they can be and have the freedom they need to be who God designed them to be. I don't think it is any coincidence at all that boys and girls have different brains--God created us to be different and more and more every day, I just feel honored that I was chosen to be the mom of a son.

So Matthew...I promise you I will not be disappointed if you are not reading at 4. I will always back you up in the classroom when you are simply acting like the boy you were designed to be. I will try not to cringe when you ride your bike or skateboard because I know it is intrinsic in you to take risks and the part of your brain that helps you make functional (and good!) decisions won't really be developed thoroughly until you are about (gulp) 25. I will say prayers for you every day when you play with your friends, as I know that bb gun wars or throwing darts at each other in the dark really is not something you do to simply make me cry but because you truly don't fully grasp all the potential harm in those activities. When you complain about doing your homework, I will remember it is because your little brain isn't ready to understand the relevance to the future doing well in school has and that you do not seek your approval by doing well in school. I will remember that in puberty, your body will produce 1000 times the testosterone that an adult male does (and that in and of itself is a lot!) and I will remind your daddy that you cannot, cannot, cannot control your hormone production (or your outrageous appetite!). I will not cry if you are not a 4.0 (or higher) high-school graduate. I will not cry if you do not go to Harvard. In fact, I *might* cry if you don't become a Hokie, and I don't care what any of those 'Hoos say--your daddy and I didn't do too badly! I am ready to accept you for the ADHD Jr. I already suspect you may be, and I hope you will always feel loved and embraced for exactly who you are. I will always want the best for you and will encourage you to work to your best potential, but I will always understand that when you are, it may not seem like it...and that will be ok.

Most importantly, if you ever have a sister, I will never, ever compare you. I know you and she were designed to be different.


  1. Wow, Lori, that was an awesome post! So interesting for me to read as a mommy to 2 little boys. I have definitely been "schooled" in some things :). I promise henceforth not to incessantly nag Caden to "sit still" or "sit right" in his chair when doing his homework! :)


  2. Fascinating! What a great post. I love reading about (non-scary) neuroscience findings ... the brain is so amazing. Thanks for sharing! PS This post may explain MY last post. Baking with a six-year-old boy? Biologically inadvisable! Not his fault.

  3. I enjoyed reading this post!! I can really see being a parent of boys and girls how this all effects how we learn and behave!Thanks for sharing and helping us remember we are all made just the way we were designed to be.So next time when my boy species drive me crazy I will remember it is their brain!

  4. Yep, my son is "all boy" and more! I feel very strongly about letting children be who they are.

    Thanks for sharing what you learned!

    Guess I have to stop being annoyed at how much DH forgets, too. ;)

  5. VERY interesting! I've been repeating my mantra "boys will be boys" as we spend the last day of our vacation in the Emergency Room!

  6. That was a great post! Lets me know that some of Tyler's behavior is not just AS, but part of being a little boy. Thanks, I needed that :)

  7. I studied much of this when I was dealing with classrooms and Josh (who is SO not wired for a classroom) and tried to share this information with teachers along. This is a great reference article that I will likely pass along and share with this year's group of teachers (who probably already know, but who can resist sharing something this good and concise?). God certainly knew what He was doing creating both men and women and making their differences compliment and contrast one another. AND... as the mom of an 11 y.o. VERY ACTIVE boy, I can tell you, it's all SPOT ON!! :-) Enjoy having your boy, Lori -- they are the best thing in the world. While I LOVE LOVE LOVE Ellie, if there were to be another Latham child and I could pick -- it would be another wonderful boy!!

  8. Great post Lori. As the mother to 4 boys and now a little girl, I completely agree with the differences. For my second son, his occupational therapist and spec ed pre-k teacher had him sit on an exercise ball instead of a chair and it helped with his learning and focusing. Now going into 3rd grade he has a little square wedege that he sits on that allows a little movement and helps him to stay focused. His 1st grade teacher was a male and seemed to really understand the kids and had them up and moving constantly.
    Congratulations on your little Matthew (my 4th son is Simon Matthew). It's a good strong name.