Do Boys and Girls Play Differently?

September 29, 2011

Guest post by Janice from Learning 4 Kids

do boys and girls play differently?

“Out in the school playground there are small groups of girls sitting cross legged playing hand games, singing songs or rhymes, while boys are bouncing balls, tackling other boys and racing around with no apparent purpose.”

This is a common vision that comes to mind in regards to boy and girl differences, raising the question, “Do girls and boys really play differently or do we expect boys and girls to behave in certain ways?”

The Debate

There have been several studies on this question and there are two main arguments; firstly that girls and boys are biologically hard-wired differently to behave and play in certain ways and then secondly that these differences are learned behaviours and shaped by society. This is also known as the nature verses the nurture debate.

Nurture

The nurture debate suggests that girls and boys are not that different but society treats them differently forming the male/female stereotypes. From the colour of the nursery, choice of toys and activities, to the emotions that is considered acceptable for that gender.

Nature

The nature view point insists that there are significant inborn differences, such as the types of hormones present and neurological differences between girls and boys.

No matter which side of the fence we sit, I feel it is important that we understand how our children are gender-specifically different as it is a valuable tool for teachers and parents. It arms us with knowledge to helps us make better choices and decisions within our teaching and parenting.

Differences in Boys and Girls Play

Although there may be some play differences between boys and girls they are also alike in basic ways and overlap in their play interests and choice of toys.

This table isn’t to say that your child is locked into to one of these categories or gender stereotypes.

do boys and girls play differently -- differences table

What should we do?

  • Be mindful and have an awareness of both nurture and nature debates. This awareness will help us to parent better and make good choices for our children.
  • Provide girls and boys with a variety of toys and opportunities for play.
  • Provide a mixture of toys- non-gender specific and opposite gender playthings.
  • Be mindful of labelling toys as ‘boy’s toys’ and ‘girl’s toys’.
  • Children learn from their role models, the men and women around them. Be an example of cross gender roles.
  • Provide opportunities for girls to kick around a football and let boys know that it is okay to cry.
  • Support our children in their choices whether it is stereotypically a boy or a girl thing to do.
  • We can often reward children who follow the sex roles we create for them while we fail to reward children who don’t conform.

Final Word and My Experience as a Mum and Teacher

I think that the differences between boys and girls become apparent in early childhood and can be seen in the different ways girls and boys play and learn. I believe that these differences are influenced by both social and biological factors.
Although girls and boys play differently they are alike in many ways. Both need a variety in their play to grow and develop healthy lives. They need to experience a wide variety of play opportunities involving playing with other children, playing alone, playing actively and playing quietly.

As parents, arming ourselves with the knowledge and understanding of gender specific differences will help us to make better choices and decisions in our parenting. It is important to parent each child as an individual and look at their personality, their strengths and weaknesses and the way that society impacts on them.

Regardless of age, gender or personality traits, I believe the most important thing to remember is that your child/ren feel valued and loved for the person that they are and feel free to explore their interests and passions in life. I will leave you with a thought provoking scenario:

“If you gave footballs to 100 girls and dolls to 100 boys, within an hour the boys would be kicking dolls and the girls would be nursing footballs.”

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Do girls and boys really play differently?

About Janice

learning 4 kids blogJanice is a stay at home Mum of three amazing kids and a Primary School Teacher.  She is very passionate about learning and teaching and absolutely loves playing with her kids.  When she became a mum, she found that her teacher brain never switched off and was creating and developing new playtime activities all the time.  Learning 4 Kids focuses on the importance of learning through play and provides nurmerous fun activities for families as play time is a valuable tool for learning and developing young minds.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

KellyNo Gravatar September 29, 2011 at 7:01 am

This is such an interesting topic Janice. I have to day, after having 3 girls first, then having a boy, it was a huge shock because he is just different to the girls. Because he has 3 sisters, he has worn pink singlets and socks and is used to pink towels and pillowcases. Ha! I’ve never been one to foster the “boy blue” and “girl pink” stigma. However, when it comes to toys, in a pile full of My Little Ponys, he will always go for the car at the bottom. So interesting. The other things I have noticed is his use of constant sound effects as he plays and the obsession with movement (garage door opening, bike wheels spinning). I still believe colour is just a social pressure, but I do think boys and girls play a bit differently. I love how you bring it back though: both boys and girls need to feel loved and valued.

