July 27, 2008

Girls Could Give Preschool Boys Learning Boost

By Bower, Bruce

Proportion of boys in the class doesn't affect girls Here's some news preschool boys don't want to hear: Those who attend classes with a majority of girls receive an intellectual boost by the end of the school year.

Conversely, preschool boys who attend majority-boy classes fall increasingly behind girls on measures of learning skills and other developmental feats. Yet class sex ratio has no effect on the girls.

These provocative but still preliminary findings come from the first large-scale investigation of how the sex ratio in preschool classes influences girls' and boys' mental, social and motor development.

"At the very least, the findings from this study suggest that educators should exercise caution if considering a move toward greater sex segregation in early childhood education," says psychologist and study director Arlen Moller of Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania.

Moller and his colleagues analyzed data collected as part of an effort to assess classroom needs in Rochester, N.Y. The team found that girls displayed generally good progress during the school year on teacher-rated measures of thinking skills, social abilities and motor proficiency, whether in classes of mostly boys or girls.

Boys developed more slowly than girls did on the same three measures, and especially on thinking skills, if they attended classes with a surplus of boys. In majority-girl classes, boys developed at the same rate as girls, the researchers say in a paper slated to appear in Early Childhood Research Quarterly. Moller plans to further examine reasons for the learning differences.

"This is an exciting topic, but it is too early to draw any conclusions because this area is so underexplored," remarks psychologist Lena Malofeeva of High/ Scope Educational Research Foundation in Ypsilanti, Mien.

Copyright Science Service, Incorporated Jul 19, 2008

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