Each spring in the preschool I direct we devote a week to teaching about the differences between boys and girls, and where babies come from. The primary focus with our preschoolers is on the physiological differences between the genders. It is, of course, the psychological, emotional and sociological differences that are more subtle and controversial. My first years of teaching were spent at a preschool on the Harvard campus in the mid-70's. This was a time when feminism and the origins of gender differences and roles were hotly debated, perhaps nowhere more so than around Cambridge, Massachusetts. To give some perspective to the political climate, the building which housed the preschool had been "liberated" from the Harvard Law School a few years earlier by a group of angry Harvard Law School students who didn't think the Law School was doing enough to support the women students with child care and other services.
Given this backdrop, the preschool community was highly focused on the origins of gender roles and differences. As teachers we tried hard to monitor our own gender biases and preconceptions. Boys and girls were encouraged whenever possible to play with nontraditional toys. Somehow, despite all of our best efforts, the boys still seemed to prefer trucks and shooting games, and the girls dolls, the dress-up corner and playing house.
It seems today the cultural and social pendulum has swung in completely the opposite direction. There's near agreement that the behavioral differences exhibited by girls and boys is more determined by biology and hormones than culture or modeling. My own observations certainly support this view. Of course, there are always the exceptions, and these children especially deserve to be supported and respected. But clearly at the preschool level, most boys and girls tend to exhibit the behaviors typical of their own gender.
So here are a few observations (none meant to be overly serious!) gleaned from over thirty years of working with young children:
Socially, girls tend to be very focused on who they are with. Boys, on the other hand, seem less interested in who they are playing with and more interested in what they're doing together.
Girls form very intense and often exclusive friendships. Boys tend to roam in (sometimes wild) packs. Girls for some reason usually prefer to go to the bathroom accompanied by a friend. When boys find themselves together in the bathroom they tend to engage in long distance competition!
Girls tend to change the invitation list for their next birthday party with each slight or offense, and at least four or five times a day. Boys, when they think about parties at all, tend to be more concerned with the flavor and quantity of the cake and ice cream.
Boys build block structures that are as high as possible, and always higher than everybody else's. Girls tend to construct low lying expansive villages, where there'll be ample room for everyone.
Many girls remember every way in which they've ever been offended, especially emotionally. Boys more typically lash out when provoked, and then are done with it.
Boys point and shoot with anything they get their hands on. Girls are not only surprised but terribly shocked by such projectile demonstrations. Girls on the other hand verbally tease and provoke the boys in a kind of early ritual, and then bitterly complain that "the boys are bothering us!"
Ah well. Vive la difference!
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