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Overview: Boys and girls are physically different but they don’t think, feel, see, or hear the same, either. Surprised? Find out how boys learn best! 

Awhile back, I read some eye-opening books by Dr. Leonard Sax called: Why Gender Matters and Boys Adrift. I was amazed to learn that boys have many more physical and mental differences from girls than more people realize. These books include scientific evidence showing that boys not only behave differently than girls, they also hear differently, see differently, respond to stress differently, and think differently.

You may not realize it but boys’ brains work differently than girls! And this means that boys learn differently than girls as well.

How Boys Learn Differently Than Girls

The things boys can learn are very similar to what girls can learn, but the way they go about learning is very different.

This means that boys require a very different educational environment and teaching approach if we are going to help them reach their full potential.

1 – Boys SEE Differently

Boys see the world differently than do girls. This is because males have more rods in their eyes versus cones which help them to see distance and speed. Females have more cones than rods which helps us to see color and shape. Because of this difference, boys tend to draw verbs with little color variation in their pictures while girls tend to draw nouns with lots of different colors.

When asked to draw a picture, Sally will draw a house with people and flowers and lots of pretty colors. Steve will draw a tornado which is knocking down a house and his picture may look like a large black swirl.

It’s easy to think that boys aren’t putting in as much effort as girls are because of this. However, we wouldn’t fault a Tyrannosaurus Rex for only seeing objects which are in motion and we shouldn’t look down on our sons for seeing things differently than we do, either.

 Implications for teaching boys

  • Do not expect boys to draw something recognizable or to draw something with lots of colors. When we find fault in this way, boys begin to think that art is for girls and not for boys.
  • Allow them to draw verbs and to do it in a way that is fast and furious.
  • Don’t hold eye contact with a boy unless you’re disciplining him.

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2 – Boys HEAR Differently

Baby girls can hear ten times better than boys, and this difference gets even more pronounced as they get older. Boys can only hear every 3rd word or so of soft-spoken teachers. When boys can’t hear what their teacher is saying, they tend to drift off getting some boys the incorrect diagnosis of ADHD.

Boys also tend to make little noises while wiggling and tapping pencils which are irritating to girls but they don’t even realize they are making them.

 Implications for teaching boys

  • Speak more loudly than you normally would and be very expressive.
  • Use lots of voice fluctuation and hand motions to engage boys.
  • While working with your son, sit down next to him, spread the materials out and look at them shoulder to shoulder rather than sitting opposite him.

Boys have many physical and mental differences from girls. We need to change the way we teach them to help them reach their full potential.

3 – Boys THINK Differently

We don’t know all of the differences in how boys and girls think but we now know that their brains are arranged differently. We’ve all heard that we use the left side of our brain for verbal activities and the right side for art. But it researchers have discovered that this is only true in males.

Males who have a stroke on the left side of their brain lose 80% of their verbal ability. The verbal ability in females who have a stroke on the left side of their brain is much less impacted, proving that their verbal ability is spread across both sides of their brain.

There are many other differences in how male and female brains are arranged as well. For more details, check out Dr. Sax’s books.

 Implications for teaching boys

  • Book learning is essential; but, without practical, hands-on experience, boys will have a hard time grasping concepts that seem simple to us. They will disengage from their lessons.
  • Boys need real-world experiences in their education which engage all of their senses.
  • Boys also need plenty of time outdoors.
  • Boys have a hard time processing their emotions. Don’t ask boys “How would you FEEL if…” questions. Ask them “What would you DO if…” questions.
  • Boys like to have at least some control over their environments. Put each day’s schoolwork into a folder and let them decide the order in which they will complete it.

When studying literature, try these tips:

  • Have boys draw maps based on clues in the book.
  • Assign articles from the daily newspaper.
  • Have them read books with strong male characters doing unpredictable things (i.e., C.S. Lewis, Hemingway, Dostoevsky, Twain, etc.)

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4 – Boys SEE THEMSELVES differently

While girls tend to UNDERestimate their own abilities, boys tend to OVERestimate theirs. Boys also enjoy taking risks much more than do girls. The more a boy takes risks the more favorably they are usually seen by their peers which causes them to go farther than they would choose to do on their own.

Facing danger also gives boys a pleasant feeling of exhilaration as opposed to the fearful feelings it causes in girls. And moderate stress helps boys to perform better as adrenaline causes more blood to flow to their brain. Stress has the opposite effect on girls.

 Implications for teaching boys

  • Boys respond well to a challenge if there are winners and losers.
  • A competitive team format works better than individual competitions for boys because they don’t want to let their teammates down.
  • Participating in single-sex activities such as boy scouts or team sports are very good for your sons.

If your son seems to crave danger, take these necessary steps:

  • Give him lessons with a professional (i.e., skiing) to help him improve his skills and more accurately evaluate his own abilities.
  • Supervise your child. Their risk is lower if they aren’t allowed to be alone with groups of peers because they will be less likely to try to “show off” for their friends if an adult is present.
  • Assert your authority. Don’t argue with your son. Don’t negotiate. Just do what you have to do (i.e., lock up their bike.)

Boys have many physical and mental differences from girls. We need to change the way we teach them to help them reach their full potential.

By the way, the optimum temperature for learning for boys is 69 degrees, while it is 74 degrees for girls. If you set the temperature so that it is comfortable for you, you may find your sons fall asleep or their minds wandering instead of focusing on their lessons.

If you have the opportunity to set up a single-sex learning environment for your children that works well. Try using different methods to teach your sons as opposed to the ones you use to teach your girls and you will be amazed at how your sons respond to your efforts!

Armed with this knowledge, we can set up more optimal learning environments where we can engage our sons and help them to reach their full potential. For more information, check out Dr. Sax’s books. And you may also be interested in reading my posts called 5 Easy Ways to Motivate Boys to Do ANYTHING and 8 Things Moms Should Know About Their Sons.

Question:  Were you aware of these differences in boys? What changes have you adopted which have better helped your son to learn? Please leave a comment below.

How Boys Learn Differently Than Girls