Should boys start school later than girls?

Dr. Leonard Sax, a medical doctor and research psychologist and author of the recent book “Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men,” believes that the education system fails to account for the differences between boys and girls. Way back in the June 2001 issue of Psychology of Men & Masculinity, Dr. Sax proposed that the increasing emphasis on reading preparation played to girls’ strengths and boys’ weaknesses.

After reviewing differences in neurological development and reading / writing skills, Dr. Sax concluded that a program emphasizing nonverbal skills and group activities would be more appropriate for boys at the kindergarten level. Because a 6 year-old boy’s brain is similar developmentally to that of a 5 year-old girl, Dr. Sax also recommended that boys should begin an alternative program at age 5. Rather than pursuing a typical course of study, the focus of the alternative curriculum would be on the development of motor, sensory skills, and social skills rather than on reading and writing. They would then enter the traditional kindergarten program at the age of 6, when they are developmentary prepared to begin learning to read. Dr. Sax believes that this would have a positive impact on boys’ self-esteem and motivation to learn.

What do you think? Should boys and girls pursue different curricula?

You can read more here.

Subscribe to The Family Anatomy Podcast by clicking here, or get your free subscription directly through iTunes.

Note: Posts on Family Anatomy are for information only. If you need to talk to someone about family or mental health issues, you can get a referral from your family doctor.
6 Responses to Should boys start school later than girls?
  1. Gina Chen
    January 13, 2009 | 10:31 am

    Should girls and boys pursue different curricula?

    My gut reaction is no.

    While certainly boys in general may be less ready for kindergarten than girls in general, not every boy fits that mold. My son, for example, was more than ready for kindergarten when he began at age 5. Perhaps even more so than my daughter.

    Now I realize my experience is a “study of two kids” and worth nothing scientifically. But I’d hate to predispose boys to think they are immature developmentally or that they naturally lack verbal, writing
    and reading skills. (I think that happened in the past with girls getting the sense that they aren’t as good as boys at math and science.)

    The problem is: If you get the idea early that you won’t be good at something, that can become a self-fullfilling prophecy. I wonder if I shied away from math as a child because I constistenly got the message that “girls aren’t good at that.”

    I’d much rather use this research to re-invent kindergarten for all kids, so that there is a mix of both verbal, reading and writing AND motor, sensory skills, and social skills. Maybe more boys would benefit from the motor, sensory and social skills, but so would some girls.

  2. brianmacdonald
    January 13, 2009 | 8:50 pm

    Hi Gina,

    I can’t disagree with you. My boys have really benefited from starting school at 4 years old; one because it helped him to overcome some shyness, and the other because he’s like a sponge, and is beginning to read at 5.

    There is a growing body of research suggesting that kids do better in single sex schools. Still, I’m glad my kids are in a co-ed program. Unfortunately, school expectations seem to be skewed toward skills that are typically stronger for girls at that age – verbal interactions, sitting still, etc. If teachers can maintain a balance between cooperation and competition, between classroom discussions and experiential learning, boys and girls would probably both benefit.

  3. hilda garcia
    January 14, 2009 | 3:15 pm

    My son turns 5 in november, so I’m not really sure if he has to wait one more year to start kinder. do you have a suggestion for me please

  4. giuseppespezzano
    January 14, 2009 | 9:01 pm

    I think it is useful to have Dr. Sax’s opinion out there. There is certainly a phenomenon with regard to boys, in general, having different learning needs from girls. Dr. Sax’s opinion stimulates conversation around an issue that deserves our attention. The differences between boys and girls is made concrete when you consider that teacher and parent questionnaires that screen kids for ADHD have a higher threshold for considering boys hyperactive or inattentive, than girls. Having said this, I don’t believe that a separate curriculum, or starting boys a year later, is the answer. Making the curriculum more diverse, to address the needs of boys and girls, would make more sense.

  5. Lise Eliot, PhD
    August 30, 2009 | 9:59 am

    This is nonsense; the developmental difference between boys and girls at age 5 is much less than one year, so delaying kindergarten for boys will stunt their development. I review every aspect of boys’ and girls’ mental and neurological developent in my new book, “Pink Brain, Blue Brain” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Boys may lag behind girls in reading and writing, but can CATCH UP with good instruction–i.e., formal schooling; not another year of preschool. Plus, boys are ahead of girls in spatial skills, and equal in math. So filling classrooms with 6-year-old boys and 5-year-old girls may reverse some of the gains girls have made in math and science in recent years.

    There ARE ways to make classrooms more boy-friendly (permitting more movement; divorcing penmanship from written composition; picking nonfiction and other reading material they prefer; fewer drill-and-kill worksheets; hiring more male teachers in early elementary school), so parents don’t feel compelled to hold them back. In my community, our public schools have adopted multi-age classrooms for many grades, which reduce the comparisions between students and allow each child to achieve according to his or her own maturation.

  6. Girls Schools
    September 1, 2009 | 11:53 pm

    Girls schools offer career and Guidance Programs which support the development of knowledge and skills of the girls need to make effective preparations for each stage of their education. The main motive of the girls learning centers is to provide learners with the opportunity to develop the knowledge and skills needed to make appropriate choices and successful transitions throughout their time at school. Programs offered by girls institutes give girls a individual foundation of forceful self-expression, and conflict-management skills for success in leadership and life