March 27, 2011

Pink Brain, Blue Brain {featured book}

Boys and girls are different, but not so different as cultural stereotypes would have us think. And differences caused by genes and hormones can be compensated for by encouraging appropriate games and activities to kids. That's the gist of Pink Brain, Blue Brain (2009) by neuroscientist Lise Eliot. Eliot takes the reader from the womb through infancy, toddler years, preschool, and the beginning of formal schooling, so her book might be particularly interesting to parents of children in those age groups.

As the parent of a toddler girl, I found Eliot's recommended toys and activities for toddler girls in particularly interesting:
  • vetstibular stimulation (spinning, swinging, jumping, cartwheeling) "because girls, while they don’t lag behind boys in gross motor skills during the first year, are slower and weaker from the preschool years onward."
  • ball games (balls, darts, paper airplanes) "because girls begin to fall behind boys in certain spatial skills by end of the preschool period."
  • sports (peewee gymnastics, soccer, T-ball, running, kicking, batting) for spatial skills and hand-eye coordination, gross motor skills and mind-body wellness.
  • puzzles, mazes and other visuospatial games (jigsaw puzzles, the refrigerator magnet toy called Gear-a-tion that allows kids to experiment with gear movement in the kitchen while the adult cooks) to encourage spatial and mental rotation tasks.
  • building toys ("many girls love these, but the themes and colors are often not marketed to appeal to them. Look for more gender neutral LEGOs, Lincoln Logs, Marble Works, K’NEX, old fashioned wooden blocks. Translating a series of instructional diagrams into a three-dimensional structure provide excellent practice at the kind of visuospatial skill that is linked to higher mathematic achievement.")
  • hand her a tool and "moms need to tackle more of the mechanical jobs around the house too for good role modeling."
  • visuospatial computer games (particularly those involving spatial manipulations involving three-dimensional objects and virtual navigation) "because this kind of spatial ability shows the largest sex difference of any cognitive skill."
  • music keyboard training (piano or electric keyboard or a xylophone) "which increases spatiotemporal reasoning skills in preschool-age children. Because the musical scale is experienced as a visual pattern on a piano or a xylophone, learning to play such instruments may train the brain to recognize patterns in both space and time, which may be helpful for mastering mathetmatical concepts such as fractions, proportionality, and geometry."
For toddler boys, Eliot recommends:
  • language and literacy enrichment ("boys need lots of verbal interaction to boost their vocabulary and other language skills. Reading to them is probably the best way to do this. Boys often have a strong interest in nonfiction books about vehicles, sports, animals, outer space, etc. Another boy-friendly way of increasing literary exposure is having them listen to books on tape or on CD. It’s amazing how adding Play and Pause buttons and headphones can entice some boys to sit still and follow a story.")
  • ABCs and letter sounds (to improve independent reading skills later). Reading ABC books to them, emphasizing letter sounds, playing games involving rhyming and alliteration, encouraging them to practice printing their names and other words.
  • Preliteracy computer games ("computer time should be limited, but boys are often drawn to them and they can be powerful learning tools, including for practicing learning letters, sounds (phonics), rhyming, and other reading-readiness skills.")
  • Fine motor skills, which are essential for pencil-and-paper tasks in grade school (cutting, stamping, building with small construction toys, painting or drawing standing at easels, typing, clip-boarding as in walking around tallying or charting objects in the environment)
  • More physical movement indoors and outside.
  • Rough-and-tumble time.
  • Focus on feelings ("books like Thomas the Tank Engine stories with trains that have animated personalities and feelings about their jobs and one another can help boys distinguish and give voice to a range of broader their feelings from a young age").
  • Pet care (to teach nurturing skills).


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