How movement helps boys learn
My boys are not sit-down learners. They much prefer to learn by experience, through trial-and-error and full-body immersion. Left to their own devices, they tap pencils and shoot hoops, practice handstands and perfect flips, and balance on yoga balls – during homework sessions.
And I let them.
I long ago learned that fighting boys’ natural inclination to movement is a recipe for disaster. Boys are wired to move, and thwarting their motion increases friction between parent and child while inhibiting learning. Insisting that boys sit still during school work can actually increase the amount of time it takes to complete the work and decrease the amount of learning that occurs.
Here are 3 reasons why:
- Boys attach learning to movement
According to author Michael Gurian, males process more blood flow through the cerebellum, the ‘doing’ part of the brain, than females do1. This biological difference may explain why boys and men are much more likely than girls and women to attach learning to movement. For boys, learning and motion go together; a boy is more likely to remember something if that information is linked to a specific movement.
Harness it: Rather than having your boys simply recite spelling words or math facts over and over, have them bounce or toss a ball as they practice. (If you’re working on spelling the word castle, for instance, have him toss the ball to you as he says C; you say A and toss it back, and so forth.)
- Moving helps boys’ brains stay alert
Male brains drop into rest states more often than female brains2. In fact, the typical wiggling and squirming you see in many classrooms (or whenever boys are asked to sit still and pay attention for a period of time) is actually boys’ attempt at keeping their brains alert and engaged.
Harness it: Build ‘brain breaks’ into study sessions. Set a timer at the beginning of the session; the amount of time will depend on your boy’s age and personality. Try 15 minutes to start; you can tweak that number up or down as needed. When the timer goes off, allow 5 to 10 minutes of physical activity. Repeat as needed to get school work done.
- Boys’ motor skills mature sooner than their language skills
The part of the brain that controls language matures, on average, 6 years later in boys than it does in girls3. Meanwhile, boys’ gross motor skills mature before their fine motor skills. So when it comes to reading and writing, boys may benefit from learning, exploring and building literacy skills through more hands-on, physical activities.
Harness it: Consider having boys act out stories to demonstrate reading comprehension, rather than asking them to write summaries. Similarly, try asking boys to build a model to represent a scientific concept in lieu of writing about or illustrating the concept.
Boys are highly capable learners – given the right conditions. Instead of suppressing boys’ desire to move, create safe spaces to explore. Allow them to test their physical abilities, and encourage boys to move as needed while learning.
- The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons from Falling Behind in School and Life, Michael Gurian
- Gurian, cit.
Jennifer L.W. Fink is a writer, Registered Nurse and mother of four boys. Jennifer is also the founder and creator of BuildingBoys.net. This article is about Education
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