I’m Reece, I’m 5 and I don’t like school. They make me read and sit still all day. Sometimes we get to play outside but not for long. The teachers talk about working but I want to be playing…

We can’t tell you how many queries we come across and conversations we’ve had with teachers about how to engage boys. It’s a subject that crops up time and time again, and yet boys still seem to pose an enormous challenge to adults in the Early Years classroom. We’ve been exploring why and experimenting with various possibilities that might help teachers and practitioners draw boys into play in order to enable them to learn the same skills as the girls. In a very different way.

The first thing to recognise is that boys are different to girls. They tend to be more energetic physically and sometimes find the very act of sitting on a carpet or a chair uncomfortable. That’s why they often wriggle or refuse to cross their legs. They sometimes refuse to conform to the routines set in place, whereas girls tend to be conditioned to follow the status quo. Boys are also hardwired to explore and experiment. That’s not to say that girls aren’t, but girls tend to be more malleable and open to a wider range of experiences. These are all gross generalisations but they are an important starting point when trying to find solutions to ‘the boy problem’.

If we look at our school classroom set up in the UK, the reason why boys are not coping or engaging – even in the Early Years – is that schools simply have not really accepted these differences. Children are expected to sit for stories or whole class sessions that sometimes are too long, they are often put on chairs at tables to do activities and some boys just can’t do it. Boy’s tend to flourish when the pressure is off, the choice is theirs and the motivation arises innately. If we’ve over-structured the day and there are no or few choices, some boys just can’t deal with it. And if we do not present open-ended opportunities for play and learning when we know that boys are spontaneous and prefer scenarios that are not imposed or directed – we will not make a breakthrough in engaging boys.

Making boys count cars or write about Spiderman simply does not hack it. Yes, they might be interested in those things but ultimately there is little challenge in the familiar and often repetitive play unfolds when children’s ‘interests’ are reflected and accommodated in Early Years provision. But remove the chairs, loosen the structure of the day and add the unfamiliar…and the classroom is a happier place, for all concerned. Nothing a bit of rubbish can’t start to fix.

Breaking through with boys

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