Is Pre-K too early for single-sex education? Not according to the research.
For many parents, a single-sex education makes sense for adolescents. But what about your three-, four-, or five-year-old? Will attending Pre-K at a boys’ school help or hinder their social, emotional, and academic development? Is a traditional, co-educational Pre-K program a better choice?
Research suggests that gendered play reinforces gender norms to the detriment of both boys and girls.
Dr. Priscilla Goble, a professor of family and childhood development at Texas State University, has conducted extensive research on the gendered nature of kids’ play activities. In “Children’s Gender-Typed Activity Choices Across Preschool Social Contexts,” Dr. Goble and her colleagues found that preschool children tend to choose gender-aligned activities when they play by themselves. Moreover, when given a choice, young children frequently play with children of the same gender.
Dr. Goble notes that by the time kids enter preschool at age three or four, they’ve already started to internalize messages about gender. The “Handbook of Child Psychology: Theoretical Models of Human Development” supports this finding. It concludes that children begin to develop their gender identity as young as three.
In our society, children are encouraged to adopt binary gender norms. In a co-educational classroom, play activities often reinforce those gender norms instead of combating these cultural influences. Gendered play deprives children of the opportunity to learn different types of skills. In a single-sex classroom, play activities are much more likely to be non-gendered.
Non-gendered play is critical to your child’s development.
In a traditional, co-educational Pre-K program, boys tend to spend their time playing with blocks, while girls are more likely to engage in dramatic play. Given this dynamic, it isn’t surprising that boys develop their spatial skills more quickly, while girls strengthen their social and language skills.
At Fessenden, boys engage in all types of play, and the gender norms are no longer relevant. Greta Sanborn, a Kindergarten and former Pre-K teacher at Fessenden, says that in a boys’ school, there is no need to focus on gender roles. Instead, the focus is on community and personal responsibility.
“We talk a lot about the importance of community and how to be a good friend,” says Sanborn. “Some of our greatest teachers are the hens we keep at Fessenden. They are a part of our curriculum, but are also part of our community.”
The Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms are responsible for collecting the eggs, cleaning out and maintaining the chicken coop, and caring for the hens. “The hens depend on us, and the boys recognize that this is serious and important work,” says Sanborn. “A while ago, the boys noticed that one of the hens was losing her feathers. We talked about what that could mean, did some research, and discovered that she needed more protein in her diet.”
By taking care of the hens, boys in Pre-K and Kindergarten learn to care for another living creature and come to understand what it means to be responsible and dependable. By maintaining the chicken coop, the boys develop their spatial skills. By collecting the eggs and caring for the hens, they develop social and language skills. They also develop empathy.
If you are looking for a Pre-K for your son, we encourage you to visit us and experience our community for yourself. If you have any questions about how a single-sex Pre-K or Kindergarten program could benefit your son, please ask in the comments below.
In the meantime, because we know that finding the right school for your child can be overwhelming, we created a valuable resource: The Pre-K & Kindergarten Private School Visit Checklist. Download it today and use it as a guide for your school visits. It will help you gather the information you need to identify the best Pre-K or Kindergarten program for your child.