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Providing for Boys' Play, Interests and Learning

By Rachel Pratt
© ChildForum 2017


boys play and activities in early childhood educationEnter any early childhood setting and there is a good chance you will see some gendered play and behaviour.

Our profession is female dominated and early childhood settings can be feminised environments.

But equitable play and learning opportunities for girls is important as is being aware of and not missing the mark when it comes to boys’ particular needs.

This article discusses ways to achieve a balance of recognition and extension of boys’ gender identity, whilst ensuring also that boys are exposed to a wide range of curriculum areas and skills that will provide them with a strong foundation for their future education.

Ideas for activities and learning extensions are provided in this article for teachers who are working with 3 – 5 year old boys.


It's okay to ask for ideas for working with boys

Looking out into the playground and seeing two boys running around sword fighting with spades can be a daunting experience for some teachers. Should you stop the play in case one of them hurts the other, or is it important for the boys to develop their gross motor skills and to explore and re-enact their experiences from their wider world?

Female teachers may not feel confident or feel unsure about whether they have the insights into what being a boy means and the skills to give boys the support and extension they require throughout their early years.

It is okay to seek guidance as to which activities are appropriate for boys and ways to extend boys’ skills and interests.

But it’s also important to question if we should we be reinforcing the social expectations and stereotyping that these boys have already been exposed to from a young age, or should we be working to ensure that they participate in a range of experiences that are free from stereotyping and bias?


Where it all begins

From birth, there are very few measurable differences between boys and girls and as they grow older, these differences continue to be minimal for the next couple of years.

The most significant behavioural differences between girls and boys are most pronounced around the age of three, and centre on play activities and choices of toys. This is when we start to see more “rough and tumble” play and interest in typical male-orientated toys such as vehicles, construction, and messy play.

There are two main schools of thought around why boys’ play seems to be influenced by gender differences, which are by no means mutually exclusive.

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