Interview with Mary Ann Bradberry, Director of the Early Childhood Learning of Texas.
I always like to begin by saying that, I think, this is such an important topic because, first of all, in Genesis 1:27, it says that God created man in His own image and He created male and female. I believe that if God took the time to do that and that was important to Him then, certainly, He was going to create male and female with the brains that they needed to go about doing what He has for each of the sexes to do.
I always like to point that out and, also, to point out that boys and girls come from the womb with different brains. You know, research tells us that 99% of the genetic code between boys and girls is the same. It’s 1% that’s different and it’s that 1% that really makes all the difference in the world. Males and females, both carry different chromosomal pattern in every cell of their body and only God can do that. I think you would agree, that only God can do that and that anytime you look at any of this material then I just become more in awe of God as Creator.
First of all, when boys and girls are born, they both come into the world with certain core questions that they really are on a journey to get the answers to. I think that’s basic to understanding. The core questions for boys are questions like do I matter, am I the real deal, do I have, really, what it takes to be a man because those little boys don’t come into the world knowing what it takes to be a man and so they set on this journey as trying to get that question answered. Most people would say they need to feel loved which, I think, is true as they are younger but that underlying basic need for boys and men is that need for respect and that respect comes from being noticed for what they can do. Those little boys like to be noticed for how fast they can run, how high they can jump, all those kinds of things.
As teachers, it’s important to notice those kinds of things and say, “Oh, I saw how fast you ran,” or, “You know, you really jumped high off of that step,” and recognize those kinds of things because, for boys, it’s that feeling of respect and that equals love for them. You’re going to connect with those little boys in that way because they’re going to begin to feel, “Oh, I can do this.” It builds their confidence as well.
For the girls, on the other hand, they have these core questions of do you see me, am I lovely … I always think about those little girls that come into our classrooms and will fool around and want you to notice their new dress or their shoes or their hair bow or maybe they’ve got a new backpack or something. They want you to notice that because their really number one question is am I loved? It’s that need for love but, for them, that feeling of being loved then if they are loved and they feel like they have the respect.
Of course, Dr. James Dobson reminds us in his book, Bringing Up Girls, which is a good book to read, always are cautions in that book that the reason that girls, when they get to be pre-teens, teenagers, can be easily manipulated by men or boys who don’t have the best intentions because of that underlying need for feeling loved.
That’s their number one need and number one question they try to get answered but I always caution here too whenever I’m talking about this is that it’s important for us, as teachers, to really stop and point out the inner beauty for girls because they’re always wanting us to look at the outer … That starts with the little girl and we start there but we really need to begin, I think for both boys and girls, but for girls to notice that inner beauty, that things that they do to help each other, how they’ve shown kindness to one another or pointing out those things as well so that they’re not just always being complemented from the outward appearance, their outward beauty.
Dr. Dobson also has a book called “Bringing Up Boys” too that some of your listeners may be familiar with but both of those are good resources since I’m thinking about that right now, since you’ve asked about that.
I think the best way to look at some of the differences between the boys and girls, the brains of boys and girls, is to really think about the word S-H-A-P-E.
The S, really, reminds us of the different studies in Size. Really, this just deals with physical size because the size of the brain between the brains of boys and girls is different. The boy’s brain is just physically larger. It’s usually about 10 to 15% larger than the brains of girls.
It’s really just simply mainly because boy babies usually are bigger than girl babies. That’s really not saying that one’s smarter than the other which, when I’m presenting this material in conferences and things, sometimes the boys start to think, “Oh, our brain is bigger. We’re better.” But, it’s really not whether or not one is better than the other. It’s just the difference in the size. Because of that, the boy’s brain actually has more brain cells, meaning that there’s just more gray matter in the boy’s brain.
The girl’s brain, on the other hand, tends to have more connections … Meaning that there’s tighter connections and more just connections between the cells and the brain of girls. That the white matter in the brain is really that myelination or the stuff that goes around the connections that makes the brain be a little bit more efficient in processing information. There is more of that in the girl’s brain. I always like to think about it as there’s just a tighter connection between the cells and the brains of girls after those connections are laid down when learning and everything takes place. That’s just a simple way of looking at that. There is a difference in the size of the brains of boys and girls.
You have to also remember that you just allow little bit more time for the boys to think or to process, then you’re more likely to get an answer from the boys because, so often, we, as teachers, will throw out a question or a problem and expect an immediate answer.
If they’re both boys and girls in the classroom, those girls are more than likely, some of the times, will get it faster than boys and they will already have spouted out the answer before the boys have had time to really process it and then we move on. We get the answer we want, we’re looking for, and move on and have not given boys the opportunity to give an answer or to put their thoughts into what we’re asking.
