boys' learning - brent mawson

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The presentation that goes with Brent Mawson's information and challenging talk on gendered play and how boys learn. Brent has presented this in a variety of settings now, and we have put it up on ecetogether as the result of a request to share it at the March 2010 Manukau Early Childhood Network meeting. You can contact Brent via Many thanks to Brent for permission to share this.


  • 1. FACULTY OF EDUCATION The University of AucklandNew Zeala1and

2. Encouraging boys learning in early childhood Dr. Brent Mawson Faculty of Education University of Auckland 3. Aims of presentation

  • To identify gender differences in play and relationships
  • To suggest areas of play of importance to boys learning
  • To provide some strategies to encourage boys learning through play

4. Issues

  • Gendered workforce
  • Gendered play
  • boys performance in school

5. Gendered workforce

  • Women 1.5% (150-180)
  • Male role model

6. Research literature Gender Differences

  • Active-forceful play
  • Play near adults
  • Stereotyped active play
  • Competition vs negotiation
  • Affect of capability of play partner
  • Communication of play partner
  • Degree of collaborative speech
  • Type of speech to partner


  • Ways in which attempts to influence partners play are done
  • Influence of friendship vs activity
  • Amount of cooperative, cohesive turn-taking
  • Amount and complexity of fantasy play
  • Themes in fantasy play
  • Preferences for toys and props
  • Constructive vs functional play
  • Leadership styles
  • Strategies to gain power in play group
  • Relational vs physical aggression
  • Choices in out-door play
  • Involvement in rough and tumble play.

8. Two Cultures Theory

  • For
      • Maccoby, E. E. (1998).The two sexes: growing up apart, coming together . Cambridge, Massachusetts.: The Belknap Press.
  • Critque
      • Goodwin, M. H. (2006).The hidden life of girls: Games of stance, status, and exclusion . Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
      • Underwood, M. K. (2004). Gender and peer relations: Are the two gender cultures really all that different? In J. B. Kupersmidt & K. A. Dodge (Eds.),Children's peer relations: From development to intervention . Washington, DC.: American Psychological Association.

9. The tyranny of pink If you're the parent of a little girl, you'll understand: their world has turned decidedly pink, and there's no escaping it. The effect, says Eleanor Bailey, is like living in a one-party state run by Barbie - sinister, fascistic and devoid of any choice * Eleanor Bailey * The Guardian, Saturday 29 March 2008 10. Important areas of boys play

  • Rough and tumble play
  • Mixed gender play
  • Literacy activities
  • Technological activities
  • War/super hero play

11. Benefits of rough and tumble play

  • R& T serves three potential functions affiliation (form and maintain friendships), dominance (establish social hierarchy and therefore minimise conflict)and social skill facilitation (popularity).
  • Encourages the pretence play of boys which tends to be more fantasticand physically vigorous, often co-occurring with play fighting and superhero themes.
  • Boys use rough and tumble play to express care for one another and to develop friendships.
  • Aids self esteem. Prescription of aggressive play impacts on the self-esteem of boys, also affects the self-confidence of girls to engage in active and boisterous play scenarios.
  • Allows risky play. Rough-and-tumble play is a fine balance between play fighting and real fighting. Keeping the play situation on the borderline between play fighting (pure exhilaration) and real fighting (pure fear) is one of the central points of this kind of play.

12. Strategies to incorporate and manage rough and tumble

  • Define protocols with children
      • No involvement with children that dont want to play
      • No punching or hitting with an object.Stopping the moment someone says they dont want to play.
  • Define area
  • Yellow/red cards
  • Put risk and challenge into obstacle courses
  • Introduce games with rules touch rugby

13. Benefits of mixed-gender play

  • Allows boys to experience and assume leadership roles/styles not available in boys play
  • Encourages a greater complexity and use of oral language, a key element in learning to read
  • Introduces a wider range of narratives and contexts to play
  • Can serve to reduce power of gender stereotypes

14. Strategies to encourage mixed gender play

  • Need for realistic props for boys
  • More of same uniforms better than one of many
  • Props that will allow mixed gender play with roles acceptable and comfortable for all.
  • Flexible materials rather than fixed or directive resources (Cardboard boxes, blocks vs duplo)
  • Integrating areas blocks and home corner
  • Stories/visits/ to provide provocation for childrens own narratives, can include positive superhero scenarios.

15. Benefits of literacy experiences

  • May help overcome boys lower levels of achievement in the early years of schooling.
  • Increase levels and complexity of oral communication, a key indicator in learning to read.
  • Provides examples of negotiation and collaboration

16. Strategies to develop literacy

  • Stories/visits/ to provide provocation for childrens own narratives, can include positive superhero scenarios.
  • Encouraging story telling
  • Choice of books in library corner and read at group times. Boys more often prefer information texts
  • Seeking opportunities to suggest ways of incorporating literacy activities into dramatic play or construction play e.g. treasure maps, road signs, supply lists for the rocket ship
  • Encouraging acting out of stories that have strong actions within them e.g.Three Billy Goats Gruff, Jack and the Beanstalk.


  • Using popular culture characters/plots as basis for dramatic play.
  • Books that reflect boys home life and culture
  • Invite male parents in to read stories to the children
  • Drawing and writing materials readily available in the block corner, sandpit, and carpentry table
  • Saw licences
  • Provide large movable items in the outdoor space so that children can build own sets rocket ships, fire engines,

18. Benefits of technological experiences

  • Caters for boys interests in designing and making things
  • Facilitates collaboration with adults and other children
  • Provides opportunities to plan and evaluate an outcome.
  • Focuses attention on made-world
  • Provides context for development of a range of tool usage andrepresentation skills

19. Strategies to encourage technology

  • Ensure that you have a wide range of appropriate tools -e.g.a range of sharp saws
  • Provide a widerange of materials and fixing/joining methods
  • Put paper and drawing materials in the block corner, next to the carpentry table, by the sandpit and encourage children to draw their ideas before and after making them
  • Put blocks and other construction materialsin the book corner and encourage children to build structures they see in the books.
  • Monitor your questions and concentrate on asking questions which allow children to focus on and talk about their technological practice.


  • Read non-fiction te chnical books at mat time.
  • Modeldifferent types of drawing, discussand display them.
  • Encourage children to reflect on, modify and rework their solutions to technological problems
  • Encourage children to question not only their own designs, but also the designed world they live in.
  • Play and experiment with materials and tools and joining, fixing, shaping , combining methods yourself.Your own confidence and competence is really important to the childrens learning.
  • Become more actively involved in construction set play to encourage development of concepts and complexity of play.

21. 22. 23. Benefits of war/superhero play

  • Allows boys to explore certain narratives of masculinity
  • Superhero play may give children needed sense of power in a world dominated by adults, may enable them to work through anxiety and fear of own safety, and express anger and aggression in socially acceptable ways.
  • War play is especially well-suited for influencing the political and moral ideas children develop power and conflict, right and wrong, good and evil, safety and danger, friends and enemies.


  • Can learn impulse control
  • Defines boundaries between real and pretend
  • Allows opportunities to see other points of view