It was the first time I had ever heard Maggie Dent speak. She was engaging, wise, articulate and very funny. I laughed out loud but there were also tears. The talk was “Boys, Boys, Boys” and as a mother of 3 sons (all who are now adults) and an educator, much of what she had to say resonated with me on a very deep level.
I too, feel very strongly that boys are getting a raw deal in our current education system, particularly in the early years. Maggie laments the loss of play. I lament the loss of play. When children play they are doing so much more than simply building blocks and digging in the sandpit. Of course it’s not just boys who need play but I’m talking here about our boys. Play is how they develop their social and emotional skills. It’s how they learn skills such as problem solving and decision making. It’s how they learn to take turns and develop empathy for others. When we take away play we are doing our boys a great disservice.
The push for formalised learning in prep is just simply wrong. There is so much research and evidence that tell us children thrive when formalised learning comes later. Look at Finland where this happens at 7. They are held up as the most literate and numerate nation in the world so what are we doing? I’ll tell you what we are doing. We are setting many little boys up to fail. Research also shows us that boys develop differently and at different stages to girls. At prep age they are usually behind the girls in terms of readiness.
Now of course each individual is different but this is what the studies show. When we do something as simple as ask little boys to sit on the carpet and listen and they roll around, it’s not that they are being “naughty” it’s that we are setting them a task that they simply can’t do. Their fine motor skills also develop more slowly than girls. So what happens when we push things like reading onto 4 or 5 year old boys who aren’t ready? They won’t be able to do it no matter how hard they try or how hard we push. They disengage. They see themselves as dumb. We damage their little self-esteems. We have little preppies being suspended and expelled from school in numbers never seen before.
Let’s look down the track. Maggie mentioned the statistics of youths being killed in accidents where risk taking was involved. She mentioned youth and adult suicide. She mentioned motor vehicle deaths. Overwhelmingly the statistics show the majority of these involve our boys. We have a duty to look after our boys and to nurture them, as parents, as educators and as a society. Let’s start at the beginning. Let’s not take their childhood away and let’s not set them up to fail.