The H is really for Hormonal Influences. What I think is fascinating about this is that this is really the, at the beginning, six or seven weeks after the conception of the child that the male embryo or the embryo that’s designated to be male takes a bath in testosterone. At that point, that testosterone bath actually kills some of the cells in the brain that would be devoted to language … If the baby is going to be a girl … Anyway, this testosterone bath really creates in boys what we call that boy energy, that aggressive risk-taking type of behavior. That’s where it all starts which, I think, is fascinating.
Even at birth, girls have 20 to 30% more of the serotonin, which is more of the calming chemical and, of course, they have more oxytocin as well, which is that bonding or attachment chemical. Even from the beginning, there are those hormonal differences. I mean, six to seven weeks after conception, all of these starts to take place so I think it just brings out the greatness of God. God is Creator that how, just from the very beginning, that there are these differences.
The A is for Activity. What I really mean by this is this is the activity level, the brain activity level, that if we can look inside the brain and need to see all the sparks flying and all of the activities that’s taking place in the brain, if it was the brain of a boy, it would have a little less activity than the brain of a girl.
Our brain is electrical so when you look inside the brain, you see all of these things going on. It looks like sparks and all of that kind of electrical activity happening and that’s connections being made, that’s information being taken in and all those kinds of things. One of the reasons that there’s more activity and more of that going on in the brains of girls is that girls have more blood flow, just naturally have more blood flowing to their brain at any given time. That gives them about 15 to 20% more activity level than that of the boys.
But the activity in the boy’s brain tends to be more localized. That means that it’s more in one spot at a time. Let’s say that we took a boy and a girl and we gave them the same activity to do like putting a puzzle together, if we image their brains and looked at their brains as they were doing this particular activity, girls will be using more parts of their brain to do that activity. Boys would be primarily using one side of their brain or just one part of the brain to do that activity. That doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with the boy or anything wrong with the girl. It’s just the way their brains are designed to function.
Because there’s that less activity level in the brains of boys, boys can too, sometimes, just zone out and they just look like they have just not thinking about anything and, really, that’s true. Sometimes you will ask boys what they’re thinking about, they’ll say nothing. I’ve had this proved over and over again in my conferences that I do because I’ll make that statement and the guys that are in the room will go, “Yes. That’s exactly right.”
One of the things you can draw them back into is through that movement or activity. You can get them up and have them March around the room or sometimes just give them another little activity to do or …
Stretching, marching in place, anything like that’s just going to create the blood flow that’s going to take the oxygen and energy to the brain that they need to wake it back up and get it back engaged.
The other thing with that too is that the boy’s brain tends to be overwhelmed more quickly. Depending on what’s going on in the classroom, if there’s a lot of activity going on or maybe a little bit of a chaos or whatever, the male or they boy’s brain is going to be … They’re going to become overwhelmed a little bit more quickly than girls do sometimes.
It’s important to realize that so that if there is a lot of that going on and when you see them becoming overwhelmed, then it’s a matter of we need to calm down. The calming can come from taking deep breaths. Sometimes, if there’s a boy that needs to be really calmed down, sometimes just touching on the shoulder or touching on the … If they’re seated, on the side of the leg or something, just a touch, can sometimes help them calm down.
The next letter is P. That stands for Pace of Maturation or the Rite of Maturing. The brains of girls are just the way that God made them. They are triggered to grow first, plan and so they have already a little bit faster rate of maturing even before the baby is born. When girls are born, even though they’re still immature, they’re still a little bit more developmentally mature than the brains of boys.
Because of that, that’s one of the reasons they can process information a little bit faster. They tend to have that more blood flow because there’s that great rate of maturity. They’re just a little bit ahead of boys.
Where would we see that at as far as being a little bit ahead? When will we notice? Primarily in the area of language development. Researchers tell us that there’s about a year to a year and a half difference in language development for girls that’s why girls usually also talk sooner than boys. They also have larger vocabularies because that’s just a part of their brain that tends to be more developed than in boys and that’s the left hemisphere but that’s one of the primary regions or ways you’ll see the difference.
What’s so interesting, when I have just the girl’s class or just the boy’s class, They absolutely just talk on top of each other. If it’s just boys, they just talk like crazy. If it’s girls, they’ll talk like crazy. But then when I have a class of boys and girls together, I mainly hear from the girls.
It doesn’t take boys long to realize that girls usually speak out before boys do like I was talking about earlier about answering questions and those kinds of things. They pretty much or pretty soon learn that [inaudible 00:26:38] may not be answering as fast as those girls. What I always like to say, little boys are not stupid. Demotivated, actually, is the way I like to think about it. They’re not motivated to try to participate if they know they’re always going to be the last one to get a word in.
I have found using little white eraser boards and markers give more time. But, also the other interesting thing about this Rite of Maturation though is that the girls are usually ahead of the boys in the area of language development but boys, because of that testosterone bath that I talked about earlier, because of that, boys develop spatial awareness and spatial memory about four years ahead of the girls.
