Even if the prices are a little high on school supplies, it is
worth it. Sometimes you have to spend a little more to get better
Gina Early, Willowbrook
Buy a sturdy, good quality backpack, otherwise they tear and the
Rachel Olech, St. Charles
Fresh haircut, new school uniforms with some new kicks and a cool
book bag and my kids are all geared up, ready to go.
Luz Colindres, Chicago
Amid the swirl of activity in my son's preschool class, I
watched from the sideline as he and another boy acted out a chase
scene with action figures, then moved on to piloting spaceships,
losing focus when it was time to sit and do the art project.
As I watched him fidget in his small molded plastic chair, this
scene exemplified all that I'd heard about little boys in school:
They have a harder time than girls sitting still and they don't
follow directions as well.
As he heads into kindergarten, I want to know what I can do as a
parent to make sure he is raised and educated in an environment
that respects gender differences by providing learning experiences
that enable both boys and girls to succeed-without reinforcing
gender stereotypes that leave the impression that boys are bad at
expressing themselves and girls are bad at building things.
"Children as early as preschool decide math and science is for
boys, literacy is for girls," says Lise Eliot, an associate
professor at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine & Science
and author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain.
While communication with teachers and school officials is
important, parents can also work outside the classroom to encourage
developing all sides of kids.
"My motto is cross-train," Eliot says. "Offer your sons the
verbal and relational experience that girls are more likely to
have, and give daughters the spatial and physical experience that
boys are more likely to have."
Eliot's book discusses how parents, teachers and society can
unknowingly reinforce gender stereotypes.
For example, in 2010, University of Chicago researchers found
that female elementary school teachers can pass on their anxiety
about math to female students. When a teacher was anxious about
math, the performance of girls in the class was affected, but not
Eliot says that at home, parents should do what they can to
counter any stereotyping that may be happening in the school
building, by doing such things as taking girls to science museums,
encouraging them to build with blocks or construct things. And for
boys, "make sure you talk and listen to boys the same way as
girls," Eliot says. "We know mothers talk more to daughters than
their sons. Moms and dads need to have more effort to have two-way
conversations with their sons."
Preparing for school
Chris Maxwell, director of the new schools project for the
Erikson Institute, a graduate school in child development, says the
similarities are definitely greater than the differences in terms
of how to prepare any child for school.
"One of the biggest places we see differences in boys and girls
is how they relate with other children. In preschool they already
are showing they prefer same-gender play," she says. "Anybody who
knows young boys knows their play and interaction with other boys
tends to be more physical and intense, whereas girls take care of
each other's needs and feelings and talk at even younger ages."
She suggests parents look for gender balance in play
opportunities that are provided in the classroom.
While same-gender play is important developmentally, Maxwell
says she's looking for situations where boys and girls
intentionally are given opportunities to work together. Similarly,
parents should look to make sure children are not always separated
out by gender.
"Are the kids always lined up by boys and girls?" she says. Does
the teacher say things like "Oh, the girls are being really quiet,
the boys are loud?"
Educators and parents should take note of gender differences and
make sure they are not choosing one gender's way as the "correct"
way, says Dr. Leonard Sax, author of Boys Adrift and Girls on the
For example, parents should encourage the natural tendencies of
a boy's imagination. Sax points to research showing that when young
elementary school students were given paper and a box of crayons,
most boys drew an action scene, often with stick figures, while
girls drew people with complete faces, hair, clothing.
Parents should not correct boys' drawings to make them more like
the girls' drawings, but instead should encourage the boy to tell a
story about the scene to help him make his scene better.
"In most first-grade classrooms, a person is supposed to have
eyes, mouth, hair and clothes. If not, it's defective; the right
way is the girl's way," Sax says. "Many 8-year-old boys in this
country think school is a waste of time. They think there is one
right kind of story and their story is not allowed."
With girls, he suggests parents play school, letting their
daughter be the teacher and the parent playing the role of student.
The parent can draw the alphabet but make a mistake, encouraging
the child to correct it.
"It encourages her to question an activity. You want her to have
the confidence to say 'Daddy you goofed,'" he says.
He says teachers may be telling boys in class to be quiet, sit
down, calm down, while singling out quiet girls who are sitting
"We praise girls in elementary school for saying nothing, for
sitting and being quiet," Sax says. "We wonder in middle school,
why doesn't this girl raise her hand? We need to empower girls to
raise their hands."
With either gender, experts recommend keeping an open line of
communication with teachers about your child's strengths and
Crystal Yednak is a freelance writer and author of An Explorer's Guide: Illinois.
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