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Janice - Learning 4 kidsNo Gravatar September 29, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Thank you Kelly! xx
I love that you bring up your son’s obsession with movement, this is something I have noticed too with boys, oh and the sound effects. Love it!! My girls like to play with cars but not the same way that I see boys playing with cars. They like to smash and crash them about whereas my girls like to play more orderly and pretend play.
xx

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JenNo Gravatar January 31, 2014 at 7:39 pm

Yep i’ve noticed the movement thing too – my 11month old son seems to be getting into more than what his sister did, i think he just likes opening and closing things – or perhaps he’s just more mischiveous!

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Kathryn RoddaNo Gravatar September 29, 2011 at 7:16 am

As a Mum of 3 boys, my house is full of cars, trucks and noise! But my boys also love wearing dress up clothes – sparkly skirts, my high heels, necklaces etc. I worked in childcare for 10 years before having my boys, and there are definate differences in play, as you mentioned. The thing that amazes me about boys is that they just know how to make a car sound – my husband and I didn’t teach our boys that, they just did it! My middle son loved playing wiht his cousin’s Littlest Pet Shop toys, so when they outgrew it last year, he got it for his birthday (he didn’t know it was their old stuff) and my boys love playing with it – we just had to remind them that it wasn’t a girls toy like they said. One thing I find, is that things like toy kitchens and cooking toys are mostly pinks and purples – why can’t boys play with them too? My boys love cooking! I often wonder what it would be like to have a daughter, but then I think that with 3 brothers, she would probably end up being a tomboy!

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Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar September 29, 2011 at 7:43 am

I agree. My eldest daughter never played with Barbies or dolls but preferred active games like bike-riding and playing on the trampoline. While she isnt the stereotypical girl, she still does play differently from my son. It really is fascinating. I love that you are encouraging so many play opportunities for your boys Kathryn.

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Janice - Learning 4 kidsNo Gravatar September 29, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Hi Kathryn,
I agree! Boys do know how to a great car sound! :) They just seem to have natural interest in certain things.
I love that you encourage different play opportunities for your boys and try to remove the ‘girl toy’ ‘boy toy’ label. Thats great!
Thank you for reading! xx

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Veggie MamaNo Gravatar September 29, 2011 at 8:31 am

I think it’s important to provide a wide range of experiences and things to all kids to try.. and see what they naturally gravitate to. Yes I think there are girls that play like “girls” and boys like “boys”, and there is that little mix in between that are more eclectic. I guess it just comes down to the individual. Food for thought, love it! xo

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Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar September 29, 2011 at 9:10 am

I absolutely agree. I’ve always striven for this. Especially since studying sociology at Uni.

It has been interesting though, to see how this has played out in our family over the years. For example, when I had just two girls, I had a construction station with plastic nuts, bolts etc. but the girls never played with it apart from the initial interest. When friends came over with their boys, they would live in front of it. I ended up giving it away to them because it was just sitting not being used at our place.

Another observation is drawing. My girls constantly draw and I always have drawing materials available but although my son sees his sisters drawing, and I encourage it, he doesn’t seem to engage with the activity. Perhaps just something unique to my son or boys? It’s just really interesting. At the end of the day, I try not to look at my kids through stereotypical eyes, but see them as unique individuals. This has served me well.

