In 2010, a headline blared, “Three-year-old boys should be made to write to stop gender gap.”
Officials in the UK, well-aware of the academic achievement gap that continues to exist between boys and girls, particulary in the area of writing, recommended that three-year-old boys do more writing and drawing. Never mind the fact that three-year-olds are the most stubborn creatures in the world. I could hand my three-year-old son crayons every day of the week, but unless he wants to write, I can guarantee he’s not going to write. He might fling the crayons. He’ll very probably eat some of them. And he’ll absolutely peel the paper off every single crayon. But write? Probably not.
Don’t get me wrong: At three, he’s showing a definite interest in letters, and he knows that we use marks on paper to represent those letters. When he’s in the mood, he’ll scribble something and tell me it’s an “A” (or a “T” or whatever). Occasionally, he’ll let me hold his hand as we create words on the paper. (He particularly likes to do this as we wait in the line at the grocery store.)
That kind of teaching/learning, in my opinion, is age-appropriate. That kind of teaching/learning respects biological differences (did you know that the area of the brain that handles language matures, on average, six years later in boys than in girls?). That kind of learning is a loving, caring adult responding to a child’s request for information — not a government imposing expectations on little people so the government’s educational system will look good.
Perhaps — just perhaps — that stubborn gender gap is there because there are some very real differences between boys and girls. And perhaps — just perhaps — learning more about boys and how they grow, develop and learn will help teachers and parents close that gap.
The 2010 recommendation, in fact, seemed to ignore previous research cited by the same government. A literature review commissioned by the Office for Standards in Education notes that “Two longitudinal studies, one in America and one in Portugal, report that children who learn in child-initiated, active and free play environments made stronger progress in reading and writing than their peers in formal skills based environments…Too much focus on writing as transcription affects younger children’s perceptions of what writing is and what it is for. Letter formation may be started too young, and boys whose motor skills are less developed may experience early frustration with writing that looks, and is, less proficient than girls’. Since transcription is an area in which weaker boys have difficulty, they make early associations of writing with activities in which they struggle.”
In the early years, focus on helping your boys to Write, not write.