Friday, September 16, 2011

Gender and the Brain

On September 12th DuPage Children's Museum welcomed area educators for an evening of hors d’oeuvres, networking and sneak peeks at our 2011 Educator Open House. The main presentation was titled Reaching the Fullest Potential for Boys and Girls in Math & Literacy by Lise Eliot, PhD, Associate Professor of Neuroscience at the Chicago Medical School of Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine & Science.

Dr. Eliot explained to us that many of the claims in the media of hardwired brain-development differences between girls and boys are based on flawed studies or on exaggerated research findings. As she did her own extensive review research studies, she found that the similarities in development are much more striking than the differences. Although in some areas, like language development, there is a difference between boys and girls, it is a very slight difference. She added that in any case our brains change as we learn, so the experiences we provide and repeat for children can strengthen or diminish that early small difference.

The largest difference that psychologists have found between the sexes is in the area of toy preferences. What starts as a slight preference may lead parents and caregivers to reinforce it by limiting the child’s exposure – for example, buying only those toys for which the child has a strong interest. She encouraged us instead to expose our children to all types of experiences so that the minor differences that do exist between the sexes don’t become larger (learned) differences. For example, you may want to spend some more time talking to boys, as well as finding creative ways to engage in reading and writing to support their language skills. Playing piano, using tools and playing games like checkers can bolster girls’ spatial skills.

If you would like to read more about Dr. Eliot’s research, you can read her book Pink Brain, Blue Brain, How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps- and What We Can Do About It.

Thank you to all of the early childhood educators that came out to hear Dr. Eliot and spend an evening with friends in the Museum. We loved having you here!

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