3 Reasons to Give Single-Sex Pre-K a Second Chance

Your quest to find the pre-kindergarten program in the Boston area that fits your son perfectly has stalled. Nothing seems quite right. Is it time to give up or compromise?

Before you relax your standards, we suggest taking a second look at a category of pre-K programs you may have dismissed out of hand when you first compiled your shortlist of schools: single-sex pre-Ks, specifically, all-boys programs.

Many parents dismiss  single-sex pre-K as an option for their son because, to them, it seems a little out of time. Your son will likely spend most of his life learning and working in mixed-gender environments, you might reason. How can an all-boys school possibly be beneficial to his long-term emotional, cognitive, and social development?

Reason #1 – Single-sex education is a modern idea based on up-to-date research.

The reality is, single-sex education is far from an anachronism. In fact, it’s a nationwide educational trend largely because of what modern research has revealed about the different ways boys’ and girls’ brains develop. To summarize this growing body of research:

  • In girls, the left hemisphere of the brain, the language center, tends to develop first. In boys, it’s the right hemisphere, where spatial skills arise.
  • Girls tend to prefer quiet learning, sitting still and absorbing verbal information. Boys typically prefer hands-on, active learning, manipulating the world to make sense of it.
  • There is also some evidence that young boys produce less of the hormones that promote calmness, causing them to fidget more and require more physical activity to “burn off” their energy.

Of course, these are generalizations. Many girls thrive in an active environment and many boys are perfectly content to sit still and listen to their teachers. But it does show that, for a boy with natural tendencies toward active learning, a coed pre-K may not be the best fit.

Here are two more reasons to that a single-sex pre-K might be a better fit for your son than you thought:

Reason #2: Boys don’t need girls to model appropriate behavior.

Some parents believe that, without girls around to model “appropriate” behavior—like sitting still, speaking in turn, and being compassionate toward one another—boys will never learn important social skills.

As the teachers at the all-boys Fessenden School have found, the opposite is true. In the absence of girls, boys are more eager to earn their teachers’ approval.

“In a traditional classroom, girls get in the pattern of anticipating, jumping in and being those little stars. The teacher, naturally, is just going to reinforce that,” explains Margaret Kelly, Director of Lower School Admissions at The Fessenden School. “When you remove girls from the equation, boys totally jump in to fill that role.”

Reason #3 – All-boys schools are not just for the physically gifted.

Pre-K is much too young for any boy to be considered a “jock.” But as some parents look beyond pre-K to the rest of elementary school and middle school, they see physical education classes becoming more structured and free-form play morphing into competitive sports. They worry their sons will have to be athletically competent to keep up with the other boys.

While you can expect engaging physical activities at all levels—from intentional play in pre-K to varsity sports in ninth-grade—one of the benefits of an all-boys environment is that boys feel much more free to pursue non-athletic activities, such as community service or the arts. The teachers at Fessenden like to say that, in their pre-K classes, there are no “girl things” or “boy things.”

“Among our students, it’s cool to be an athlete, and it’s also cool to be a singer or an artist,” one Fessenden teacher said recently. “We really applaud boys for everything they do. They don’t feel like they are put into a box.”

Learn more about your single sex pre-K options.

If you’re ready to give single-sex pre-K a second look, one of the best places to start is our blog. Our articles include interviews with educators and experts and the latest information based on classroom experience and modern scientific research. Click here to subscribe to weekly updates.

Why are you considering a single-sex pre-K program for your son (or why not)? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

2 Responses to “3 Reasons to Give Single-Sex Pre-K a Second Chance”

  1. Kit Hannigan

    I’m glad that you pointed out how studies suggest that girls prefer a quieter learning environment. Our daughter is old enough for pre-k, and we definitely want her to get a great headstart for her education. It certainly looks like an all-girls pre-k system will provide her with the ideal learning conditions that can ensure her development.

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