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Kathryn RoddaNo Gravatar September 29, 2011 at 9:25 am

My boys like drawing, but mostly colouring in. They draw people, but not much else that’s recognisable, compared to the pictures I’ve seen girls do – they seem to pick up that aspect a lot quicker than most boys (of course there are always boys who do and girls who don’t) I remember getting so excited a few weeks ago when my 5 year old brought home a painting from school (a rare thing!) of flowers for me!

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Veggie MamaNo Gravatar September 29, 2011 at 9:26 am

It’s so interesting, isn’t it? When I used to teach vacation care and after school care, we always had a drawing and colouring-in station. Girls were always there, but so was just one little boy. I rarely saw girls playing with the “boy” stuff though… but a few boys loved the girl dress ups! I learned very quickly to get to know them and see them individually, rather than just setting up girl and boy toys. While the vast majority would play with gender-specific things, there was always a few that would surprise you :)

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Janice - Learning 4 kidsNo Gravatar September 29, 2011 at 2:05 pm

I am loving your insights on this……..very interesting!
Through your comments, it is interesting to see the personality of the child/ren coming through, then the gender specific stereotype influences and also the natural inborn gender differences. I have always found this topic very interesting and love reading your experiences on this. Thank you!

Thank you Kelly for having me on your gorgeous blog! I have had so much fun! xx

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Maid In AustraliaNo Gravatar October 2, 2011 at 8:41 pm

My daughter definitely loves to pay with ‘babies’ whether they be animals or dolls more than my son does. And if I am sick or injured, she loves to look after me, whereas, he doesn’t even think that I might need help (but he does have ASD). My son hasn’t ever really been into cars, but loves to build things and make sound effects, also to engage others in play. Whereas my daughter will be quite happy playing with her dolls or animals for a while, her borther always needs to show someone something he’s done. They are definitely different, even taking out the ASD.

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Susan @ Living Upside DownNo Gravatar October 2, 2011 at 8:49 pm

I believe that boys and girls play differently, but I also believe that there are other factors that shape the way a child behaves and interacts with their peers. Personality plays a signifcant role as well. As an example, my three children (2 boys and a girl) have all played with a large wooden train set that we have. My older son set up the track, using a variety of toys and props to create farms, beaches, train stations, airports, shopping centres and so on for the track to connect. It was all about the network and the trains weren’t all that important. My daughter played with the same set and it was all about the trains and people along the train track interacting and connecting with each other. For my younger son (a budding engineer) it is all about the train track allowing the trains to get to the right areas, with sidings, buffers and depots organised to make sure that the system runs correctly. The trains are an integral part of the set-up. Same toy, three different ways of using it.

My children are all quite bright and I have done quite a bit of reading about gifted children and the way they relate. It was interesting to note in several documents comments that gifted girls are often attracted to connect more with boys (more straight-forward, practical play, less focus on ‘trivialities’) while gifted boys are more attracted to spending time with peers who are girls (more verbal play/interaction and conversation). Yet another factor influencing how girls and boys interact with their peers.

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IngelaNo Gravatar January 31, 2014 at 11:49 am

Interesting

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JanelleNo Gravatar January 31, 2014 at 12:28 pm

Hi Janice, thanks for this article. I found it really interesting especially given that my daughter started kindy this week and is one of only two girls in her class, the rest being boys. I have felt uncertain about whether this will be a problem. We are a very outdoorsy and active family such that my 4yo is just as happy kicking a ball and climbing trees as she is playing dress ups and dolls. My early observations re kindy are that the boys are unwillingly (so far at least) to let her join in their play purely because she is a girl. With some prodding she said she tried to play with the boys but one told her she stinks and the other pushed her away. She didn’t sound at all bothered by it just yet so not sure if I should be either! It makes me wonder though whether as well as gender stereotyping play/toys, we might also fall into the trap of encouraging our kids to play with kids of the same gender? I’m hoping my girl can ‘win’ the boys over in time but it will be interesting to see how it plays out. I really wanted her first year of kindy to be a great social opportunity. Love to know your thoughts or the experience of any other readers whose child has been in a similar situation.

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