Sunday, September 27, 2009

Blue brains here

This Salon interview with Lise Eliot, a neuroscience professor at Rosalind Franklin University and author of "Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps -- and What We Can Do About It" is worth a read.

Eliot apparently did a fairly exhaustive review of all the research about neurological differences and similarities between boys and girls. And while the interview alone doesn’t go too far in helping us think about how to bridge gender gaps, it does provide some interesting insights into how nature and nurture interact to influence gender roles.

In our house, Owen still has a weak spot for baby dolls and play strollers, and Will loves to do motherly tasks like cook and vacuum, especially if it’s a real project and not just pretend. But in general my boys prefer balls and trucks to dolls and tea sets. And when it’s make believe time – “boy stuff,” as Will calls it, is the seed for play

As I was reading, I began thinking again about the fact that Will almost never has play dates with girls, largely because most of my friends who have kids Will’s age have boys and because at preschool Will’s of an age where boys stick with boys and girls with girls, so his play-date requests come up mostly male. He has managed to make one good friend of the fairer sex at preschool, though, and I am eagerly awaiting the day when we have her over to play so that I can eavesdrop on their conversations and see where all the superhero-pirate-monster-gun-dog talk goes when Will plays with girls – or whether he sticks to his standard topics.

Either way, Eliot says that in general, you can count on girls to talk to each other more as they play while boys focus a bit more on physical communication (including the kind that makes Owen cry when it goes too far). So mixing it up in the preschool classroom, and elsewhere, is a good idea.

As Eliot says, “Girls, there's no question, talk more to each other even in preschool and toddler years. There are more words exchanged than between two boys. Magnify that over a couple years and you have more girls going to school with more verbal skills. With boys, you see the same thing with spatial skills, throwing things, building things and playing video games. Being aware of these different cognitive domains can help us as parents and teachers provide each child with more of a rounded experience early in life. It's important to not give preschool children too much choice about what activity they do, because then you have kids separating by gender and only reinforcing their strengths.”

(Good advice perhaps to try to organize play opportunities that push kids across those gender boundaries, just so long as we’re not organizing things so much that we’re taking away opportunities for the kind of fantasy play that makes for some of the richest verbal and creative experiences for kids. )

Here’s a picture of Will vacuuming this weekend. I’ve never cleared the floors quite as thoroughly as Will did when he got the good news that I was going to let him have his first go at vacuuming an entire room. Luckily Owen still likes his toy vacuum (which I nabbed from Goodwill for a dollar or so).

I also broke out our little china tea set for the first time in a while today and Will and Owen promptly filled the teapot and cups AND saucers with water at the bathroom faucet and made a royal mess. They hardly spoke while they did it. How's that for a tea party?

How do you nudge your kids to think/play outside the box when it comes to gender roles -- or do you not even bother?


Grace said...

This is also in this months Mother Jones Magazine.

I used to try. Trains, dump trucks, etc. but they so rarely got played with that I gave up. My girls love tea parties, cooking, dolls, etc. The gender neutral stuff they play with includes Legos (but we have some girly parts of the set), a marble run, chekcers and other board games. They have plenty of friends that are boys and the two sexes find plenty of fun stuff to play.

In my opinion, it is fine as long as not taken to the extreme. In the Mother Jones article, there was a photo of a little girl on her bed surrounding by all her pink stuff (she ONLY liked pink stuff). It was a crazy (and slightly sickening) photo!

Annie Addington said...

Well, there's one gender-defying thing about my boys. They love pink and purple. But a whole room of it might turn my stomach too.