Gender differences = teaching differences

Little Matthew pushes Little Sally and knocks her down.

Little Tony gives a shout and runs as fast as he can to tackle Little Sammy across the room, and they begin a wrestling match.

And Little Tommy tries to take a toy away from Little Stevie.

All the while, the preschool teacher tries to keep order by quietly explaining appropriate behavior.

The variety of development levels in preschool can be challenging to early childhood educators, according to Daniel Hodgins, a nationally known child development expert. Hodgins spoke last weekend during a meeting of the Sandusky Valley Association for the Education of Young Children at Seneca County Park District’s Garlo Heritage Nature Preserve, Bloomville, home of Out & About nature-based preschool.

Preschool children who are challenging to teachers might need a different approach to learning.

“There’s no differences between what boys and girls can learn,” he said. “But there are big differences in the best ways to teach.”

Hodgins, author of two books on early childhood development, “Boys: Changing the Classroom, Not the Child” and “Get Over It: Relearning Guidance Practices,” explained there are developmental differences between boys and girls.

He is a frequent keynote speaker and workshop presenter and he has conducted seminars in 42 states and Canada. Among them have been presentations to National Head Start, National Association for the Education of Young Children, Fisher-Price, Starnet, Leadership Connections, High/Scope, several state departments of education and a variety of nonprofit organizations.

As a consultant, Hodgins works with educators, parents and other professionals to help them understand research-based theory and how to adapt curriculum and environments that support the continued development of children and families. He has 30 years of experience with children and family issues as a teacher, director, educator and parent, and has received the National Community Education Family Advocate Award, Catalyst for Change Award, National Community College Educator Award and Friend to Head Start.

“I hope someday we don’t have to talk about gender differences, but right now, it’s an issue,” he said. “That’s why I wrote the book.”

Girls’ brains often receive more details than boys’ brains, while boys more likely are to see the whole picture but not the details.

“It’s not better or worse. It just means different,” he said. “The male and female brains are wired differently. Sometimes, schools don’t want different; they want ‘correct.'”

He said boys usually develop later than girls.

“Boys can be 12-18 months behind, developmentally,” he said.

The challenge comes sometimes when boys are being assessed at the same developmental level as girls.

He said male brains develop from the back – the “doing” part – toward the front – the “thinking” part.

“Girls’ brains develop more from front to back,” he said. “So boys often develop motor skills, their physical abilities, before they start to think about them.

“What boys see they have to put into action. If they don’t see it, it doesn’t exist,” he said. “Their brain says ‘Move, move fast,’ but they don’t always remember the consequences.”

Hodgins said females don’t develop a fully functioning frontal lobe of the brain until age 16-18, and for males it’s age 21-25.

“You must have a fully functional frontal lobe to recognize the difference between right and wrong,” he said.

Because of gender differences, he said, boys don’t know how to care as much as girls do, and often hurt other children more often.

Because innate differences often aren’t understood, Hodgins said boys are seven times more likely to be labeled as needing special education and six times more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit disorder.

“Do they really need special education or do they need classrooms that respond to boys and girls differently?” he said.

He offered suggestions on how teachers can meet boys at their level, and explained how boys deal with between two and 10 spikes in testosterone levels each day, depending on their age, while girls usually have two spikes per day.

“Spikes give them quick bursts of energy,” he said. “Bring back roughhousing.”

He said boys need a lot of moveable objects to play with and lots of space to move in. He said they need lower temperatures, running, power play, boxes for kicking and environments that allow them to be loud.

He said boys respond better to visual details rather than words.

For example, in the restroom, he suggested teachers stop reminding boys to flush using words.

“Instead, post a picture of a boy flushing the toilet and you can say, ‘Notice the picture,” he said.

Communication patterns also are different between the genders, Hodgins said.

For boys, communication is 55 percent facial cues, 38 percent voice tone and 7 percent words. For girls, he said communication is 28 percent facial, 18 percent voice tone and 54 percent words.

When teachers are talking to a boy, he suggested using facial expression and a loud voice, while girls respond best to the words that are being used.

“When you’re reading a story, say the words but include physical action,” he said. “Act it out.”

He said active games such as Red Rover, Motorboat, London Bridge, arm wrestling, butt pushes and tug of war have a definite place in preschool.

He suggested letting kids climb ladders (as high as the teacher can reach) and dig in the dirt with real shovels.

“There may be a connection between lack of rough-and-tumble play and ADHD,” he said. “I believe if you have a quiet area, you need a loud area.”

In his second session of the workshop, Hodgins tackled the question of “Supporting children who take us to the end of our rope.”

“Children with challenging behavior are often looking for things that they’re good at,” he said. “If Chris is good at pushing, I have to find things for him to push.”

Bullying is another difficult behavior.

“A bully believes that if you cannot be the best at something, you become the best at being the worst,” he said. “In that case, teach victims to know what their choices are so they become good at not being a victim. That creates good problem-solvers.”

In these cases, he said, adults must be models of the behavior they want children to emulate.

He said teachers – or parents – must ask themselves, “What do I need to change to make my beliefs and practices decrease challenging behavior.”

Although teachers mean well, he said they often provide messages are not clear to the preschool brain such as “use your inside voice,” “use your walking feet,” “be nice to your friends” and “In 5 more minutes, it’ll be time to clean up.”

“You have to model the behavior you want to see and be specific about what you want to occur,” he said. “When the message is unclear, children will interpret it any way they wish.”

If one child is trying to take a toy away from another child, he suggested these words: “I know you want it. I wish you could have it, too. But what are you going to do while you’re waiting?”

Hodgins said too many rules are detrimental for preschool.

“Rules should be guardrails,” he said. “What are the choices within the boundaries?”

He said many children aren’t developmentally able to follow rules because it requires tools they haven’t yet developed. They must have sensitivity to the views of others, the ability for mutual understanding, a willingness to delay gratification and a high degree of cooperation.

“There are adults who don’t have those skills,” he said.

Children with challenging behavior often can’t be expected to stand in line quietly, wait his or her turn, or share toys.

“When a child is placed in failure experiences, he will do anything to avoid it,” Hodgins said. “They must feel successful. How do I help that child feel successful?”

Explain to Sally that Matthew needs more space when he plays and let her know how she can respond to him the next time it happens. In the meantime, provide some big blocks for Matthew to push.

Provide an area where Tony and Sammy can wrestle without hurting other children.

And provide some other toys Tommy might like to play with until Stevie finishes with the one Tommy wants.