Canadian parents spend more time reading, telling stories, singing songs, drawing, and teaching new words and letters to their pre-kindergarten-age daughters than their sons, according to a working paper by two Canadian economics professors.

That holds true even when the boy and girl are twins.

That could be part of the reason for the “boy crisis,” where boys lag behind girls in kindergarten-level reading and math — and the “apparent failure of boys to thrive at the primary, secondary and post-secondary educational levels,” the economists suggest.

But it has nothing to do with parents favouring their daughters, says Kevin Milligan, a University of British Columbia Economics professor who co-authored the paper, published this month, with University of Toronto Economics professor Michael Baker.

“Overwhelmingly, in North America there is a preference for having (a child of each sex) … which left a bit of a mystery to where this boy-girl (achievement) gap was coming from.”

The theory he and Baker now lean toward is that it’s simply easier and more productive to spend learning time with girls, who are more likely to sit still and perhaps process information more efficiently.

“So even if I spend equal time, the time with the girl might be more productive — we don’t have direct evidence of this but the evidence pushes us in this direction,” says Milligan.

From their research, which found similar results across the U.S., the U.K. and Canada, they estimate that spending equal learning time with boys and girls could reduce the Canadian kindergarten achievement gap by up to a third.

The results of the paper are important because “this isn’t something that just arises when boys hit the school system, it’s something that arises pretty early in life,” says Milligan.

“People can point fingers at the school system [the role of curriculum, not enough male teachers] but what we can say is that is clearly those are not the only things going on,” he said. “(And) rather than focusing all your attention on kindergarten curriculum (from a policy perspective) it is worth thinking about the expectations set in the home and whether society has a role to play in that — say by increasing awareness.”

Andrea Nair, a parenting expert with agrees that giving their boys enough time is something that parents should keep in mind.

She is a mother of two boys, aged 3 and 5. Her sister has two daughters around the same age.

Her girls will just sit and sit, and they’ll read and you can leave them in one spot and they’re still there. There is no way I can do that with my little boys,” she said.

“But parents should not give up. If they try sitting their kids down to read a book and it doesn’t go well, lower the standard. Maybe today you’ll get through the first four pages and work your way up.”

Her solution is to first “get the ya-yas out” with lots of physical activity.

She recommends incorporating learning time into play — “if you can dance around and sing the ABCs, that’s a lot more fun” — or taking advantage of boys being tired out at daycare.

For Emma Waverman, a mom of two boys and a girl and parenting blogger for, the individual temperament of the child is what is most important in early learning. “My kids all learn and engage very differently,” she says.” I think people can get caught up in ‘boys like to run around and girls like to sit’ and use that as an excuse for not engaging with them in an educational way.”

“We have to be careful not to do any parent-blaming,” notes Zeenat Janmohamed, executive director of the Atkinson Centre, at U of T. Parental involvement in early childhood learning is very important, but so are teaching methods and the children’s personalities and biological makeup.

She says the results of the study jive with research that shows on average, “girls tend to be more verbal and seek out more verbal interaction as a result that may be attractive to parents as a way to engage with them,” she said. “Boys again, on average, tend to be engaged in more active play.”

But, like Waverman, she says it’s impossible to generalize. “I think the similarities in genders are probably greater than the differences.”


Source: MetroNews Canada –