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Play and gender differences

What are little boys made of?

Slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails. That’s what little boys are made of.

What are little girls made of?

Sugar and spice and all things nice.  That’s what little girls are made of.......

This nursery rhyme dating back to the early 19th century could be considered terribly sexist, but is there an element of truth in it? Are boys and girls that different? And should we consider gender differences when planning a curriculum for young children?

It is widely acknowledged that boys fare less well when making progress. But are boys less able than girls, or do we need to look at our own attitudes?

Creating the right conditions for children to develop confidence in themselves as learners, explorers, discoverers and critical thinkers, is vital in a rapidly changing world. This is particularly important for boys as their natural exuberance, energy and keen exploratory drive may often be misinterpreted.  Unwittingly, boys can be labelled and their behaviour perceived as inappropriate or even challenging.

Do you encourage ‘super hero’ play in your settings to allow children to express imagination and creativity? We all know this type of play is favoured predominantly by boys but we sometimes shy away from allowing this type of play for fear of encouraging negative behaviour. But should we embrace children’s interests and fascinations? Does this type of play promote language and early literacy skills? What are your thoughts on this? And should we discourage girls from playing with cars and boys from playing dollies? Might these be considered ‘gender specific’ activities? Or should we plan a learning environment that meets the needs of both sexes?

Are the needs of boys and girls really that different... .What do you think?