When I was a boy back in the 1960’s, the girl next door “had” to go to nursery school. While we were out running around, playing, and having a good time, we occasionally wondered what was wrong with her. It had to be pretty bad for her to have to go to school before kindergarten! We felt sorry for her!
Today, so many kids go to pre-school that if you don’t, your friends wonder what’s wrong with you. Part of the reason for the rise and “imperative” of pre-school is that US students are increasingly falling behind other industrialized nations educationally. To get them caught up, we believe we need to get them into school at earlier and earlier ages. Plus, most parents are working outside the home, which calls for some form of childcare.
Pre-school serves as a good cautionary metaphor when it comes to our boys. At first, pre-schools were precisely that: pre-schools. A place for kids to socialize with other kids, play, have some fun, and begin to learn how to interact with a more structured school environment. At that point, pre-schools were boy-friendly.
But now, with this seemingly compelling need to start education as early as possible in order to get our kids caught up with the rest of the world, pre-school has morphed from pre-school to school—academics have replaced play and socialization. At that point, pre-schools became a type of poison for most boys.
Why: Because it doesn’t allow a boy to be a boy. A boy-brain is 1-1 ½ years developmentally behind a girl brain. It’s not wired to read at a pre-school age (and yes, there are exceptions). His brain isn’t even wired to read at the start of Kindergarten where his brain is at the level of a 3 ½ year old to the girl’s 5 year old brain. The result: Boys start to hate reading in preschool, and start falling behind girls educationally in preschool—again, because we aren’t allowing boys to be boys.
The majority of boys express their boy-ness through running, wrestling, competition, hierarchies, humor, heroic battles (sword play, gun play, tag…) and one-up-mans-ship. Look at that list again. And again. How many of our classrooms or schools or Sunday schools allow for that kind of behavior?
Finland is one country that lets its boys be boys. They don’t start their boys in school until they are 6 or 7, and that includes reading. Yet they have one of the top educational systems in the world. And while the boys may start from behind the girls in reading, because they let the boys be boys, the boys catch up on average within a few months. Rather than draining the life out of boys in preschool so that they learn to hate school early on, Finland puts the boy back into boyhood and the boys excel.
The whole purpose of kinder-garten, when it was developed, was to provide a place for kids to socialize and play. Boys in particular need that.
What if we went back to the future and offered boys a real, old-fashioned pre-school? Or what if we found a way to let boys stay home until kindergarten and run and play and go on backyard adventures? What if we put recess back into our schools? Or allowed boys to get up and move from time to time when they got antsy? What if we limited the boy-dampening language we often use on boys: Sit still! Settle down! Stop running around! Stop wrestling! Be quiet! Stop fidgeting! Or the often misused: Play nice!
What if we allow boys to be boys?
If we want to build great men in our society, it begins by having the courage to allow and encourage our boys to be boys: to put the boy back into boyhood.