How to Stop Boys Falling Behind Girls in the Early Years


Research by Save the Children reveals boys more likely to fall behind

The Early Years Foundation Stage (that is, the time in a child’s life between birth and five years old) is a critical stage of their development. It’s the time of a child’s life where the foundation for all of their future learning is laid, so falling behind before they’ve even really begun, so to speak, is very worrying.


That’s what makes the figures from Save the Children’s research so concerning. In July of this year, Save the Children released a powerful report showing that boys are nearly twice as likely to fall behind girls regarding their language skills by the time they start school. This means that nearly 1,000,000 boys will be at risk over the next decade unless more is done to help them strengthen their language skills by the time they start reception.


The report highlights that 80,000 boys started reception last year without being able to answer simple ‘how’ or ‘why’ questions, or speak a full sentence, or follow simple instructions. But why is that the case?


Well, the cause of this gender gap is unclear. Very little solid research has been done to investigate why girls seem to stride so far ahead of boys at an early age. However, it’s thought that a combination of biology and social interactions are responsible.


One theory is that boys participate less in activities and games that strengthen and support language skills, such as storytelling and nursery rhymes. It’s also believed that boys are less likely to acquire characteristics that help them to read, write and communicate, including self-regulation, engagement and confidence.


Whatever the case, experts will need to dig deeper to find out what’s causing such a gender gap. But in the mean time, what can we do to ensure that more is done in the early years for boys so that they do not begin their primary education at a serious disadvantage?


Well, Save the Children suggest that the first step is for the government to invest more resources in early education and childcare provision. This is particularly necessary in deprived areas, as research has also shown that the boys who are most likely to suffer from delayed language skills (and consequently fall behind for the following ten years) are likely to be from less-affluent backgrounds. The report ends with by pointing out this stark reality: ‘a staggering 40% of the poorest five-year-old boys are falling below the expected standard in early language and communication’.


A second suggestion is to encourage boys to take part in enjoyable and interesting conversations. It might sound like an oversimplified solution, but there’s a great deal of educational value in making a special effort to answer children’s questions, pointing out things that are interesting, and engaging them in discussions in various settings, such as their home, nursery and playground.


Another final suggestion is to invest in early years educational aids, such as age appropriate books. Reading a book with children with lots of added expression and dramatic emphasis can do a lot to help them join in the rhythm and sound of a story. So, there’s lots that can be done to stop boys from falling behind girls in the early years. But will it be enough? Time will tell.

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