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March 1, 2001

Boys should start kindergarten a year later than girls, report advises

Anne Marie Owens
National Post

Boys should start kindergarten a year later than girls to compensate for their slower development rate, a new report says.

The report says six-year-old boys should start school with five-year-old girls to compensate for boys' slower maturation and to give them a greater chance of success in school.

It also suggests five-year-old boys should attend an alternative program that stresses group activities rather than reading preparedness and math skills.

The kindergarten curriculum "has had the effect of emphasizing boys' weaknesses and girls' strengths," says Dr. Leonard Sax, a Maryland family physician and psychologist who wrote the report, which is published in the latest issue of Psychology of Men and Masculinity.

Dr. Sax said the high rates of Ritalin prescriptions for young boys and the fact nearly twice as many boys as girls are kept behind a year at some point in their education are evidence the system is not working for boys. He found boys are four times more likely than girls to be prescribed Ritalin.

In his article, Dr. Sax says the consensus among educators that all children, regardless of gender, should enter kindergarten at the same chronological age fails to take into account that "the average five-year-old boy is performing at a level of verbal skill that is, on average, at least one year behind the average five-year-old girl."

He suggests five-year-old boys attend a program "where fine motor skills, math and pre-literacy are deliberately neglected in favour of non-literary group activities utilizing gross motor skills -- singing, dancing, sports and so forth. This kindergarten would be organized into small groups with the emphasis on group accomplishments and co-operation."

Dr. Sax says in the United States, rather than individualizing programs to meet the differing needs of children, "what is actually happening to boys who cannot keep up is that they are sent to the family doctor's office to get a prescription for Ritalin, or they are placed in a remedial category, or both."

Even in Canadian tests, girls consistently outperform boys in the early grades: Last year's province-wide test results in Ontario show that in both Grade 3 and Grade 6, a clear majority of boys do not reach the provincial standard in either reading or writing, while a clear majority of girls do. In math, boys trail girls by about 10% .

According to the National Center for Education Statistics in the United States, 17% of boys are kept back a grade some time between kindergarten and Grade 12, compared with only 10% of girls.

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