That’s why it’s so important for boys to be moving around in their space. That’s why they like to have lots of space. I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not but when boys do activities, they like to have lots of space. If they’re working on a table, they want the whole table. Where they’re playing with blocks, they want a whole big area for blocks. It’s just important for them to have that space. That’s because they have a well-developed spatial awareness or spatial memory.
Those cells that I talked about when they take the testosterone bath? Those cells that I told you that got killed off that were for language? That gave them more space for development of spatial memory and spatial awareness.
I always encourage early childhood teachers to make sure that they have a large space for blocks. Of course, most teachers being female don’t like that because they don’t necessarily like blocks because they’re noisy and all those kinds of things but it is one of the most important teaching tools that we can give boys.
They need those blocks. Now, we’re to E and that stands for Emotions or their Emotional System. I always just really emphasize here that boys are more emotional than we ever give them credit for or allow them to be. A boy’s brain actually has a larger amygdala and the amygdala is that little part of the brain that’s one of the primary parts of the emotional system. This amygdala is the only part of the brain that actually is fully functioning at birth and the amygdala stores emotional memories and processes emotions and so it’s actually the part of the brain that’s in charge especially during the early years. We’re very emotional beings. The amygdala is either the ‘fight or flight’. It’s the part of the brain that deals with that fear. It’s a fear activator, actually. If the child walks into the room, his amygdala starts surveying the room to see if it’s safe or is there something they need to be afraid of. The amygdala tells the brain how to react then and so boys have a larger one.
John Eldredge says, “We need to give up making young men good boys and recognize that boys were created with a desperate need for a battle to fight and adventure to live and a beauty to rescue.”
Let’s see. Probably the first one that I would suggest is that you really need to accept this whole idea of boy energy. As I said, so many teachers are female and that boy energy tends to frighten some of us but you just really need to be willing to accept that and to really be willing to use it with boys. Think of ways that you can let them use that energy to do things in a classroom like they’re cleaning up, they got a paper … Put the trash can in the middle of the room and have them throw the paper that needs to be thrown away in the trash can.
If they’re sitting in a group time and those little boy just starts fidgeting, give them one of those stress balls or something like that they can just keep in their hand. Teachers always say to me, “Well, everybody will want one.” I would say, “At first, everybody might want one so give them all one,” but the children who really need those will take that and use that to help them stay focused because just moving of the fingers will help keep the brain engaged and, of course, you’re always still a kid. If they misuse it, they can’t use it anymore.
I have very rarely found that I would have to take it away from any child that really needs it because that’s just one way to do that. You mentioned having them stand up to put your paper on the wall, stand up and do their drawings at the wall. Take the chairs away from the table and let them just stand up at the table because, most of the time, teachers are telling little boys to sit down. If they’re doing something at a table, they’re constantly saying, “Sit in your chair. Don’t lean back in your chair.” … All those kinds of things … That’s just because they don’t have that amount of self-regulation yet and it’s very hard for them to do it. Just take those chairs away. Let them put a puzzle together standing at the table.
One of the things that they use with children with special needs that have physical special needs that are like that too is they have those cushions you can buy that are similar to that but that beach ball works just as well. It’s anything that’s going to give them that need to engage their core. You know when I talked about they need to engage that core and that’s what that does and that’s what we’re finding out, what our research is finding out too is that our children today, because of lack of physical exercise, don’t develop those core muscles and those core muscles are so strategic in so many different aspects of their whole body functioning and, because they don’t have that, then we see a lot of these different types of behaviors because they’re trying to compensate for that.
You need to evaluate your classroom to make sure that you have the space that’s needed for giving boys the space that they need for blocks or whatever activity that you’re giving or going to have them to do. It’s like when you get in a real crowded room and you feel all overwhelmed, that’s what happens to children if the classroom is really crowded and they don’t have the space to do the activities that you’re asking them to do. It’s important to do that.
Just will mention this here, we didn’t really talk about this but the noise level in the classroom … When the noise level is higher, it will bother your little girls because there’s a difference in the way boys and girls hear. The girls have a higher acuity or they can hear a little bit better than the boys and so anything that’s a little bit higher noise is going to bother your girls and, the boys, they don’t care.
When you’re giving directions to both boys and girls, you need to give just one or two directions at a time or really one direction at a time because, even myself, I can’t remember more than about two. So many times, we tell kids to go do this, go do this, go do this and then that’s three things in a row and they don’t remember anything but probably the last thing you said.
Because that helps their brain to process this. Anytime that the brain can speak, it’s going to help them process. You know when they’re talking it back, that’s like they’re giving their brain feedback. That’s going to put it into the brain or into their memory a little bit better.