Why are boys less interested in reading than girls? A new study from Norway’s University of Stavanger evaluated preschool-aged children to determine when and how the linguistic divide between boys and girls emerges. Previous studies have demonstrated that preschool-aged girls are more interested in reading and language activities than boys. Additionally, Norwegian secondary school-aged boys lag, on average, a year behind girls in reading ability. The present study found that preschool boys were less likely to select activities that promote linguistic skills than the girls, which may explain later linguistic achievement gaps.
The researcher, Ph.D. candidate Elizabeth Bekke Stangeland, studied 1,005 children aged 30 to 33 months in Norwegian kindergarten (the equivalent of preschool in the United States). Stangeland was particularly interested in children’s participation in activities that promote linguistic awareness—an awareness of the language, which children learn through reciting rhymes, singing, and other activities. Developing linguistic awareness is a key part of learning to read. In Norwegian kindergarten, children have a certain freedom to select which activities they want to participate in.
Among preschoolers, girls showed more interest and were more willing to participate in activities that promote linguistic awareness, like reading and singing, than boys were. Stangeland says it is typical to see girls in kindergarten classes interacting with adults, while the boys engage in lively play elsewhere.
The study raises questions about how preschool can influence language development in boys and girls. When boys decline to participate in linguistic activities, they lose opportunities for linguistic stimulation, which could hinder their progress in learning to read.
Stangeland states that it is not clear why boys opt out of language activities. She suggests that it may be due to different expectations for boys and girls. “We do know that systematic linguistic stimulation promotes language skills in children. Unequal participation in activities that promote linguistic stimulation may be a factor in reinforcing the differences that already exist between children” explained Stangeland.
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