Slugs & snails & puppy dog tails – the different way boys learn.

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Boys Learn Differently

‘Slugs & snails & puppy dog tails that’s what little boys are made of …..’

Just like the Nursery Rhyme, boys are different & prefer to learn in different ways.

Scientists have found differences in the structures of male & female brains & that means that boys and girls seem to see things differently, behave & learn in different ways, enjoy different things & develop at different rates & speeds.

There was a recent survey that suggests that gender stereotypes are ingrained before the age of 6 so to empower both boys & girls with equal opportunities means to give them different & specific opportunities to facilitate their unique and different ways of learning.

I’m frequently asked about ‘boys’ energy & boys who don’t want to sit still. As parents it’s about celebrating your son’s need to move, explore, jump about & climb because to help your son reach his full potential it’s vital that he is respected for his unique way of learning.

My interview with my friend & international play expert Gill Connell is truly a ‘must’ listen as she happily explains what’s happening when your son hangs upside down, climbs trees (or the sofa) and hangs across the monkey bars.

Listen to my episode of Sue In Conversation With Gill Connell LINK  ……

Concern has been raised around the fact that boys make up the overwhelming percentage of the prison population, drop out more often from School, have a higher percentage of drug use & are more aggressive & violent in the teenage years.

So as parents we need to make sure our home environments are creative, loving, emotionally safe so boys can fulfil their individual potential, develop their imaginations, curiosity & character & able to express their emotions safely free from stereotypical reactions. ( e.g ‘Big Boys Don’t Cry!’)

Is raising happy, healthy & compassionate boys down to nature, nurture or culture?

As Michael Gurian an American author and social philosopher wrote back in 2005

‘Boy energy is one of the greatest assets of civilisation. Our rocket ships fly because of it….boys learn through impulsive trial & error, then become the men who as lawyers, doctors, athletes or corporate managers force innovation into the human theatre.’

Pause To Ponder

Have a little pause to ponder moment about the messages your boys are unconsciously picking up from how you speak, act & behave around them.

1.Boys will be boys – what do you actually mean by that?

2.If you want to get on you need to read & write as soon as possible.

3.Indoor, sedentary learning is more important than outdoor, active learning.

4.Boys are loud, noisy, rumbustious & lack sensitivity – girls are quiet, easy to manage & emotionally mature.

What messages are your boys picking up from your attitude?

Are you OK with that?

If you’re not, just pause to ponder that boys and girls are unique, individual & have their own personality & character & learn in different ways.

Perhaps it’s time to ‘Pause to Ponder’ the language you use when talking & teaching your son to ensure that you support him by providing the right environment to meet his needs & interests.

A very helpful resource is from the Boys Development Project which offers support and information on ‘Parenting Boys Who are 5-11 years old (a brief guide) with a booklet targeted at parents with sons. This booklet has been written for those parents of boys aged 5-11 in order to offer practical guidance about getting the best from their sons.

What motivates boys?

Have you ever noticed that boys tend to be in constant motion?

Running, chasing, zooming, racing, charging, building, digging?

They’re not often sitting quietly chatting, are they?

Boys are wired to move, so instead of resisting this natural exuberant way of learning and living, embrace it, work with it, enjoy it.

When a boy is physically active – his brain is active.

Sitting on the carpet at school listening for ages means he will fidget, roll about, or annoy others as he will get bored if he’s not physically moving.

This is really important for you to know as your son’s Mum and Dad so when his teacher says, ‘Oh little Jonnie was naughty again today’ you know it’s part of his makeup and nurseries & schools need to be doing more to address the way he learns!

It’s helpful to use a piece of blu tac to fiddle with, a fidget spinner, or to squeeze a small ball to help him concentrate.

The key to engaging boys is to keep them moving.

When I was teaching I used to get the kids outside moving when we were learning – whether it was maths or storytelling. Physically engaging the whole brain in active learning. Of course there’s a balance (particularly in a cold, wet November morning!)

But I hope this helps you to see how you can adapt this to your own expectations of your son at home and at school.

Get him outside after school to run about and to let off some steam before settling to other activities.

Throw or catch a ball, kick a football, jump on the trampoline.

Boys are hands on learners – so they learn best by moving, climbing, touching, building and taking things apart.

Pause To Ponder …..

The qualities and skills that are most valued by schools, is the ability to communicate orally and represent ideas on paper, which are very often the aspects of learning that boys find most difficult in their early years.

How can you make sure your son is having a balance to that learning at home?

Multi-Tasking Isn’t Really An Option

It’s true boys are happiest, and at their best, when they are focussing on ONE thing at a time!

This absorption explains why it’s harder for your son to listen to more than one instruction at a time.

Boys like to finish one thing before starting another…..

Give your instructions at home in small bite size baby steps. It makes it easier for your son to process what you’re saying. He’ll relax and not feel overwhelmed or frustrated so he’ll be less likely to kick off, have a meltdown or not do as he’s be asked.

Did you know?

Boys hear better in their right ear.

They tend to be louder as they hear loud sounds easier than girls.

They prefer to focus on objects than faces in the early years.

Boys tend to remember facts more easily than emotions.

Boys tend to like high fives as a way to connect and rough and tumble play.

Studies have shown that boys spend 65% of their time in competitive games – they are wired to hunt and defend their territory & use their bodies when they’re angry.

Boys are more likely to take more risks than girls – jumping off things, and testing things out.

Rough & Tumble

All children—boys and girls alike—crave a physical connection with parents each day to help them release fears and anxiety, feel loved and connected, and most importantly, bonded to their parents.

This also means that children crave rough and tumble play with BOTH parents—mum included!

I remember really enjoying wrestling with my Dad when I was little and loving it as rough and tumble play has been around since the beginning of time. All the other mammal species engage in rough and tumble play: baby monkeys, tiger cubs or playful puppies. They are tumbling around, chasing each other and wrestling.

Rough and tumble play is completely natural and…primal. It’s a basic need and desire for all little boys and girls. Studies have shown that rough and tumble play such as wrestling in the early years can provide boys with tactile experiences, help them develop physical fitness and sensory awareness & help them to regulate their strength and self-control.

But it’s important to ‘Talk & Teach’ them about being mindful of others – we don’t want them knocking six bells out of their sister, brother or school pal ! But physical play is how boys connect and strengthen their relationships & friendships so I think it’s helpful to understand this aspect to their character.

Top Tips

  1. Remember boys are built for activity and movement.
  2. Younger boys have less of an attention span than girls. So have regular breaks and engage them in something physical.
  3. Help your son find healthy, safe ways to test his strength & his need to compete – join a karate club or sporting club. Channel his energy positively don’t criticise it. Work with it, not against it.
  4. Encourage and praise the effort he makes not just his talent, skill or achievement. It builds grit, tenacity, perseverance and resilience. See my eCourse on ‘GRIT’
  5. ‘Walk & Talk’ is a great way to teach your son your values or things you’d like him to learn – combining physical and mental stimulus is a win-win for him.
  6. ‘Do things’ with your son to build connection to you – he’s more likely to open up if you are building a den or digging in the garden than just ‘talking’ round the kitchen table.


All children are unique, special & wonderful with their own personalities, likes and dislikes, idiosyncrasies , strengths and weaknesses but I hope this article has helped you see the world of growing up as a boy in a different light so you can support & nurture your son more fully so he can blossom and bloom in his own time & in his own way.

My thanks to NDNA ‘Brave Boys’

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